Mastery and Learning

Mastery takes a willingness to learn. Are you a life-long learner? Are you able to focus your attention on becoming a master trader? Today it seems like you can hardly pick up a newspaper or a magazine without reading about the educational system in the United States including our ranking worldwide someplace between 15th and 20th depending on the survey.

The focus of a large percentage of the articles is on what educators (teachers and professors) do or not do as well as what students are able to apply in the real world after their formal education. For example, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed how law firms were invest- ing inordinate amounts of time and money educating new hires (law school graduates) in the real world application of the law versus the principles of the law which they learned in law school.

While there are countless articles that highlight how unprepared graduating students are for the real world, there are also countless biographies and examples of individuals who achieved significant levels of personal and financial success without significant formal education.

What if? What if the model for traditional education was reversed for high school graduates? Instead of going straight to college after high school, what if students invested six months, twelve months, or even twenty-four months in one or more apprenticeships with a two-fold objective; first, to help them make a more informed decision as to their on-going educational process, and second, to give them real-world experience that coincides with their vocational interests as well as a position that would incorporate both on-going learning and work experience not to mention an income.

Please note, this commentary is not about whether one should pursue a formal education or not. It is about learning and mastery and the fact that many whom we label masters gained mastery through direct learning supplemented by derivative learning versus derivative learning as the foundation supplemented by direct learning.

Direct learning is defined as experiential learning. Knowledge gained from observing, thinking, and utilizing external resources such as mentors, coaches, books, courses, etc.. In other words, the learner embraces the responsibility for his or her learning journey and orchestrates the selection and timing of the learning tools based on his or her learning style, objectives, available resources of time, energy and money. This approach, in my opinion, is contextual to the degree the learner has defined his or her objective and then seeks to bring the ‘parts’ together that advance his or her learning process.


Derivative learning being defined as following a pre-planned curriculum. The learner in many cases follows a path of instruction designed for many versus their individual uniqueness and learn based on what others believe is the best course to follow to achieve success in a vocation or profession. For example, what to learn, who to learn from, the sequence of the learning process, the books to read including specifically what lesson to learn from the reading, and what to know in order to ‘pass a test’ or ‘get a good grade’. In this scenario the learner is passive to some degree and is focused on the content of what he or she is learning.


As trading software developers we have the opportunity to talk with many, many individuals who trade or are thinking about learning to trade who are at different levels or stages in their development as traders. Except for a very small percentage, most want to know how if and how our software will help them become consistently profitable or more profitable. While this is certainly a legitimate question and one that deserves an answer, it is not a question that is easy to answer. Why? Because, in our experience, the benefits realized from the use of a ‘tool’, and trading software is a tool, are based on three key factors:

What the individual knows. For traders that means their level of market knowledge and understanding including the market’s auction process and its general and specific behavior. Also, their knowledge and understanding of themselves – their beliefs and behaviors as well as the why’s behind those beliefs and behaviors. The reason knowing what one knows is important is that it supports the individual in making an informed decision as to if and how a certain ‘tool’ has the potential to advance the user’s process in achieving the results he or she seeks to attain.

How the individual thinks. For example, is he or she a whole-brain thinker who has the ability to use right and left hemispheres independently and collectively? Predominantly a left-brained thinker or a right-brained thinker? The benefit of understanding how one thinks rests in the fact that thinking incorporates many aspects as illustrated by one of the greatest masters of all times – Leonardo da Vinci. In ‘How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Gelb offers insight into the seven principles underlying da Vinci’s mastery such as curiosity, relationships, incorporation of the senses, and embracing ambiguity.

What an individual does. ‘Does’ incorporates what one has done, is doing, and plans or doesn’t plan to do but just does. What one has done is experience and the value of experience is directly correlated to the thinking stimulated by the outcome of the experience, how what was learned increased the effectiveness of the doing going forward. For example, when Jim Dalton and I worked with traders in our Intensives, one of the most important topics discussed was centered around the value of cumulative experience and how to make each experience in the market meaningful in an individual’s development as a trader.

And, when we look at Masters, one point that stands out above all others is their commitment to learning, for example, Robert Greene, in his latest book, Mastery, wrote:

“It is a simple law of human psychology that you thoughts will tend to revolve around what you value most. . . . you must value learning above everything else. This will lead you to all of the right choices. You will opt for the situation that will give you the most opportunities to learn, particularly with hands-on work.”

Most masters whether they are musicians, surgeons, inventors, artists, scientists, or of any other vocation pursued by a master almost always involves a ‘tool’ of some kind be it a violin or a piano, a scalpel, small machines, brushes or a potter’s wheel, or Bunsen burners and test tubes. And, when we dig deeper into their processes we discover that their ‘tool or tools’ were an intricate part of their journey to mastery.

Based on our experience with hundreds of traders over the past twenty¬†plus years, we note that only a small percentage are proficient in capitalizing on the available functionality of the software they use and, in turn, reaping the benefits it has to offer especially its replay functionality. In fact, many traders, based on what we’ve observed first-hand on numerous occasions, understand neither the reasoning behind the indicators and/or oscillators they use nor how different settings (variable and default) impact the display of information.

Furthermore, many traders are unaware of the degree they discount the potential value of their application by not maximizing its capabilities to understand the market’s context, content, or condition, and then, synthesize that information in order to make higher-probability, informed decisions.

In summary, our suggestion is quite simple. Invest the requisite time, energy, and money to gain the proficiency you need to capitalize on one of your most important trading support ‘tools’. Why? Because the more you know and are able to do from your direct learning using the ‘tool’, the sooner you’ll receive a return of and on your investment.


Until next time . . .

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