编者按：这篇文章的作者是Tren Griffin，他是美国知名私募Eagle River的合伙人之一。Tren Griffin对投资有着极强的兴趣，经常在其博客上分享一些他自己最新的观点和感悟。这篇文章就是其阅读完《成功方程式》之后的感想。
Tren Friffin：如果要我选一本我最喜欢的Michael Mauboussin写的书，我一定会选 The Success Equation（《成功方程式》）。在我看来Michael Mauboussin是头脑最清晰的企业家之一，他的言论能最大程度上让我有醍醐灌顶之感。他是一位完美的老师，十分慷慨、且十分乐于分享。
1. “There’s a quick and easy way to test whether an activity involves skill: ask whether you can lose on purpose. In games of skill, it’s clear that you can lose intentionally, but when playing roulette or the lottery you can’t lose on purpose.”
Luck is easier to describe than skill. Luck is best thought of in terms of an activity like roulette. With roulette you know the all potential future states and the probability distribution. Because the house takes a rake in roulette, there are no professional roulette players. Very few things in life involve just luck. The probability distribution of outcomes in the real world is rarely known. Mauboussin writes that luck has three core elements:
1) It operates on an individual or an organizational basis;
2) it can be positive or negative; and
3) it is reasonable to expect that a different outcome could have occurred.
Skill is harder to define, but Mauboussin believes a dictionary definition works well. Skill is: “The ability to apply one’s knowledge readily in execution or performance.” Mauboussin writes that activities like chess rely almost wholly on a player’s skill. Mauboussin explains that each sport has a different mix of skill versus luck. You will note that in this picture below investing finds its home closer to luck than skill (see the placement of chart icon).
2. “Much of what we experience in life results from a combination of skill and luck.”
The mix between skill and luck in a given business or investing activity is always different and is constantly changing. Exactly where investing falls on that continuum depends on the style of investing involved and the business environment at the time. Investing in the stock market is an interesting case to consider when thinking about the mix between luck and skill since it is hard to do better than an index and it is also hard to do worse, especially if you are diversified.
Venture capital investing is a more a skill driven activity since it involves things like coaching founders and significantly more uncertainty. Starting a business also involves more skill than investing in pubic equities. When Mauboussin was writing The Success Equationwe had an email conversation about the role of luck in the success of Microsoft. I recall that we did not agree completely about the mix in that case. I recall that saw less luck that Mauboussin did.
But I am too close to the story perhaps to be objective. Mauboussin includes writes in the book: “When asked how much of his success he would attribute to luck, Gates allowed that it played ‘an immense role.’ In particular, Microsoft was launched at an ideal time: ‘Our timing in setting up the first software company aimed at personal computers was essential to our success,’ he noted. ‘The timing wasn’t entirely luck, but without great luck it wouldn’t have happened.’
3. “Great success combines skill with a lot of luck. You can’t get there by relying on either skill or luck alone. You need both.”
Sometimes you will hear people say things like: “the harder I work, the luckier I become.” Mauboussin easily demonstrates these statements to be a non sequitur with a few well-chosen words: “there is no way to improve your luck, because anything you do to improve a result can reasonably be considered skill.” This Mauboussin turn of phrase reminds me a lot of the classic Howard Marks line: if risky investments could be counted on to deliver high returns, then they wouldn’t be risky.
4，“So here’s the distinction between activities in which luck plays a small role and activities in which luck plays a large role: when luck has little influence, a good process will always have a good outcome. When a measure of luck is involved, a good process will have a good outcome but only over time.”
Mauboussin believes a wise investing process has three elements:
1) you must find something the market does not believe and you must be right about that belief;
2) you must have control over your behavioral biases; and
3) you must not have organization issues that get in the way of a sound decisions.
One way to find things that are true that the market does not believe is to find areas of the market that are less well known and popular. In other words, what you want to do is find a game where the competition is weak. This is exactly what investors Warren Buffett and Howard Marks recommend. What you want to do is find a bet where the other bettors are making decisions based on things that are the equivalent of the patterns made by sheep guts at a slaughterhouse or a Keynesian Beauty Contest.
Munger says: “For a security to be mispriced, someone else must be a damn fool. It may be bad for the world, but not bad for Berkshire.” Warren Buffett makes the point that the way to beat a chess master is to play them at something other than chess. Buffett adds: “The important thing is to keep playing, to play against weak opponents and to play for big stakes.” If you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.”
Mauboussin writes：“If you compete in a field where luck plays a role, you should focus more on the process of how you make decisions and rely less on the short-term outcomes. The reason is that luck breaks the direct link between skill and results—you can be skillful and have a poor outcome and unskillful and have a good outcome. The point is that the outcome didn’t reveal the skill of the player, only the process did. So focus on process.”
5，“When everyone in business, sports, and investing copies the best practices of others, luck plays a greater role in how well they do.” “It’s not that investors lack skill. As investors have become more sophisticated and the dissemination of information has gotten cheaper and quicker over time, the variation in skill has narrowed, and luck has become more important.”
