Why We Should Trade Like Woody Allen Rather Than Warren Buffet

Regardless of what you think about him personally, you have to admire the artistic accomplishment of Woody Allen. The man has been making movies since the 1960’s and even now, in his 80’s the man continues to produce a film a year.

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What’s even more remarkable about Allen is that the subject of many of movies is neurotic, intellectual Jews -- hardly pop culture fare. I often wonder how people outside my zip code can even understand some of the references in his films. But like all great artists, he is able to make the particular universal and help us laugh at and appreciate our humanity. It is no surprise then, that such wildly different filmmakers like Spike Lee and Chris Rock are big Woody Allen fans.

Of course, when you look at his whole body of work, there is plenty of derivative, repetitive garbage, but there are also absolute gems of world cinema like Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters. Midnight in Paris and of course Annie Hall. What’s astounding about Allen is that he brings it. All. The. Time.

A long time ago Allen revealed in an interview, that early on in his career he realized that if he could stay on a modest budget he could make movies the way he wanted. Therefore, his scripts have always centered on the human-scale drama that can be filmed inexpensively in the interiors and exteriors of New York with A-list actors that were willing to work for scale because they all wanted to be part of the project. This has been his formula since he left Hollywood and he has never deviated from it. Even in his most recent work that has taken him to Europe he basically repeated the format making the city a principal character of the script (Midnight in Paris and the wonderful Vicky, Christina, Barcelona).

Woody Allen’s longevity and productivity can be attributed to his consistent work ethic. He is famous for saying that 90% of success in life is just showing up. And he practices what he preaches. The moment he wraps up a movie he starts working on a new script.

It’s a deceptively simple motto, but it can be of enormous value to us traders because it is essentially a recipe for success in the markets.

Many traders like to look to Warren Buffet as their shining example of success. But Buffet’s “aw-shucks”, folksy wisdom belies a very complex investment structure of an arbitrageur and is never possible to replicate for a simple retail trader. For a much better deconstruction of why you can never trade like Warren Buffett, I recommend this article here.

But back to the Woodman and his simple take on doing one thing over and over again. I thought about it this week when I came across yet another great interview on Chat with Traders with Victor Haghani who, a very long time ago, was one of the principals in Long-Term Management. Presently he is running an active index fund and has started doing a variety of trading experiments. One of those experiments was discussed on the show and it is very apropos to our topic.

Haghani created an experiment with a virtual coin that was 60-40 biased towards heads. In other words for every 10 flips, the expectancy of the coin was 6 heads and 4 tails. He then proceeded to do an experiment with 61 participants -- all then trained in quantitative finance -- by asking them to flip the coin repeatedly and make bets with a $25 bank for a period of 30 minutes. He TOLD the participants ahead of time that they had a 60-40 edge on heads. He told them that the virtual coin was biased. Had they simply bet on heads every single time they would have had a better than 95% chance of winning $250. (Haghani capped the payout -- otherwise, his exposure would have been enormous).

Instead, 30% of the traders went bust. Why? Because they couldn’t resist betting on tails, uselessly trying to capture mean reversion even though they KNEW that they had 60% edge with heads. The experiment is fascinating because it confirms something that I see in myself and in many other traders in my chat room. Even if we have a winning trade strategy we do everything in our power to sabotage it. We exit early. We pull the trade signals. We -- and this was the most common takeaway from Haghani’s experiment -- refuse to do execute the “correct” strategy all the time because it’s “boring”.

It is amazing to me how I manage to sabotage my trades even on my own accounts as I second and triple guess my structures instead of letting them just trade and bank pips.

The Haghani experiment offers true resonance to Woody Allen’s words.

90% of success in life is just showing up. As traders, there are a few simple things we need to do.
We need to trade with the proper size.
We need to always honor our stops.
We need to trust our setups.

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That’s it. It seems so simple. But as Woody Allen shows only a few can do it.

Boris Schlossberg

One comment

  1. Luiz Cesar says:

    This is very true, I had been trading for over 10 years and still doing the very same mistakes that you wrote above. Guess is our human nature.

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