The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova

There’s a certain fear and pressure that comes when someone buys you a book. The expectation you’ll read it, the expectation you’ll like it, and the expectation that you’ll justify the person’s emotional and financial investment in you.

This book wasn’t on my list, or even my radar. But the person who bought it for me – the genuinely inspiring Emma Lloyd – has known and worked with me for over fifteen years, so I was fairly confident she’d have chosen well.

Of course, she did. This is a brilliant book showing what the world of Poker can teach us about human behaviour, decision making, creativity and self-control (as well as being a fascinating insight into a world I knew nothing about, save for a few dodgy card games on the bus to school xx years ago).

These are some of my edited highlights, a mix of thoughts from Maria Konnikova, as well as some of the poker pros she met along the way, such as Erik Seidel who mentored her throughout.

On keeping an open mind

  • If you’re sceptical of any advice to begin with, if ‘less certainty, more inquiry‘ is your guiding light, not only will you listen, you will adjust, you will grow. (Erik Seidel)
  • On the benefit of failure:

  • The benefit of failure is an objectivity that success simply can’t offer. If you win right away, you have absolutely no way to gauge if you’re really brilliant or it was a fluke and you got lucky 
  • On the importance of observation

  • Louis Pasteur: ‘Where observation is concerned, chance favours only the prepared mind’. If you’re not observing well, no amount of preparation is enough
  • Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire ran a survey where he asked people who considered themselves lucky and unlucky to count the number of photographs in a newspaper. The self-described ‘unlucky’ took on average two minutes. The ‘lucky’ took a few seconds. On page two there was a big headline saying ‘Stop counting – there are 43 photographs in this newspaper
  • On understanding others

  • People aren’t a combination of traits. They’re a mosaic of reactions and interactions with situations. If you can get a person’s behavioural profile – a catalogue of reactions in an if-then relationship (‘if they feel threatened then…’) – you have a far better read on who they are or how they will behave in certain situations.
  • John Boyd (Fighter Pilot)’s OODA – Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act
  • On understanding yourself

  • You need to learn how to anticipate how something will make you feel in the future and act accordingly in the present.
  • In 2018, Kaitlin Woolley and Jane Risen showed that people will often actively avoid information that would help them make a more informed decision when their intuition, or inner preference, is already decided (e.g. avoid learning how many calories are in a dessert). They know the information may mean they have to change their decision so will ignore it.
  • On maintaining control of yourself

  • Never feel like you have to do something just because its expected of you – even if you’re the one who expects it of you. Know when to step back. Know when to recalibrate. Know when to reassess your strategy, prior plans be damned.
  • ‘Some people become overly emotionally invested in their sadness and their misfortune. Maybe, in the big picture of life, we weren’t meant to win that hand because some other stream of events had to transpire for us to be successful’ (Andrew Lichtenberger – LuckyChewy)
  • A brilliant game to play to understand other perspectives – Lodden Thinks

  • Take turns to ask someone a question, then bet on what they think the answer is (rather than the actual answer). The person who guesses closest to what that person (the ‘Lodden’) thinks, wins. The beauty is that it doesn’t matter what the actual answer is; it’s all about perception and psychology – what does Lodden think the answer is – and can you see the world from their perspective more closely than your opponent?
  • Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly update below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

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