Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Thinking In Bets

November 2020

Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All The Facts
by Annie Duke

If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library.

Poker champion Annie Duke has transferred the lessons she's picked up from the championship table and applied them to decision making in life through her book, Thinking In Bets. In everything we do, we are playing the odds, and it's not possible to know all the variables. Too often we attribute our outcomes to "luck," but the reality is that we can better understand our decisions and not wait around helplessly for luck to strike.

The fact is we are too quick to confuse decisions with their outcomes, which makes it hard to see mistakes clearly. Did I really make a bad decision, or was the outcome simply unlucky? Duke lays out the concept of resulting. You might have made a bad decision but got lucky in that it still turned out OK, or vice versa. Decisions are seldom 100% right or 100% wrong. Open your mind to that reality. We are also prone to believe what we hear. Not only do we stick with our beliefs, we utilize motivated reasoning and seek evidence to confirm our opinions. Force yourself to say "I'm not sure" and really research the accuracy of your statements.

  1. Utilize OUTCOME fielding: The best way to learn us by analyzing mistakes. with an open mind review for evidence of a genuine error, or bad luck, or lack of information .Similarly, develop the good habit of evaluating your successes too: maybe you were lucky but should have done something else.
  2. Be part of a group. Find a peer group that will help you with your blind spots. She likes sociologist Merton Schkolnick's CUDOS framework:
    1. Communism: show all relevant information
    2. Universalism: use the same standards for all info
    3. Disinterestedness: avoid bias based on outcome
    4. Organized Skepticism: play devil's advocate
  3. Put yourself in the future. Suzy Welch uses a 10-10-10 framework: How will I feel about this decision in 10 minutes/months/years? Use backcasting: imagine your success and then develop story for how you got there. Alternatively, use pre-mortems: imagine you failed and identify the reasons why.

Even if you are not a gambler, it's smart to think about decisions as if they were a bet. Seldom is any decision 100% right or wrong. 

Anne LaBarr Duke (née Lederer; September 13, 1965) is an American former professional poker player and author in behavioral decision science and decision education.