Are you skilled at trading, or just lucky?

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Cognitive Biases and the Illusion of Skill

Cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and availability bias can have a significant impact on trading decision-making. These biases can cloud our judgement and distort our perception of reality, causing us to make poor decisions. Confirmation bias, for example, may cause traders to seek out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, whereas availability bias may cause traders to overestimate the significance of recent or memorable events. Both biases can contribute to traders incorrectly attributing their success to skill, experience, or a one-of-a-kind strategy, rather than acknowledging the role of randomness and luck.

Overconfidence and Mean Reversion

The allure of the “expert trader” persona is difficult to resist, as it feeds into the narrative that anyone can achieve financial success with hard work and determination. However, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book “Fooled by Randomness” dispels this myth by arguing that randomness and luck are often far more important than any perceived skill or expertise in determining a trader’s success.

Many traders, according to Taleb, fall victim to the illusion of skill, mistaking the outcomes of random market fluctuations for the fruits of their own abilities. This cognitive bias can lead to overconfidence and a false sense of market mastery, prompting traders to take unnecessary risks and make rash decisions. Reversion to the mean—a statistical phenomenon in which an extreme event is likely to be followed by a less extreme one—complicates matters even more, as traders may enjoy brief periods of success that boost their confidence, only to see their performance regress to the mean.

The Importance of Survivorship Bias

The illusion of skill becomes even more pronounced when we consider the role of survivorship bias in financial markets. When we only hear about those who have succeeded, we overlook the countless others who have failed. This selective attention distorts our perception of success and reinforces the illusion of skill, because we believe that successful traders must possess some inherent talent or superior strategy that sets them apart.

For example, we may hear about a trader who made millions during a market bubble while overlooking the thousands of others who lost everything during the same time period. By focusing solely on the stories of successful traders, we overestimate the importance of skill and expertise.

Recognizing Randomness Is Critical

One of Taleb’s most important takeaways is the importance of recognising and accepting the role of randomness in financial markets. Traders can develop a more grounded and realistic approach to the markets by distancing skill from luck and acknowledging that success is frequently influenced by factors outside of our control. As a result, they can avoid the pitfalls of overconfidence and make more informed decisions, resulting in better long-term outcomes.

According to research, randomness is important in trading and other aspects of life. Individuals who understand the role of luck in their lives, for example, have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, which can translate into better decision-making under pressure.

Getting Rid of the Illusion of Skill

Traders can cultivate humility and self-awareness by reevaluating their strategies and assumptions on a regular basis to combat the illusion of skill. They can also account for randomness and market fluctuations by employing a variety of analytical tools and risk-management techniques. Diversification, for example, can assist in spreading risk across multiple assets, whereas position sizing and stop-loss orders can protect traders from large losses.


To summarize, trading skill illusion is a powerful and seductive force that can blind traders to the true nature of the markets. Traders can improve their decision-making processes and cultivate a more nuanced approach to markets by understanding the hidden role of chance and randomness, as explored in “Fooled by Randomness.”


Furthermore, Taleb’s insights are applicable to a wide range of personal and professional situations, not just trading. By acknowledging the role of chance and embracing uncertainty, we can better appreciate the complexity of the world around us and develop a more adaptive mindset.


Recognizing the illusion of skill and the pervasive influence of randomness can be a valuable learning experience for traders helping us make more informed decisions in a world of uncertainty and chance. By disentangling skill from luck, we can cultivate a more grounded perspective on success, hone our decision-making abilities, and navigate the volatile waters of the financial markets with greater resilience and adaptability. “Fooled by Randomness” knowledge has the potential to broaden our understanding of the hidden forces at work in trading and beyond, ultimately empowering us to make better decisions.

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