Mauboussin calls this idea the paradox of skill. Mauboussin。For example, as the skill levels of portfolio managers rise the greater the role of luck becomes in the outcome. The classic example of this idea that Mauboussin cites is the .400 batting average of Ted Williams. Mauboussin points out: “The average of all batting averages in Major League Baseball is generally in the range of .260 to .270.
In 1941, when Williams achieved his feat, the standard deviation was .032. Today it is about .028. Saying this differently, Ted Williams had an average that was 4 standard deviations away from the average, getting him to .406. If a player were to be 4 standard deviations away from average in 2011, he would have hit .380. Awesome, but nowhere near .400.” Charlie Munger once said, “If you don’t get this elementary, but mildly unnatural, mathematics of elementary probability into your repertoire, then you go through a long life like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. You’re giving a huge advantage to everybody else.”
As investors increasingly move toward buying index funds, unskilled investors are removed from the game which makes the task of a manager trying to earn alpha harder. As investment skill levels rise, luck gets more important.
6，“If you take concrete steps toward attempting to measure [the contributions of skill and luck to any success or failure], you will make better decisions than people who think improperly about those issues or who don’t think about them at all. That will give you an enormous advantage over them.”
The more data you have on your processes and outcomes the more you will be able to improve those processes and outcomes. What data is valuable? I would rather have data and not need it, than need it and not have it. This quote makes me think of a quality that Mauboussin and I share. We both want to know why something is true. It is not enough to know that x is true. One way to know more about why something is true is to measure it. Of course people tend to ignore or hide data they do not like, which reminds me of an old joke told by Kieran Healy:
A soldier is captured during a long-running war and thrown into the most stereotypical prison cell imaginable. Inside the cell is another solider. He has an enormous, disgusting-smelling beard and has clearly been there a long time. The young solider immediately sets about trying to escape. He is resourceful and possessed of great willpower. He bribes a guard with his emergency supply of cash.
The guard gets him into a supply truck and he makes it to the prison garage, but is found during a routine vehicle search while exiting the compound. He is returned to his cell. His mangy companion says nothing about his departure or return. Undeterred, the young soldier works on the bars of the cell for weeks, filing them down with a shim made from a toothbrush. The whole time the old soldier looks on, silently. The young soldier finally breaks the bars, slips out the window and makes it to the outer wall, where he is spotted and recaptured. He is thrown back in the cell. He glowers at his grizzled companion, who still remains silent.
Calming himself and mastering his despair, he tries yet again, this time digging a tunnel with the narrow end of a broken plastic coffee spoon. After about two years of work he succeeds in escaping under the wall and making it to the nearest town, only to be captured again at the train station. He is delivered, once again, back to his cell and its taciturn occupant.
At the end of his wits, the young soldier finally confronts the old soldier, shouting, “Couldn’t you at least offer to help me with this?! I mean, I’ve come up with all these great plans—you could have joined me in executing them! What’s wrong with you?”
The old soldier looks at him and says, “Oh I tried all these methods years ago—bribery, the bars, a tunnel, and a few others besides—none of them work.” The young soldier looks at him, incredulous, and screams “Well if you knew they didn’t work, WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU TELL ME BEFORE I TRIED THEM, YOU BASTARD?!” The old soldier scratches his filthy beard and says, “Hey, who publishes negative results?”
老士兵看着他说：“哦，这些方法我n年前就试过了——贿赂，铁柱，暗道，还有其它的——没一个管用。” 年轻的士兵难以置信，对着他怒吼：“你既然知道不管用，你TMD为什么早告诉我？！你这个混蛋！” 老士兵捋了捋脏兮兮的胡子：“嘿，谁到处乱广播没做成的事儿？”
7.“Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that can be measured matters.”
People want to be able to predict the future. To satisfy that desire, humans have a tendency to grab what data can be measured and assume that what can’t be measured does not exist or does not matter. People who are mathematically gifted are particularly prone to this tendency.
For example, if you just assume that the human world works like the world of physics you can use this assumption make beautiful mathematical formulas. But there may or may not be any tie of that mathematics to reality, which can create a host of major problems. As an example, one of my biggest problems with a lot of economic discussions today related to the fact that it is very hard to measure consumer surplus.
Just ignoring consumer surplus because you can’t measure it well is a bad idea that can lead to unhelpful policy conclusions. Just as unhelpful are people who say that it can be accurately measured, based on a bunch of assumptions that are essentially guesses. Sometimes we need to accept that we do not or cannot fully know something. The policy choices must deal with that uncertainty.
8. “Even if we acknowledge ahead of time that an event will combine skill and luck in some measure, once we know how things turned out, we have a tendency to forget about luck.”
Survivor bias is a huge problem in human cognition. The tendency is for people to conclude: what I achieve is skill and what I fail at is luck. People love to tell stories, particularly about their successes. Sometimes we get lucky and sometimes we are skillful. Usually the result is some mix of both. What is particularly bothersome to me is when people ascribe luck to themselves in a way that they bestow themselves some moral measure superiority. As Warren Buffett points out, he won the ovarian lottery: “I was born in the United States. I had all kinds of luck.”