Jan

7

Is this the best trading book of the past year?

No, but Blink by Malcolm Gladwell generated more ponderable and testable trading ideas for me than any other book in recent memory.

Blink is about how intuitive decisions are made. The book is composed of a series of scientific case studies, each of which brought an 'Aha! Trading' moment for me. The cumulative sum of these ideas easily filled a couple of notebook pages, the study of which will fill and influence months of work.

One example the book shows is how a simple, small factor algorithm surpassed ER doctors in determining if a patient was actually having a heart attack. The conclusion was that the judgment of ER doctors was affected too much by information.

As traders and market researchers, we are continuously confronted with too much information, and we usually end up going down paths like 'If (this and this) Then…' or 'If (this or this) Then…' but we rarely go down paths like 'If (this is not present) Then…'

That type of twist, from 'and/or' to 'not' is precisely what made Blink so interesting for me: the ideas it generated were more revolutionary and perspective-changing than evolutionary.

Sam Humbert comments:

…a simple, small factor algorithm surpassed ER doctors in determining if a patient was actually having a heart attack. The conclusion was that the judgment of ER doctors was affected too much by information.

I've been thinking about this lately. Since this fall/winter has been warm in New England, I've been out on my bike at least once a week. And I need to dress properly, given the winter temperatures and the self-generated windchill from riding reasonably fast.

What I've found through trial-and-error is that I'm better off going to weather.com and dressing based on a mechanical system (40s = jersey + 2 fleeces, 50s = jersey + 1 fleece, low 60s = jersey + windbreaker, high 60s = long sleeve jersey etc., adjusted for unusual wind or rain). Then I am by standing in my driveway to "see how it feels."

My subjective markings, it turns out, are prejudiced by ephemeral factors (sun is behind a cloud, a gust of wind blows through) and also by preconceptions ("it's winter, so it should be cold and windy," "it was warm yesterday").

I've sometimes gotten darned hot or cold by dressing by "how it feels," but I'm never too far off dressing by weather.com.

Rod Fitzsimmons Frey adds: 

I'm glad that others got good things out of Blink! I thought it was one of the most deceitful books I have ever read. Perhaps I judged too quickly (blink!) and read the rest through a negative filter, but I thought it was an anti-intellectual defense of emotional intuition over careful rationality.

As a remedy I suggest Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye by Michael LeGault, as a fast-and-dirty response, or The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom as a much deeper criticism.

Dr. Aronson addresses the ER physicians example (or something like it) in Evidence Based Technical Analysis (around p.42). He cites many studies that show that human decision making is very effective for linear and sequential problems and hopeless for configural thinking. When faced with configural problems, humans tend to reframe them into linear or sequential problems. Often this works, but for some things (like medical diagnoses), it is disasterous. It was a much more satisfying analysis of the issue than given by Gladwell.

Nigel Davies adds:

One of Bent Larsen's favorite expressions was 'long think, wrong think.' I think there's a lot of truth in this. Many people seem to tie themselves in knots by thinking too deeply and by considering so much information that they simply confuse themselves. But there's a paradox here in that good intuition requires mastery of the medium concerned, and that requires extensive testing, revising and doubting of one's conclusions.

I'd suggest that it's easy to play a blinker, but it's hard to play a master who can blink.


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