Life is a combination of the results of the choices that we make and the outcomes that we do not expect to happen. We can control a lot of variables in our lives while in other times, some choices are already made for us. But how does decision-making change when you realize that you can have an upper-hand in most situations?
In Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Answers, author Annie Duke, a former poker champion turned speaker and consultant, breaks down the decision-making process and questions the value of betting.
Meet our panel
Our book club panel for Thinking in Bets consists of: Kathy Sucich, director of healthcare marketing; Etlin Ortega, consultant at Dimensional Insight Panama; Wouter Koop, consultant at Dimensional Insight Netherlands; Carolyn Kretz, senior technical writer; and myself.
What was your biggest takeaway from the book?
Kayla: This book really reinforced the idea that we hold a lot of power, but to an extent. There is so much that we can control in our lives and so much that we can’t control.
Wouter: For me the book was packed with eye openers and “aha” moments. The biggest one is that we should try to avoid overly connecting decision quality to outcome quality. Resulting and hindsight bias, as Duke mentions, have blurred my vision to really learn from the decisions I’ve made.
Etlin: Being able to make decisions in seconds, because you always have a strategy.
Carolyn: The book challenges the understanding that outcome determines whether a decision is good or bad. A good decision can be thwarted by unforeseen circumstance and result in disappointment, but that doesn’t make it a bad decision.
Kathy: Life is uncertain. We can never be sure that our decisions will lead to a certain outcome, but we can make those decisions in a more strategic, informed way by making the right bets.
Duke discusses resulting, stating that:
“Seeking certainty helped keep us alive all this time, but it can wreak havoc on our decisions in an uncertain world. When we work backward from results to figure out why those things happened, we are susceptible to a variety of cognitive traps, like assuming causation when there is only a correlation, or cherry-picking data to confirm the narrative we prefer.”
To what extent does our perception about ourselves and the choices that we make affect the results?
Etlin: Here I can differ a little with Annie. Human beings evolve every day and there are simply situations where we do not know how we are going to react, until we experience it. For example, defending ourselves from a physical and even strong verbal aggression. However, in such things we are not involved all the time, but in our environment and our professional life, is backed by experience. This experience helps us to know how we are going to react, but also to be alert to possible variants in the results and that is where emotions play an important role, the key is the preparation of emotions.
Kayla: I think it just depends on being self-aware and honest with yourself. Sometimes you may be in situations where you may think that you deserve a certain outcome and not end up receiving it (simply because you felt entitled) and that changes the way you look at the results (especially if you were expecting a specific outcome). We choose how to react to certain situations whether that be rationally or irrationally.
Carolyn: That’s an interesting question. I think that one’s level of self-confidence affects their perception of the results if not the actual results.
Kathy: I agree that oftentimes we tend to attribute good results to the good work that we did and bad results to external circumstances. The truth is, sometimes you can make a really good decision and it just doesn’t work out. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision. Sometimes it’s just the way the cards are dealt… and next time you’ll get a hand that wins.
Wouter: Most of us desire a positive self-narrative, so we tend to consider any bad results as a case of bad luck and if the outcome is good, we attribute that to our skill. This distorts the determination to evaluate the quality of the decision. Our brains have evolved to protect our self-image by making our version of the world more comfortable by spinning the results to a more favorable outcome.
Define uncertainty. Is it something that we should fear?
Kayla: Uncertainty is not knowing what’s next. Part of the human experience is to fear the unknown, but not to live our lives in fear of it. Life isn’t supposed to be predictable.
Carolyn: Uncertainty is the state of having some doubt. It’s an important part of being objective. Most decisions have a built-in uncertain element.
Kathy: Uncertainty is a part of life. We can’t eliminate it, but perhaps we can mitigate it by taking a more objective approach to decision-making.
Etlin: Uncertainty is the ingredient that gives mischief to our life. I’m sure without uncertainty, life would be monotonous and boring. But you have to know how to manage it and sometimes keep it in a fence or the appropriate range. If it’s something that comes out of my hands or that is 80% of a situation, the anxiety will grow and you can lose control and make hasty decisions without all the elements on the table, which can lead to a disaster, which if it is to be feared.
Wouter: Uncertainty is, in my opinion, a healthy and truthful approach to the bulk of our deliberate decisions and the evaluation of those decisions. It makes room for the opinions of others and potentially reduces any blind-spots we might have in our search for accuracy and the truth.
Duke gives power to “I don’t know.” Why do you think we were conditioned to believe that it is not a valid response?
Wouter: We are trained that not knowing means that you are not smart or ill prepared. Our school system is based on educating kids as much and as broadly as possible, and they are tested to determine if they have learned anything. The answers to these tests are, in general, either right or wrong. The answer “I don’t know” in this case is considered wrong.
