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Playing Cards, Photo By Sean Dougherty

The Business of Poker

I’ve been listening to Tony Hsieh’s audiobook called “Delivering Happiness.” I HIGHLY recommend that every leader and business owner listen to it (or read it). Tony Hsieh is the bold, creative mind behind Link Exchange and the CEO of In one part of the book, Tony shares the story of his experiences playing poker. This section is rich with lessons and analogies from the game of poker to leadership and business development. One lesson that resonates for me is “learning the discipline of not confusing the right decision with the individual outcome of any single hand.”

With regards to poker, Tony says that some players will win a hand, and assume they made the right bet; and therefore continue betting the same way. And if they lose the hand, they often assume they made the wrong bet and will change their strategy for the next hand. Yet, understanding the mathematics behind playing the game, which was Tony’s strategy, was like owning a coin that would land on heads one-third of the time and on tails the other two-thirds of the time, and always being allowed to bet on tails. On any individual coin flip, he might lose, but if he bet on tails 1,000 times, he was more than 99.99% guaranteed to win in the long run.  So the discipline is in seeing the coin land on heads once (the individual outcome) and yet continuing to play based on the strategy you know is right for the long-haul (the right decision).

A simple personal example illustrates how this idea shows up in my everyday life. So, I’m in the kitchen with my kids and I’m making them macaroni & cheese. I was making the Back to Nature brand Crazy Bugs shaped mac-n-cheese. My son, Adam (7-yrs-old) said, “Hey, that was my pick at the grocery store. You made Abigail’s (my daughter) pick last week and I didn’t have any. And now I have to share mine with her? That doesn’t seem right!”

Adam was focusing on the individual outcome of a single event – he didn’t have any of the mac-n-cheese that Abigail picked. He wanted to modify his behavior based on that outcome, namely, not sharing the mac-n-cheese that he picked, since he didn’t get any of his sister’s. (Really, I’ve raised them better than this, I promise you!)

The right decision is obvious in this example: Share your mac-n-cheese, whether or not someone shared theirs with you, or we can generalize that to Share your stuff, whether or not anyone shared with you.


Business application

High performing, engaged teams and organizations don’t just happen. They evolve through moment-to-moment right decisions made by the individual members. And awareness that the individual outcome of any single event may not be indicative of the need for you to behave any differently next time.

Bet on the statistical odds that your personal right decisions will “win” in the long run. Every small right decision IS creating impact within the system (team, organization, relationship). One of the most important behaviors/right decisions for us to commit to is vigilance;

  • Vigilantly sharing our knowledge, our time, our wisdom with others
  • Vigilantly responding to disagreement with respectful inquiries in order to understand the other’s perspective
  • Vigilantly self-managing our “in-the-moment” reaction, and pausing for that deep breath before responding
  • Vigilantly communicating our needs and expectations to the other(s) and vigilantly NOT expecting them to read our minds and meet needs or expectations that we have not explicitly expressed
  • Vigilantly closing our meetings by ensuring clarity and alignment around decisions made and commitments moving forward, from EVERYONE in the room.
  • Vigilantly following up with our teammates, proactively letting them know when we are not going to meet an expected deadline
  • Vigilantly exploring our “failures” so we do not miss the rich learning that these experiences have to offer us

I’ll share more of Tony’s lessons from poker over the next few weeks. His audiobook has been a rich source of fodder for my writing and my work in general. I hope you’ll enjoy it as well!
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De Yarrison

De is a certified professional Coach, Teambuilder and Facilitator of positive change. She is an adventurer in the world of relationships, blazing new trails of positive expression, resulting in happier leaders, employees, workplaces (and families).
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