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Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts

It has been said that life imitates chess game. Annie Duke, a professional poker player, argues that life imitates poker. After reading, Thinking in Bets, I think you will agree with her. With chess, everything is laid out before you. You see all the opponents moves. If you are smart enough, you can memorize the perfect moves for every situation. That is why IBM’s Watson easily defeats human opponents. Poker is chance and is very much like life. When you play the “perfect” hand in poker, an opponent can catch a king to make the full house to beat you on the last card dealt. It is much more like real life. If you make a decision to move to Cleveland for a new job, maybe it will work out, maybe not. You can be as good as you can be, but other factors are at play that you have nothing to do with.

The book grabbed me with the first story. It begins with a look at Pete Carroll’s decision to throw a pass on the one yard line with 26 seconds left in the 2015 Super Bowl. As we know, that decision cost the Seahawks the game. Was it really a bad decision? Monday morning quarterbacks( in other words, just about everyone who watched the game) bemoaned the decision. Was it really a bad decision? Had it worked, we would celebrate the brilliant mind that made the game winning decision. And it was a brilliant decision Coach Carroll made. It should have worked. The decision was sound, it was the outcome that was sub-optimal. The problem is, we will almost always equate the soundness of the decision to the outcome. Duke argues we cannot. You can make the best decision possible based on your information and still not have the desired outcome.

Thinking in Bets is an excellent read filled with stories of pain and success, CEO’s strategic decisions, and even some child care examples. IMHO, the brilliance of the book happens in the first chapter. Look past it though. Reading the rest of the book is time well spent.


Annie Duke





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