I often ask myself what is the purpose of my trading. Yes, I know, I do it for the money, for the intellectual challenge, and all that. I also understand how the markets function by allocating capital and signaling value, etc., and how I am a small, small part of that. But I mean it from a different perspective. Having worked a lot with business planning (mostly with LOTS) in different companies, I often think of how I would characterize my reason for trading if I were to write it in a business plan format. If I sold some gadget for example, I would ask: What is the purpose of the selling of the gadget? Who benefits from it? What is the underlying reason that there will be a value gained from my selling the gadget, from which I can make a profit. I think that the same applies to trading. Furthermore, a good purpose should also function as a day to day rudder and make sure that I do not deviate from my niche. To do that, it should encapsulate what we should do, why and for whom. With a well thought out purpose, we should be guided both in our every day activities as well as our important long term decisions.

During the talk this year in Central Park, Mr. Wiz mentioned something that perhaps is not spelled out as a company or trading purpose, but which I nevertheless think was one of the best fitting purposes I have ever heard, as far as I understand the underlying thinking in the company. He said: “We provide the market with liquidity in fearful situations”. Well, it seems to have worked out quite nicely, and I think there is a lot to be gained by all traders from being very clear with what it is their niche is in the market, and spelling it out in a “trading purpose”.

Scott Brooks adds:

Providing the market with liquidity in fearful situations is tantamount to buying low. The flip side of this coin is providing the markets with liquidity during the great times, which is tantamount to selling high!

This is an investment philosophy that I invented years ago … it is called “Buy Low and Sell High” … (I know, you’re shocked, you did not know I was the inventor of “buy low and sell high”)

But seriously …

This was described to me by a college professor as the “good guy school of investing”. It works like this:

If someone wants to sell you something for far less than it is worth, be a good guy and buy it from them. Conversely, if someone wants to buy something from you for far more than its worth, be a good guy and sell it to them.

The “Good Guy School of Investing” is providing liquidity to the markets during fearful situations (and also providing liquidity when the party the market mistress is throwing is at its crescendo.)

In between, just take advantage of the long term positive drift!

Dr. Kim Zussman comments:

I recall Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. His conclusion was that we are not in a position to ask life it’s meaning - life will ask you to determine it’s meaning.

Something like ‘what you get out of it is proportional to what you put into it.’ Even if you lose, or under-perform various benchmarks, you get to be ironic.

For some, trading has analogies in most aspects of the universe, and can become self-consuming. To others it is just money; and Buffett, Soros, Ken Smith, etc. all put on their pants one leg at a time and suffer the same frailties we all do.

Laurence Glazier contributes:

This brings to mind the great Armstrong lyrics:

If I never had a cent I’ll be as rich as Rockefeller Gold dust at my feet on the sunny side of the street [More]

So above all let us trade for the love of it! Trading is a two way process and equally important as our purpose is the realization that it shapes us, acting, like other arts, as a mirror.

GM Nigel Davies mentions:

Something I’ve noticed with many very strong chess players is that they don’t need to think about purpose, they are simply at one with the game. And one of the best ways to nobble a tournament leader is to congratulate him on his excellent play and ask what it is that he’s doing right (not that I’d use such a tactic myself).

Accordingly I suggest that one of the goals of mastery is get past the stage of awkward consciousness and discussions such as the present one. For a chess player it should be enough to say ‘I crush, therefore I am’, and the trading version would be ‘I’m profitable, therefore I am’. And the strategies required should be in one’s blood, things that are so well studied and deeply ingrained that one uses them as naturally as breathing.

Jim Sogi adds:

In Trading and Exchanges by Larry Harris of USC discusses why People Trade. People trade to invest, borrow, exchange assets, hedge risks, distribute risks, gamble, speculate, and deal. Understanding the reasons different people trade and the taxonomy of traders, including ourselves, allows understanding the opportunities that arise. Interestingly a smaller percentage of participants are true investors, and even fewer are speculators. Of those even fewer of what he terms informed speculators are the statistical arbitrageurs, of which we compose a small part. Oddly Many do not trade to profit but for other reasons. This is where the speculators purpose in the firmament comes in, and for which we are rewarded, to facilitate the other purposes of the other participants. They pay us for that privilege. Dealers are the ones who sell liquidity, not the speculators. The above does not answer the heart of Mr. Lindkvist’s query, but it does set the framework for the answer which must vary according to each of our purposes and which niche into which we fit in our respective operations.

Larry Williams mentions:

Years ago we did a personality profile at seminars asking traders to list the 3 primary reasons they traded.

None of them listed as the first reason to make money.

Answers were like, “Excitement, Challenge, to show my brother in law I’m smarter than him, etc”

Kim Zussman creates a masochist/self-loathing correlation matrix:

Long Only Bought Hold Sold
Too Soon -$ -$ -$
Too Late -$ -$ -$
Too Long -$ -$ -$
Long/Short Short Flat Long
Market Up Up/Down Down
Short Only
100 Year Return -1,000,000%

Steve Ellison comments:

There is a technique used in ISO certification called SIPOC. In this technique, an organization identifies its suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers (hence the acronym). The organization divides its processes into those that create value, triggers for value processes, and supporting activities that do not themselves create value for customers but facilitate value creation. This technique can help an organization articulate its value proposition and focus its processes on value creation.

Participating in a SIPOC exercise this week challenged me to consider how I might apply this technique to trading. A trader might create value in any of several ways, including providing liquidity, moving price closer to true value, assuming risk that others wish to avoid, and providing psychological relief by taking other traders’ losing positions off their hands.


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