Who doesn’t want to be absolutely certain when making a decision? But life, like poker, does not always show its cards. That is the premise behind Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke. Duke is a champion poker player – as well as a former PhD candidate in Cognitive Psychology – which makes perfect sense because poker is a mind game after all.
Duke weaves poker stories into larger discussions of the cognitive blind spots that plague human beings. Many of us are guilty of “resulting” – that is letting the outcome of a decision affect how we view that decision. All one has to do is listen to sports “experts” talk after a big game goes awry and the “should haves” that these experts spout. One example Duke cites in the book was Super Bowl XLIX (or 49 for those who don’t want to decode Roman Numerals) when Seahawks coach Pete Carrol called for a pass instead of a run at the goal line. If the Seahawks score they win, but Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted the ball at the goal line and the Patriots won. Duke maintains that the call to pass was not a bad decision because it had a low probability of the utter failure that resulted. Go read the book for her more detailed argument.
And this what I took away from this book. Sometimes good decisions – when playing the odds – can backfire. This leads us to assume the decision itself was bad simply because the outcome was bad. Now I’ve got a list of decisions that led to bad outcomes. After reading this book – it could be that some of those decisions weren’t so bad after all.
Duke also outlines strategies for making better decisions, including relying on a trusted group. So remember, no decision is perfect and good decisions can go bad. Life is not a zero sum game. We just have to keep making the best decisions we can to be successful.