Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trading and alpine climbing

Today I am blatantly plagiarizing from a post to The Option Club, a Yahoo group, by an experienced option trader, Michael Catolico. He’s an expert on adjusting option positions.

He called the group’s attention to the first chapter of a book by Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley, Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher (The Mountaineers Books, 2004) that he believes teaches traders more than most books written by financial experts. Since I have trouble even climbing a step ladder (yes, I’m acutely acrophobic), I had no need for the book. The excerpts I provide here come from the Google Books preview.

“To climb mountains is to make decisions.... Good decisions are contextual, based on actual circumstances, and cannot be reduced to a set of rules…. In fact rules, guidelines, and codes, although useful for introducing concepts, ultimately become counterproductive when it comes to actually making choices… The simplest climb involves circumstances far too complex to be adequately addressed by rules. The mountain environment itself forces you to rely on your own skills of observation, your understanding of what you observe, and an accurate assessment of risks and of your own abilities.”

The authors continue: “Rules must be replaced by that mysterious quality called judgment. The acquisition of judgment begins with a mountaineer’s very first climb and continues throughout the climber’s entire career. It is a process that cannot be bypassed nor ever be considered complete.”

Principles that help guide decision making are:

Anticipate changes. “Continually look forward. Every change in terrain, route difficulty, or hazard may require a new strategy, mode of movement, or protective system to deal with new circumstances.” (p. 15)

Keep options open. “Any given decision can either maximize or limit other possible options in the future."

Analyze benefits and costs. “Addressing one risk or solving one problem often entails introducing other risks or aggravating other problems.”

Maintain momentum. “Staying focused on forward movement means always being a little bit stressed, but in such a potentially dangerous environment, some level of stress is, arguably, appropriate.”

Gather information. “Preparing ahead of time will give you a head start…. Above all, remember what you see. Every glimpse is a new piece of the puzzle.”

Recognize and correct errors. “Rather than expecting perfection, strive to recognize errors as early as possible, and take steps to correct the situation. Do not carry on blindly, hoping that everything will work out. Denial causes delay, piling error upon error until only good luck can prevent things from spiraling out of control.” (p. 16)

Assess your own skill and knowledge. “An honest and dispassionate self-critique is indispensable. For example, the capacity to observe, predict, and respond to cues improves over time, just as movement skills and climbing ability improve with practice; but on the other hand, competence can be degraded temporarily by states such as fear or fatigue or by inadequate information and inaccurate perception.” (p. 17)

Alpine climbers take on considerably more risk than traders. After all, traders lose only money; climbers can lose their lives. But the way to the top demands similar decision-making processes.

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