Everyone is looking for an edge. Interestingly, the famous card game, poker, is almost exclusively about finding an edge. The edge may be in the newfangled maths that permeates decision-making in big and little-time poker tournaments. It may be in reading an opponent’s behaviour as a function of his or her decisions. The edge may come in areas that business-people can incorporate into their business lives and thereby improve themselves and advance their business careers.

Embrace Incremental Improvement

People who participate in sports or merely follow sports understand that no one can get very good at a sport until they are simply good! The same is true in poker and in business. No giant business started out as a giant business.

Walmart started out as one store in a small town in the northwestern corner of the small state of Arkansas. Facebook started out as a college dorm social media site. Google started out without all of the things Google has today nor was the name of the company yet recognised as a verb.  Starbucks started out as one coffee shop in Seattle. FedEx started as a package delivery service in downtown Memphis.

Play Poker Online

Incremental improvement means that we learn small lessons before we can learn big lessons. In poker, the best place to get in a lot of poker hands is at an online poker room. When you play online, you can determine your own time schedule, you can benefit from the anonymity of the online format, and you can do several things at the same time.

Embrace the Full Potential of the Internet

In addition, you save all those travel expenses plus you don’t waste time travelling. In business, the internet is full of sites that can help you achieve incremental improvement.  A few minutes every day will redound as progress over time. John Stuart Mills was a child prodigy. He was home schooled before the term was invented. It is said that he impatiently” studied the social sciences of his time.

Learning small lessons before learning big lessons, studying at your own pace, and letting other people teach you wisdom all point you in the direction of improvement over time.

Control Your Emotions

A single unnecessary outburst will have lingering negative effects. It will set your colleagues against you. Suddenly, you’ll discover that information that others have has been held back from you.

Controlling your emotions doesn’t mean not being passionate. In fact, showing passion is a direct form of emotional control. Losing your cool is the opposite of showing passion. A good employer will hold in very high esteem an entry level employee who shows the desire to learn the business and to excel at the low level of responsibilities given them.

Poker is a game in which you have to both remember the past and forget the past. You have to learn from every hand and you have to let a bad beat go. Stewing over bad luck or, worse, the stupidity of an amateurish opponent, will cause your progress as a poker player to recede.

To Thine Own Self be True

You can only be as good a businessperson as your entire being will allow you to be. Being honest with oneself is not the same as accepting flaws. It means recognising flaws and trying to do something about them even if you know that it is very difficult to impossible to completely reverse a flaw.

Robert Townsend spoke about flaws indirectly when he said in his great book about business from the 1960’s, Up the Organisation, that if he as the president of the company were correct one third of the time, he would be happy.  No one is perfect and no one is perfectible.

Understand the Limits of Incomplete Information

If poker teaches us anything it is that we are faced with critical decisions even though we don’t have all the information we would want in order to make a sound decision.

In poker, many decisions are sound based only on what we know, not based on the absolute truth. In business, we never know the absolute truth.  The best example of this is the history of Walmart, Kmart, and Sears in the last fifty years. 

Kmart and Sears fought it out for hegemony in the retail department store business in urban areas while Walmart was content to improve incrementally in rural America, opening stores in a concentric circle in areas with populations in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands or millions.

Walmart won.

Sam Walton didn’t know that his business plan would overwhelm the retail department store niche. Kmart and Sears certainly didn’t see Walmart as much of a business adversary. Sometimes success comes suddenly and unexpectedly.

Learn How to Analyse a Situation

In mathematics, we talk about variables. We need to see that there may be a very large number of variables in any given situation. Poker players use variables to explore what they call hand ranges. The question they ask themselves is what hand could my opponent have that would beat my hand.

After they define every possible hand, they go back over the betting to determine if the opponent’s betting was reasonably in line with the possible hand. In so doing, poker players reduce the number of variables.

Business-people often have a massive number of variables that may impact a decision. Learning to analyse a situation means being able to reach a reasonable decision in a reasonable amount of time.

Taking too long to decide is as bad or worse than deciding too quickly. The key in all decisions is that they should be reasonable given all the variables and the information at hand.

Discover the Joys of Personal Discipline

Just as we have to make decisions with insufficient information and we have to learn to analyse a situation despite the overwhelming number of variables., becoming and staying disciplined is a double edged sword.

Too little discipline makes us disorganised. This is bad for poker players and bad for business-people. Too much discipline makes us stale and predictable. We need to balance the value of discipline with the concomitant value of being spontaneous.

People who take risks are spontaneous. People who think that they are taking risks but really aren’t, are overly disciplined. It is very difficult to balance discipline and spontaneity.

In poker, we are taught to muck about 70% of our hands before the flop.  That is good advice to very new players. But at some point you have to take a risk and play a hand that you really should fold.

Playing a poor hand will let your opponents know that you are becoming less predictable. The goal would be to become completely unpredictable.  In business, we should strive for a healthy balance between taking risks and laying low for the time being.

The Bottom Line

The last word here is that success is hard to achieve yet it is achievable; that success may seem ephemeral but it is also palpable; and that the tools we use to improve our business selves are often the same tools we use to improve ourselves in life generally.

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