Sunday, July 26, 2015

Margins and edges

We don’t know what we want—to be part of the mainstream or to live on the margin, to stay in our comfort zone or to venture out to the edge.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

We don’t want to be marginalized. We don’t want to live a precarious life financially, not knowing where out next meal is coming from. Most of us don’t want to cross the margin of civilized behavior. But we do want a margin of safety, we allow for a margin of error, and sometimes it’s to our advantage to trade on margin. Breakthroughs often happen at the margins.

In a book a margin is that area between what is important, the text, and what is no longer even a book, everything beyond the edge. It’s a place between that which matters and that which, to the engaged reader, doesn’t. But it’s also a place where the reader can add his own thoughts, where he can be creative.

Margins have two dimensions; edges, only one. Margins are for wimps (like those who want to live another day); edges, for daredevils. People who live on the edge take risks, almost by definition without a safety net. Living on the edge can be exciting and illuminating. But the edge itself is unforgiving. There’s no second dimension in which to tiptoe forwards and backwards. You can win big, you can lose everything. The edge is not a place for risk management.

We are inclined to be in awe of those who, to our minds, live at the edge. But sometimes their contribution lies not in fearlessly standing at the edge but in working in the margin, moving the edge away from themselves. Scientists, for instance, push back the edge of ignorance. Smart traders find a way to hedge or otherwise mitigate risk.

I suspect that the humble margin deserves more respect, even though I can find no upside to being marginalized. We ourselves have to choose to test boundaries, to push beyond our comfort zone, to take on risk. Perhaps then our profit margin will improve. We don’t want others to push us out because we are deemed unworthy of being part of the mainstream—because we are poor, different, or just easy to ignore.

1 comment:

  1. Margins deserve respect because they don't cause catastrophes? Building on "Invert, Always Invert"? No?