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Delos Chang on Investing and Magic

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Searching for fulfilment in what we do has become such a popular theme in Western society that it’s almost become a cliché. Inventing your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s always allowed.

Delos Chang, a Dartmouth College alumni, was born and raised in Silicon Valley. From there, he jumped from software engineering to entrepreneurship to investing and then into a radically different field: the art of magic. Going from trading millions in volume to performing sleight of hand at a magic shop seems like a drastic change. But looking back, Chang says he finds inspiration and great connections between all his pursuits.

“Everybody should read Thinking Fast & Slow, especially magicians. It has a great, subtle point on the Müller-Lyer illusion, which is an optical illusion where you are shown two identical lines, but because of the geometry, you can’t help but see one line as longer. So even though you intellectually know the lines are the same length, your mind just can’t help but perceive otherwise. The author points out that this is a cognitive illusion because your mind’s perception is divorced from intellectual knowing. I think about this concept a lot. What are life’s cognitive illusions? There exist many in investing and obviously many in the art of magic. But personally, I believe the cognitive illusions that have the greatest impact on our lives are the fulfilment questions: the hedonic treadmill of money (how much is enough?), pursuing what we think we want (or what we think others want) versus other paths that might be more fulfilling but uncertain. They are like software processes that run hidden in the background, influencing your decisions without you knowing it.”

Chang continues, “So for me, I want to live my life having the mindfulness to be aware of my own blind spots, my personal cognitive illusions. That’s served me well in investing and trading because I can make emotionally difficult but high expected-value decisions. And that mindset helps also with the vicissitudes of daily life and market volatility: sometimes a reaction to a perceived problem is often worse than the problem itself. But ultimately, continuing down that rabbit hole led me to work at a magic shop and then, eventually performing professionally.”

Chang notes the many challenges he had to encounter. Failed projects, incorrect investment theses, criticism and doubt from others jumping around industries. He says that what kept him going was knowing his own value system and simply enjoying the process. In addition, failures are inevitable: what matters are the lessons learned and the courage to move on after failure.
He currently spends most of his time investing in new technology, performing magic, and meditating.