How to exploit the stillness

As much as simultaneous activity interests me (e.g. the urban legend re: municipal plumbing infrastructure being overwhelmed by Super Bowl halftime flushing), simultaneous stillness is even more fascinating. By my definition, simultaneous stillness is when mass amounts of people stop whatever activity they’re engaged in and do nothing. (Contrasted with simultaneous activity when folks engage in one specific activity). It’s a fairly rare occurrence – it’s not every day that you can get people to do nothing.

The best example of simultaneous stillness was exhibited in October 2005 with the OJ trial verdict. Regardless of age, race or profession, you paused to watch/listen to whether he was guilty. Personally, I was gathered among a cluster of fellow management consultants, eyes perched skyward at the television set wall-mounted in the corner of an admin’s office. The more intent their attention, the more I noticed that nothing else was happening. Eyes fixed, mouths gaped, silence from the office and the street below.

“What an excellent time for a caper!” I imagined. And that’s where my simultaneous stillness fascination began — an opportunity for crime. A crime of magnificent proportions committed right under the nose of a nation fixated elsewhere. But I had nothing planned, nothing which could be initiated right at that moment. I vowed that next time I’d be prepared.

But I’m not talking about a smash and grab, stick the diamonds in my pocket kinda thing. No, more like a Die Hard “put the bearer bonds in the basket or she gets the hose” act. You see, most financial markets these days are dominated by computerized trading, leading to near perfectly efficient exchanges and buy/sell orders that are executed without the instigation of humans. If we all dropped dead tomorrow, the algorithms would march on, finding an equilibrium among buyer and seller (no matter they’re corpses).

But somewhere there must be a relatively illiquid exchanges anachronistically managed by people, by true market makers. Accepting and clearing bids by hand. Responsible for tracking and maintaining the regulations of their market. But what happened if that individual and all the market participants were locked in a moment of simultaneous stillness? Could there be some action I’d be able to push through that would transfer millions of dollars into my hands? Some momentary arbitrage or imbalance caused by the fact our market maker was in the middle of clearing a trade when he, and the rest of the nation, paused? I resolved to find one.

And now I wait to set my plan in motion. Wait for the next instance of simultaneous stillness to see if it works. Or, if I grow impatient, I might just try to create my own moment.