Avoiding the Crashing Waterfall


“You are always the one steering the canoe, however. Sometimes on the white-water-rapids course it is both relaxing and exhilarating to be swept along by the swells, oars at rest, watching the scenery and marveling at the ease of it all. And sometime we must paddle like hell against the current in order to take a fork in the river.”

-Patricia Ryan Madson

At this point in the prologue to Improv Wisdom, Patricia Ryan Madson is discussing the idea that there are certain times when improvisation might not be appropriate. She uses the metaphor of white water rafting to explain that there are times when you are best to go with the current and other times when you should be trying as hard as possible to go the other direction.

If you can’t see the relationship to trading here, close your browser and don’t come back.

As traders, we are all sitting in our own little boats heading down the river. When things are going well, it’s perfectly fine to float right along with the crowd. But there is always a big waterfall on the horizon, and while most of the crowd is going to float right over the edge, we want to be the smart ones that paddle like hell to take the fork in the river that goes around the waterfall and keeps us safe.

That metaphor sounds awfully inspiring and encouraging, and actually pretty simple. Of course we all know that nothing could be further from the truth. We don’t usually have the luxury of seeing the waterfall coming. We usually think we see it a dozen times before it actually shows up. We sometimes take forks in the river that end up being a waste of time.

But on that one time when we get it right and take the fork that avoids the crashing waterfall, we save our lives. We protect our capital. We live to float another day.

Photo Credit: Leonardo Dasilva