Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Loser's Game

If you ask students who the "smartest" kid in their class is, it is likely that the person they identify is not the class topper (in terms of GPA). Why?

Toppers are superb test takers. They have mastered the art of error minimization. Sure, they are smart, and they prepare hard. So do many other students. What distinguishes them is caution, and an obsession with avoiding stupid mistakes.

They may not offer the most enterprising solutions to hard problems, or be thought of as the most "creative" people (whatever that term means). But they are good at one thing: controlling error!

Controlling error is important! In many disciplines like accounting, building bridges or spaceships, computer programming etc. it is perhaps the most important thing.

"In Winning the Loser's Game", Charlie Ellis (pdf) talks about difference between amateur and professional tennis. In professional tennis, the winner is the player who outplays the other. Generally, the more skillful player wins.

In amateur tennis the game is not decided by who hits more winners. Rather the winner is the player who makes the least mistakes - commits fewer double faults, hits fewer shots into the net, etc.

He makes an interesting point that investing is also like that. Unless you are a professional, don't swing for the winners. Instead, focus on controlling the things that you can control, and the rest will take care of itself.