Friday, 10 June 2016

Only Mistakes

We all make them; in fact, and I hope you are sitting down for this, even the author of your favourite blog has been known to make the very occasional one, evidence, if any is needed, that no one is perfect.

I'm not sure I have mentioned her before, but articles from the Financial Times’ Lucy Kellaway are usually worth reading. Not only does she write content worth reading, but she does so in an entertaining style and with a dry sense of humour – rather like myself, I hear you say.

Lucy Kellaway (@LucyKellaway) first came to my attention when she was the commencement speaker at my son’s graduation (University of Essex) a few years ago, and she has a habit of cutting through the BS and talking common sense.

The article below about mistakes was triggered by the comment by UBS Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti to his employees that "henceforth it was OK for them to make mistakes". I meant to post this a few months ago, but I made a mistake and filed it in the wrong place. But that’s OK; I've learned from it and here is the article now, none the less relevant than the day it was written:
UBS head should make clear that all can take risks but none may make light of mistakes
Last week the chief executive of UBS told all the bankers who work for him that henceforth it was OK for them to make mistakes. A culture in which everyone was petrified of taking risks, Sergio Ermotti said, was not in the interests of the bank or its clients.
How mature, came the response. How refreshing to hear a bank chief acknowledge that risks need to be taken and honest mistakes will sometimes be made.
But it wasn’t mature. It was mad.
In a limited sort of way what he said made sense. The main point about risks is that they are risky — and risky things have a way of going wrong. Places where people get a bollocking for making the slightest slip tend not to be where the best decisions are made.
Yet the answer is not to tell bankers that it is fine to screw up. Mistakes are never OK. And they are particularly un-OK in banking. If I were a UBS client, I would be exceedingly displeased to learn that the bankers to whom I was handing over a king’s ransom were being taught that errors were perfectly acceptable.
This mistake-loving nonsense is an export from Silicon Valley, where “fail fast and fail often” is what passes for wisdom. Errors have been elevated to such a level that to get something wrong is spoken of as more admirable than getting it right.
One company that dares to be different is Amazon. Among its values is the seditiously sensible notion that its leaders “are right, a lot”. Far from stifling innovation, this seems to have done the reverse. On the 2015 Forbes list of the world’s most innovative companies, Amazon is number eight. Facebook and Google, which have long talked about the marvellousness of failing, are not on it at all.
The glorification of failure is based on a couple of psychological misapprehensions. The first is the idea that we learn from our mistakes, when there is no evidence of anything of the kind. I certainly don’t learn from mine. I keep buying uncomfortable shoes, each time thinking I will wear them in. But they go on being uncomfortable, and I go out and buy more that pinch just as badly.
The world is full of people who go on making the same mistake. Men marry the same sort of unsuitable woman. Most of the journalists I’ve ever worked with display extraordinary loyalty to their particular brand of mistake — they are endlessly inaccurate, or endlessly prone to cliché.
A study a few years ago by neuroscientists at MIT showed that monkeys learn much more from getting things right than getting things wrong. When rewarded for making a correct choice they remembered it and could repeat it, but after a wrong choice they remembered nothing.
The second fallacy — which UBS has fallen for — says that fear of making mistakes paralyses us, so we must make them seem less scary.
The experience of Henry Marsh, one of Britain’s best neurosurgeons, shows this is nonsense.
He has to take mistakes seriously as when he screws up people die. Far from consoling himself with the thought that honest mistakes are fine, he has written a book, "Do No Harm", cataloguing all his errors in goriest detail and making each one appear as un-fine as possible.
Yet even with mistakes cast as catastrophes, Mr. Marsh has not been paralysed. He admits to feeling dread before every operation, but once he gets started he feels a “fierce and happy concentration”. Nor is there any sign that his proper dread has stopped him taking risks.
Instead he has pioneered a brilliant and daring system, in which patients are kept awake while he rummages around in their brains.
He catalogues his failures not in a Pollyanna-ish attempt to show how much he learnt, but simply as a fact of life — and death. It is as if the mistakes have become part of him, and have made him the person he is.
Equally the mistakes we’ve made make us the employees we are.
I haven’t killed anyone through my work, but I have harmed them. I often write about people anonymously in my columns, but sometimes they recognise themselves and they feel rightly hurt.
Each time I have failed to disguise them well enough, or have misjudged their reactions.
Yet far from learning, I go on doing it. I never think: honest mistakes are OK. Instead I remember all the people I have wronged and wear them as a guilty badge. It might not make me a better journalist, but it makes me more clear sighted about what I do for a living.
What Mr. Ermotti should have made clear was that sometimes his employees must take risks, and sometimes things will go wrong. When that happens, no one must ever make light of their cock-ups. Instead they should carry the memory of all their mistakes as part of their own internal score sheet of how they have fared as a banker.
From a trading or betting viewpoint, a loss doesn't necessarily mean a mistake was made of course, but anyone who has been seriously active in betting for any length of time will have made a mistake. The important thing is to have a short memory for them while learning from them and not repeating that error again. Unfortunately, there seems to be no end of ways in which mistakes can be made, but if we can eliminate the most common or likely ones, that's pretty good. My work requires me to drill down and determine the "root cause" of problems - it's a handy exercise in my betting life too.

