The late Gerald M. Loeb, who died in 1975 understood the value of flexibility and made a fortune from applying this simple distinction.
In his book, The Battle for Investment Survival, he used a specific formula to maximize his gains and minimize his losses in the fickle stock exchange. Using this formula, he took advantage of the boom in the 50’s and 60’s and survived the market fall in 1969.
His principles are still valid in today’s market and in other areas of life, too.
This is how the formula worked:
1. Select a stock to buy.
2. Make your selection on the basis of rational fact-finding, expert counsel, and intuitional judgment.
3. Recognize that despite your thorough research of the stock, it’s future is still uncertain.
4. After you buy the stock, several things might happen:
a) The price might fall.
b) The price might rise a short time before it falls.
c) The price might rise for a long time before it falls.
Only one pattern is certain: sooner or later the price will fall.
5. When the price starts to fall, wait for it to fall at least ten to fifteen percent. When it does, cut your losses. Sell out at the chosen percentage level. Forget about waiting for the price to rise again. Sell out before you get hurt. Loeb’s formula, in essence, is that you must be willing to accept only small losses.
6. As long as a stock rises, consider it a success, but as soon as it falls below a certain level drop it like a hot potato.
In your own life, recognize that there are many situations in life that are like the stock market: they fluctuate, sometimes appearing positive, sometimes negative. The best way to deal with these events is learning how to maximize profits and minimize losses. These situations can be related to careers, relationships, projects, practically anything which has a life-cycle.
Also, sometimes consistency is a virtue, sometimes it isn’t. Often, you have to decide.
Emerson once said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. The key word here is “foolish.” Sometimes one needs to be consistent to break through to a higher level of understanding and achievement, as in, for example, a research undertaking. And sometimes one needs to re-evaluate a situation to see if it is leading you to where you really want to go, as in, for example, the career of the chemist.
Success has a knack for elaborating two illusions. One is the illusion of mastery. The other is the illusion of control. But life works on a different principle…the principle of change and uncertainty. Recognize this fact, rather than fight it. We all know stories about people or corporations, who appear to have mastered their particular discipline and who appear to have complete control of their outcomes, then when conditions change they fall apart because they are still operating on those skills that once worked.
Flexibility, then, or adaptation to change is a fundamental success principle. The dinosaurs were not flexible. Humankind has been flexible. Magnificent civilizations have flourished during their era of expansion and flexibility, but when they created inflexible rules of control and conditions changed, they collapsed. How much more fragile, then, is the average person, who is living in our fast-paced world. As technology accelerates, many skills become obsolete and there is a need for flexibility in adapting to coming changes.
Change is part of life. Learn to navigate your course in life by the winds of change. What you have invested in the past is not a sure indication of what you will need in the future.
There are mainly two reasons for making a change. One, opportunity has floated into sight and you must boldly seize it. Two, opportunity has been lost and you need to move away before things get worse.
How does one balance flexibility with consistency? Consistency should be pursued as long as resources last and there is a predictable possibility that things can get better.
Flexibility should be pursued when you could be making more progress doing something else with the resources you possess.
While flexibility and consistency are opposite principles, there is a time for each, and that is why both are legitimate success principles.
Another interesting duality closely linked to flexibility and consistency is the duality of pessimism and optimism. While in most cases, pessimism is destructive and optimism constructive, there are exceptions.
Healthy pessimism can be constructive and naive optimism can be destructive.
Healthy pessimism is accepting that things can go wrong and preparing to meet it with solutions. Opening up a savings account, for example, is a solution. You’re saying, in effect, “I may not always be making as much money as today,” or you could be saying, “I’m preparing money to invest in future opportunities.” Either way, you’re meeting the future with a solution for a problem or opportunity.
Naive optimism, using the same example about savings, is choosing not to save, because you believe that things will always flow smoothly.
Change is something inherent in life. It is also something we insert into our lives. We can elect to change. Again, this is not a simple proposition. Change, for its own sake, for the sake of excitement, is not always beneficial. Change prompted by boredom or restlessness is often too haphazard to be successful. In the job market, for example, it is a loss of momentum to simply hop from one job to another. It is a gain in momentum if the change is intentional, if it is a movement from a lower state to a higher state, a movement to more opportunity or more earnings.
A college professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. E. Louis Mahigel, was once a professional poker player. He said he learned valuable lessons about flexibility from the game. “An outstanding characteristic of the successful gambler,” he noted, “is that he knows how and when to get out of a hand and cut his losses. Of course, he knows all the mathematical odds by heart, which gives him an edge over most people he hustles, but his main edge is in the area of emotion. When the odds say he probably won’t win, he doesn’t argue; he just leaves his money in the pot and lays down his cards. The chronic loser isn’t emotionally equipped to do that. He’s so desperate not to lose his investment that he takes wild chances to protect it.”