Poker, Business and the Art of Uncertainty

In business strategy, somewhere between knowledge and luck there is a place where doubt can be prodded, poked and shaken around until just enough of an answer sneaks into view. And once you catch a glimpse of it, you can compare your offering with market demand, assess the competition and – if the signs are right – begin the roll-out of your product with a healthy slice of confidence.

That’s business, but it’s also poker.

An impulse purchase of a deck of cards in a discount store led me down the path of poker. An exploration of the underlying strategies uncovered names like Sklansky, Melmuth, Harrington, Negreanu and Coren. I drank in their knowledge, immersed myself in formulae and pored over statistics. A new confidence in my poker skills was abruptly eclipsed by a realisation that I knew nothing. Back to the books, then back to the tables. Rinse. Repeat.
And now it’s all starting to make sense; for the moment at least.

For me, poker strategy steps beyond the realm of games and becomes an extension of executive decision making. Based on a foundation of imperfect information, the statistics are calculated and the cards are played or discarded. A few exploratory bets are shoved out to research the market; if the figures come back favourable then it’s time to build a deeper strategy. Never go for the all-in gamble, the moves are made with considered deliberation. It all needs to make a positive difference in the long run.

And I’m certain that it’s improved me as a strategic decision maker in business.

Some say I’m gambling. And to a degree I suppose I am, but everyone who’s alive is. I’m making decisions based on imperfect information and I’m attempting to make a profit by investing money. It’s a mix of analytical skill, luck and experience.

I believe it’s the same with so many things in life. In enterprise, we invest our resources into products, processes and people, and we only ever have a partial, obscured view of the entire picture. We invest in research to unveil a bigger slice of that picture, and the better the research, the more accurate the decisions we make. It’s all about effective business performance through imperfect information.

So whether your primary goal is to outfox your competitors, align your core competencies with your clients’ needs or stride out into new markets, I’m beginning to believe there’s a lot to learn from traversing the poker pathway.

What’s your take on commerce, poker and the art of uncertainty?

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