Kathy: In the face of uncertainty, we want some reassurance that someone knows the answer. “I don’t know” admits that uncertainty and it makes us uncomfortable.
Carolyn: Ms. Duke points out that as school children, our knowledge is tested with questions that have one correct answer and not providing the expected answer, including admitting that you don’t know is viewed as a failure.
Etlin: If we are honest with ourselves, there are simply things we do not know, and learning to say “I do not know” makes us understand our limitations. I am aware that a simple “I do not know” can be shocking, curt and even rude; in many situations and not to mention a business relationship. Surely it is a much more cultural and generational issue, and some may not recognize that an “I do not know,” may also be followed by a “Because I do not know.” And this can be explained widely, whether that be in a school test or to a client, as a reminder that we are human beings and it’s okay to not know everything.
Kayla: Because “I don’t know” represents uncertainty. When people communicate, they want clear-cut and direct responses and “I don’t know” doesn’t give them that.
Luck is a common theme throughout the book, as Duke states “The way we field outcomes is predictably patterned: we take credit for the good stuff and blame the bad stuff on luck so it won’t be our fault. The result is that we don’t learn from experience well.” Do you agree?
Kathy: Yes, although I would clarify that with “some people don’t learn from experience well.” I think there are many people who blame bad experiences on bad luck and move on without learning from that experience. But many others will “review the facts,” examine the steps that led to their decision, and decide what should or should not be changed for next time. I’d like to think I fall into the latter group, but I probably fall into the former trap sometimes.
Carolyn: I like to think that we learn from experience. One February, I flew from Boston to Tokyo with a plane change in Chicago. A blizzard caused delays, and I landed in Tokyo about 40 hours later than planned. Did I blame luck? Yes. Did I learn something? Yes. If there is a next time, I’ll take a different route in winter.
Kayla: I agree. It’s similar to zodiac signs. You believe the attributes that you like and don’t acknowledge the ones that you don’t like.
Etlin: Sometimes, we do not learn from experience and this is because we are not objective with ourselves. We involve feelings and emotions. Instead, we should make objective decisions based on knowledge. Although we know that a little uncertainty will occupy a place in those results, I would not call it luck, simply the probability of my option was not selected.
Wouter: At first when I read this part, I was a bit skeptical, because I know people who follow the exact opposite thinking pattern. When she also mentioned these types of people and that their opposite behavior is as less helpful, I had to agree with her. If you believe that any kind of result is due to luck and therefore had no influence in the outcome, you are not inclined to learn from it.
Duke puts bets into perspective, as she states that “In most of our decisions, we are not betting against another person. Rather, we are betting against all the future versions of ourselves that we are not choosing.” What weight does betting have in our lives? Does this add pressure?
Kayla: Yes. We’re always presented with choices. The weight of every bet is different. But they all share one thing in common: each choice leads to a different outcome and each outcome leads to a different life. It may add pressure but you have to make decisions in life.
Carolyn: Although, I generally think of betting as a wager between two parties, when I’ve made major life decisions, I chose what I expected to make me happiest. I thoughtfully considered the advantages, risks, probabilities, and possibilities. And that describes betting. It doesn’t add pressure, it merely provides another point of view.
Etlin: There is definitely pressure. Although we have a large part of our variables under control, not everything works out the way you want it to. You can create different scenarios and wonder what the outcomes of each one would be. Some may work out and some won’t. What’s important is how you react to the outcomes, even if they weren’t what you wanted.
Wouter: When you bet, you have to put your money where your mouth is. At that moment you monetize the consequence of a decision we make. We all love money, so we better make sure that what we say or do is as accurate as possible.
Kathy: It sounds really weighty when it’s put like that! But really, all decisions are bets, and you do the best with the information that you have at that point in time. Framed that way, I don’t think it should add any pressure to our decisions.
To whom would you recommend this book?
Etlin: My nephew Andrés, who has just graduated from high school. He recently turned 18 and is in the stage of making decisions for his future.
Wouter: Co-workers, friends, family, my past and future self, I honestly cannot think of a person who couldn’t benefit from this book, especially those aged 25 and above (you have to grow up first and have lived a little, before going on an introspective journey). Although not everyone might be at a level of open-mindedness necessary to fully appreciate its contents.
Kayla: Technical minds.
Kathy: Those who might need a little help in better learning from mistakes.
Carolyn: Armchair quarterbacks.
It’s no secret that we’re in the age of digital transformation. With new advancements being discovered everyday, is there anything that we are losing? For our next selection, we’ll be reading Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again by Eric Topol. Topol shares how AI is lending a hand in humanizing healthcare and helping doctors create real relationships with their patients again.
If you want to read along with us, you have until May 30th. Let us know if you’d like to be on our panel or if you have suggestions for future reads!