Failure is Not Predictive

Among the many treasures within the Market Wizards series of books by Jack Schwager (and they are legion) are the stories about failures. One of the most common threads running throughout his fifty some-odd interviews and four books is that everyone f***s up early in their careers. Really badly. The mistakes of these traders and investors become teachable moments and, in most cases, they take great delight in telling Jack these stories. You can almost picture the gleam in some of their eyes as they take him back…

Jack points out that “Failure is Not Predictive” in the first chapter of his latest book, The Little Book of Market Wizards for Wiley. He reminds us how common these stories of wipeouts and crushing defeats are throughout his series. He further makes the point that if at first one doesn’t succeed, it has absolutely no bearing on what’s to come next.

His story of the major league pitcher Bob Gibson illustrates this lesson perfectly:

On April 15, 1959, Bob Gibson played in his first major league game, coming in as a relief pitcher for the Cardinals as they trailed the Dodgers 3-0. Gibson gave up a home run to the very first batter he faced – an ignominy suffered by only 65 pitchers in the history of the game. In the next inning, Gibson gave up another home run. Gibson got a chance to redeem himself coming in as a relief pitcher the next evening, but again was hit hard by the Dodgers. Two nights later, Gibson was brought in against the Giants with two outs and two runners on in the eighth inning and promptly gave up a double. After that game, Gibson sat on the bench for a week, and then was sent back to the minors. It is hard to imagine a more demoralizing beginning.

Despite his dismal start, Gibson ultimately went on to become one of the best pitchers in baseball history. He is widely considered among the top 20 pitchers of all time. Gibson played 17 seasons in the majors, winning 251 games, with 3,117 strikeouts and a 2.91 earned run average (ERA). In 1968, he posted an unbelievably low 1.12 ERA – the lowest such figure since 1914. He won two Cy Young awards, twice was named the World Series most valuable player (MVP), played on nine All-Star teams, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

If you’ve been rocked by the first few batters you’ve faced in a given endeavor – whether due to your own lack of expertise or a cruel twist of circumstance – you’re in good company. The bad news is, it may not be over yet. The good news is, these struggles and failings of yours are predictive of nothing as far as the future is concerned. You’re still in the game.


The Little Book of Market Wizards (Amazon)

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