I’m currently reading A Man for All Markets, a memoir by Edward O. Thorp. It chronicles his story as a mathematics professor who tried to beat the casinos in gambling games. Later, he did something similar in the financial markets. He eventually became the pioneer of quantitative finance.
I enjoyed the book and learned a lot from it. Among others, the book taught me about calculating the odds before making a bet and balancing risks and returns.
But what I’d like to share with you in this post is the qualities that I noticed in Ed Thorp’s life. As I was looking for the right words to describe them, two words came to my mind: playful and resourceful.
I believe these two words describe the qualities well. He was playful: he was curious and often took a challenge just for the fun of it. But he was also resourceful: he persisted through the obstacles until he achieved a meaningful result.
For example, as a mathematics professor in the 1950s, he became fascinated with finding a way to beat the dealer at blackjack. He didn’t do it because he had to; he did it simply for the fun of it. He enjoyed the intellectual challenge and the thrill of doing the seemingly impossible. He was playful.
But he needed to do a lot of calculations for that and there was no personal computer back then. So what did he do? He spent hours daily using hand calculators to get them done! Eventually, he got access to a computer that was shared by several universities, so he taught himself how to program and used whatever computer minutes he got. He didn’t back down despite the obstacles. He was resourceful.
In the end, he was able to find an edge in blackjack and proved it on the casino floor (he eventually got himself barred from playing blackjack). Not stopping there, he then worked with his MIT colleague Claude Shannon to build the world’s first wearable computer to beat roulette. It was an enormous task, especially back then in the early 1960s. But they did it.
He later took that same mindset to the investing world by pioneering the field of quantitative finance.
The lesson? Being playful is important if you want to find new opportunities. But it’s not enough. You also need to be resourceful to achieve meaningful results.
I believe that these two qualities are essential to living an adventurous life. By being playful, you will find and explore new opportunities. And by being resourceful, you will make the most of those opportunities.
Any thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments!