What does professionalism mean? Who can call themselves a professional and why? These may sound like abstract questions but their answers have everyday implications for doctors, lawyers and even traders.
The topic is also an area that a number of academics have researched and tried to understand. James Q. Wilson, a UCLA sociologist, has written extensively about bureaucracy and professionalism. He defines professionals as groups who receive important rewards from other members of their group, and have special membership criteria usually related to formal education. In addition, that group’s defined code of conduct is different from most of the population.
This raises the question about whether or not an individual trader can be professional in their trading performance without being a member of a professional group.
It seems clear to me that an individual trader does not meet the formal definition of a professional. Nevertheless, the qualities of professionalism can be adapted and used in your trading practice. You will benefit greatly from putting in effort toward professionalism.
Benefits of Professionalism
We can identify the qualities of professional behavior and hold ourselves to that standard without being a formal member of a professional group.
These qualities have to do with a code of conduct, and the ways of knowing and learning about the professional domain. Professional qualities such as preparation, self-discipline, attention to detail, rigorous thinking, and a commitment to excellence clearly add value to our trading practice.
One of the members of our trading mastermind observed that professionals identify a baseline of minimum acceptable performance that is not negotiable. For example, we may experience a string of five losses in a row in a trading system that is designed, tested and reliable at a 0.55 win rate.
The minimum acceptable professional behavior is that we have thoroughly tested and prototyped the system, we understand the reliability and expected distribution of results, and we are trading it at an appropriate level of risk given the known performance parameters. Without these baseline behaviors, we are not trading in a professional manner.
Because trading can be such a lonely job, having a traders’ mastermind to help reinforce professional behavior is a major advantage. This is why I strongly recommend a traders’ mastermind for every trader regardless of experience level. The positive reinforcement of effective group norms will help you in your darkest hour and keep you humble on what you think is your best day.
Limitations of Professionalism
While conventional wisdom advises traders to become more professional in their trading practice (professional behavior will help protect you against the kinds of emotional behavior that is your enemy as you struggle to compete for profits in the market), I would not say that this advice is always sound. In some circumstances, professional behavior can actually be detrimental to your trading performance.
Commonly, a profession defines a paradigm of beliefs, theories and behaviors that should govern their domain of action, which collectively we might call doctrine. This frequently leads to professional doctrine taking on a life of its own and failing to adapt to a dynamic world.
Under these conditions, the doctrine can become an end to itself and the professional may lose sight of the doctrine’s original purpose as a source of authoritative advice and, instead, give it an aura of timeless truths.
It was precisely this insight that led me to develop what is now one of my most reliable and productive systems. This came about as a result of following the exact opposite of what could reasonably be called conventional wisdom.
An Unconventional Trading System
I made a list of the top dozen or so beliefs about how the market works and how you should plan to make money in it. These were beliefs that could easily be found in any best-seller on personal finance and investing. I defined a new set of beliefs that were the exact opposite of each one of these and operationalized them in terms of screening criteria, technical analysis and so forth.
I constructed a system that, on the surface, violated every professional norm you could imagine. I then tested the system using back tests and forward tests in all kinds of market conditions and discovered that I had a robust strategy for short-term trading that was effective in most market conditions.
I never would have developed this system intentionally from these anti-beliefs. This simply started out as a thought experiment that turned out to have surprisingly good results.
This is the kind of the system that professional traders in a professional group with a professional doctrine would be very unlikely to discover as a direct consequence of the constraints of their professional approach, which—under most circumstances—is a positive thing.
Choose your beliefs carefully.