James had this to say on the satirical opening to my recent post looking at P and L blogs:
Well, Green All Over is certainly the most ground breaking of websites.
I've never known anyone alter their P/L to make themselves look worse than they really are.
However, you yourself have mentioned Benford's Law so I can discount your first paragraph as jovial folly.
The actual perpetrator is probably none the wiser.
Finally, I must thank you for pointing out that CPFC does try to include the more wholesome aspects of continental ultra support even though they have yet to pass GCSE Geography.
If you want to come in with me on an investment plan I have to start Surrey's first ASSOCIATION foote-ball club since 1965 then I would be more than happy to have you. I was thinking of two locations...
1) Woking Whisperers (on presumption that the support will be typically English) or
2) Guildford Bombers, errr maybe not.
Green All Over, with its 1.2 million plus hits and more than eight year history, has certainly been ground-breaking, a term that always reminds me of the joke about the shovel being one of mankind's most important inventions.

If only those made up numbers were actually worse than the truth! I have indeed mentioned Benford several times, the most recent being a look back taken in January of this year. Overall the numbers were close to expectation, with the exception of 7 which was, and still is, letting the side down a little.

Surrey does have several Football Association Clubs - it's just that none of them are in the Football League. It's about time Woking woke up. They were the visiting team when the record attendance for a Conference game was set (excluding play-offs) at Oxford United (11,065 on Boxing Day 2006) - not a lot of people know that.

James mentions Guildford, but they do already have a club with a name worthy of the top levels of the game - Guildford City. Unfortunately, it appears the name is far grander than their current circumstances of the club merit:
The record attendance was set on 8 September 2012 when the visit of Kingstonian in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round drew a crowd of 295 spectators
295! I'm expecting more than that at my funeral!

"Bombers" is unlikely to become a nickname, either official or unofficial, any time soon, but a little Surrey trivia for you all is that a "carbon-copy" of the Guildford bombings actually took place in Caterham in August 1975, when the Caterham Arms was the target. I remember the incident well, as I would cycle close by the pub on my way to (and from) work in those days.

The nearby Barracks (hence the reason the pub was selected as a target) closed in 1995, but the Caterham Arms is still thriving after a spell when it was known as the "Village Inn". My brother-in-law still goes there occasionally, thriving after a spell when he was known as the "Village Idiot". I should apologise for that joke as he became a granddad yesterday, at the same moment I became a great-uncle.

Enough of this frivolity. James can be a good and a bad influence on me.

Robbo the trader was concerned:
Phew, James is alive and well, I posted a comment to his blog about the pnl's and it never appeared. To be honest I was getting a bit worried all that back patting had done him some harm.
I think James is just fine, possibly busy working on his next book, and enjoying the Test Match at Lords. Not being a football man, he's probably not too excited about the start of Euro 2016 tonight.

One article I read on the Crystal Palace FC stated that:
 "with four players called up to the tournament, there are only 32 clubs that have provided more players to Euro 2016 than Palace". 
I love the use of "only" in that sentence.

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