Topic: Leadership


Decision Making Under Pressure With Guest Annie Duke

season 2, episode 20

Welcome to The Work Place, where we’re hot on the trail of what makes great workplace cultures tick, and what we can all do to make the ones we work in better. I’m Andrew Scarcella. This episode, we’re talking with legendary poker player, Annie Duke, about decision making under pressure and why embracing uncertainty is the key to better leadership.

Join us after the interview for Tangible Takeaways, where we’ll talk about the ideas and actions we can take with us and implement our own workplace cultures.

For two decades, Annie Duke was one of the best poker players in the world, winning the $2 million winner take-all, invitation-only World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions in 2004 and the prestigious National HeadsUp Poker Championship in 2010. These days, she’s combining her poker prowess with cognitive psychology principles to help leaders make smarter decisions. Her latest book is, How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, and it’s guaranteed to make you rethink every decision you’ve ever made.

Annie was interviewed by me, and while there weren’t even any playing cards in the room, she still managed to end up with all of my money.

Tangible Takeaways:

Now it’s time for Tangible Takeaways, where we take big ideas down into the depths of a remote patch of the pacific ocean in a 3rd-generation, Archeron Project Isofloat-encased bathyscaphe, capable of withstanding pressures of more than 114 megapascals at over 11 thousand meters below the surface, where the inky blackness hides creatures so unimaginable, simply seeing one threatens your sanity.

1. The first is to embrace uncertainty. If we get trapped into thinking that bad decisions only lead to bad outcomes, and good decisions only lead to good outcomes, we’re only seeing half of the possibilities. Bad decisions often lead to good outcomes, and good decisions can definitely lead to bad outcomes. That’s the nature of uncertainty. And if we don’t embrace it, we’ll be forever unprepared for what happens when things don’t go as planned.

2. The second is that to be a great leader, you must be willing to be wrong—about anything and everything. As Annie puts it, “to be willing to disconfirm your beliefs.” That’s how we grow as leaders. Not by sticking to our guns, but by being skeptical. Being biased towards our own beliefs is only human. But through practice, we can train ourselves to push back against our bias, break out of the echo chamber, and open our minds to possibilities we didn’t consider, solutions we couldn’t see.

How? By exposing ourselves to more diverse perspectives, more diverse opinions, more diverse people. AND by letting people make their own decisions without being influenced by yours. If you’re discussing candidates for an important position, don’t tell people who you like and why, just give them the facts and let them decide. As soon as you reveal your opinion, it’ll color theirs. Keep your cards close to your vest, as they say in the poker world. I think. I don’t really know. I’m more of a dominos guy.

3. The third is that you can’t be lucky. You can only GET lucky. And getting lucky certainly doesn’t mean you’re going to keep getting lucky. There’s a whole theory about this called the Hot Hand Fallacy. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? The star player is on fire, hitting all the shots, even from downtown. So people keep giving them the ball, assuming they’ll STAY on fire. Hence, hot hands. The original study, conducted in 1985, suggests that it’s all in people’s heads. That people are simply prone to seeing patterns in randomness, and that even star players are no more likely to make a shot after making a shot than they are after missing one. However, more recent research challenges the original study’s conclusions, analysing even larger datasets in multiple sports and finding a small, yet statistically-significant effect of hot-handedness. Which means we shouldn’t always distrust someone with hot hands.

As always, this episode was written and read by yours truly—with additional writing, production, and sound design by Daniel Foster Smith.

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The Work Place is sponsored by O.C. Tanner, the global leader in engaging workplace cultures. O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud provides a single, modular suite of apps for influencing and improving employee experiences through recognition, career anniversaries, wellbeing, leadership, and more.

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