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I am often asked by others “how does one go about achieving an amazing XYZ?” For XYZ fill in whatever matters to you e.g. physique, investment returns, marathon race times, golf handicap, sales presentation. I started this blog series with one of my favourite topics, discipline, and today I would like to tell you a story based around one of the other components necessary for success.
The World of Numbers
In a parallel life as a quant trader in financial markets, a few years ago, I headed a team of super bright graduates in Mumbai from various Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) disciplines. One of the automated computer driven trading strategies we decided to build was, we were told, “traded for many years” since the inception of the equity derivatives market in India. The jargon “PD trading” (price discovery) was well known to traders in that market – trading in the last half hour, on the single day each month that equity futures contracts expired and would be settled for cash. “It’s a crowded space, you won’t achieve anything special” we were told.
Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail
Having placed the responsibility for supervising the details of the system construction to the most senior of my IIT boffins I stepped back until the day we tested it live in the markets for the first time. On the first day of trading we waited for the result – a sizable loss! This was not meant to happen! With probably the smartest guys in the Indian financial markets working with an experienced trader from their alma mater supervising them, what could go wrong? The answer, quite simply, was attention to detail, or lack thereof.
Succeeding in Preparation is Preparing for Success
I then took upon myself the responsibility for the detailed examination and redevelopment of every part of the system. Being of the mindset that it is better to train and test yet another 1000 extra simulations and improve performance than lose even $100, our system for trading was up and ready to attack the electronic market place again within a few weeks. The details of what the system did cannot be explained here but it would be fair to say that just about every detail that could be improved was given thought to.
From the first time we went live again, every day that we turned on that system it traded smoothly, making us profits each and every time! Even today, years later, the system continues to be successful in generating almost riskless profits.
So, What’s so Special?
So, why am I telling you this story? What is instructive to note is not that a pure money making machine sits in an air-conditioned server room in Mumbai, but that (a) not a single other trader in the world was actually doing what we were doing because we know that (b) our rate of success of capturing every observable trading opportunity was close to 100% (with actions monitored in microsecond detail). Sure, traders were making money during that half hour period, but it was not from trading “expectations arbitrage” opportunities like they claimed. Instead they were all jumping on the same bandwagon (mostly what might be called “momentum trading”) and copying each other. All of them just doing slightly different versions of an altogether different (I hesitate to say“wrong”) trade idea. We, on the other hand, continued to make our probability of, and payout from, success higher in every successive month by paying greater and greater attention to detail.
What does this mean for you?
How does this relate to you? Whenever you take up a new goal or sub-goal, there’s always a better way to get there. Even when you think you’ve got the hang of things, there’s at least one better way to do it. The money is in the detail… it’s up to you to make the effort to seek it.
In a parallel world where I enjoy distance running, every year I might race just once or twice, but each race is carefully thought through and the training is specific to a narrow target band for race day. Every component that drives success is paid close attention to. The race might be almost a year away, with training involving thousands of miles run, but the daily process involves no lack of attention to detail. Whether it be workouts, nutrition, rest and recovery, each component that could increase the probability of success is paid attention to.
And so it could be with every aspect of life that is important to you. When something is not particularly important for the happiness of your soul, perhaps it does not matter. But there are always a couple of things that are close to your heart, and they need not be about sports or career goals.
How about ensuring that your children speak their non-English mother tongue and father tongue? What thoughts and simple actions could make them fluently multilingual in the language of their ethnic roots with negligible effort? How about losing weight? What are the extremely simple things that you could do to reduce your body fat % to athletic levels?
And what happens if you do not pay attention to detail? Well, have you noticed how some recreational runners clock endless miles and make some improvement to their health but never quite look kick ass? Almost always, they are not paying close enough attention to the relevant detail.
It could be anything that you decide you want to excel at relative to what you have been used to. Once your decision is made, your success is just about having the discipline to think through the detail and then executing flawlessly. Success is your birth right. The money is in the detail!
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.