Ritholtz: Outcomes Sell, But Process Wins

Are you an outcome-oriented investor, or a process-oriented investor? Barry Ritholtz says he’s the latter, and you should be too.

“Outcome is simply the final score: Who won the game; what numbers came up in a roll of the dice; how high did a stock go,” Ritholtz writes in The Washington Post. “Outcome is the result, regardless of the method used to achieve it. It is not controllable. You can blow on the dice all you want, but whether they come up ‘seven’ is still a function of random luck. Process, on the other hand, is a specific methodology. It is a repeatable approach to any challenge or endeavor, be it construction or medicine or investing. And you can control a process.”

Ritholtz says gamblers, many sports fans and speculators are outcome-oriented, while airline pilots, professional sports coaches and long-term investors are process-oriented. Wall Street uses people’s tendency to focus on outcomes as a bait and switch, he says, pushing investors to chase performance and buy into hot funds or sectors or assets. But “you don’t know if these outcomes were the result of dumb luck or one-time events or simply a turn of the cycle,” he says. “The tease is that you, too, can have these fabulous returns if only you invest in these products. Here is the next XYZ, yours for the taking.”

Too often, the results were lucky, Ritholtz says, and last year’s winners become this year’s losers. That’s why process is key. “Process-oriented investing is a long-term approach to putting capital at risk by owning a broad variety of asset classes, making periodic contributions and regularly rebalancing,” he says. “Focusing on your investment process, and not the outcome, should be your goal. Here is the payoff: Over the long term, a good process delivers highly desirable results, and generates better and more reliable outcomes.”