Culture and authenticity in leadership all contribute to a successful organization. Today, Dr. Diane Hamilton interviews Robert Glazer, the Founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners and the author of Elevate, about building authentic leadership. Bob shares his tactics on developing a healthy and high-performance culture as well as capacity-building towards becoming the leader we ought to be. He also touches on the four capacities necessary for achieving that authentic leader level.
Poker may be an ordinary card game but there are lessons to be learned from it specifically on how we can find strength in luck. Professional poker player, digital entrepreneur, and keynote speaker Alec Torelli joins Dr. Diane Hamilton to discuss his realizations about the harsh realities of the world with regards to luck. Alec takes a deep dive into how poker ties into life especially when it comes to handling failures and setbacks.
We have Robert Glazer and Alec Torelli here. Bob Glazer is a bestselling author and speaker. He’s the Founder and CEO at Acceleration Partners. Alec is a keynote speaker and pro poker player who takes what he learned in the poker world to help people in the business world. This is going to be an interesting show.
Listen to the podcast here
Building Authentic Leadership Through Our Capacities With Robert Glazer
I am here with Robert Glazer, who is the Founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global performance marketing agency and the recipient of numerous industry and company culture awards, including Glassdoor’s Employee’s Choice Award two years in a row. He’s the author of multiple books and his latest one is Elevate. It’s so nice to have you here, Bob. How are you?
Thanks, Diane. I’ve got several names. I’m given a multiple-choice name which I have to deal with, but it’s all good.
It’s interesting to see what you’ve worked on because it ties into a lot of my interests. I was looking at your latest book. I was looking at a lot of the work you do and congratulations for all those awards, by the way. That’s awesome. You have a weekly inspirational newsletter that reaches over 100,000 individuals in more than 50 countries. You do all these things with your podcast that you have. It’s titled Elevate.
Everything has the same name. That makes it easy.
You talk about a lot of things and what I liked is you said you wanted to get people past their current abilities and challenging themselves. That’s what I want to do too because I think a lot of people are limited by status quo behaviors and that’s going to kill innovation. I’m interested in a little bit of your background before we get into some of the questions I wanted to ask you about elevating some of the other stuff you do because I know you’re a sought after speaker and all these things you do. Can you talk about how you got to this level?One of the most important and valuable tools people can have in their life is to be able to articulate their core values. Click To Tweet
It’s through trial and error, accidents, some hard work, probably a combination of those things. I’ve always been focused and interested in growing companies. I did that from the outside. I got frustrated helping other people grow their companies. I decided to start my own company that helped people grow their companies. I have been through a lot of evolutions as a leader. If you start a company, there’s something like a 94% chance that you won’t even get to $1 million in revenue. If you go beyond that and get to $5 million and get $10 million but if you don’t reinvent yourself, then you’re out of a job pretty quickly. It’s an interesting situation. You can be the founder of your company, but if you want to remain the CEO or the leader, you have to improve yourself and take things to the next level.
That got me focused on a journey of improvement. Also using that as a leadership strategy and realizing that if we were growing that quickly, we didn’t want to be changing out the tires as an employee every couple of laps around the track. We wanted a strategy to help people grow their capacity, grow with the business where we can invest in them holistically and we’d get the best business benefit of that and they’d get all the benefits outside of work. That’s what brought all these different things together in terms of our business and Friday Forward and Elevate book and the Elevate podcast. That framework of capacity building is something I’ve used in my own life. We’ve used it as a leadership strategy. It’s the framework behind Friday Forward until it all comes together in some way.
You brought up some interesting points about the companies that they don’t get far, but I remember reading about even the Fortune 500 companies, about 85% of them from 1995 are gone. All these companies have to learn what you’re talking about. You focus on some important things to do to get that real core level of success. You talk about capacity building. I’m curious about what you mean by capacity building.
There’s a long definition of capacity building or the short one. The short one is how we get better. It is the process of how we get better. We’ve learned to leverage that. The long version that would be used is the method by which individuals seek, acquire and develop the skills and ability to consistently perform at a high level in pursuit of their innate potential. Their innate potential is key. There are four elements that I include in the concept of capacity building and that’s spiritual capacity, which is who you are, what you want most, what your values are. Intellectual, which is how you learn, plan, think, get better and set goals. Physical, which is your health and well-being, and emotional, which is how you relate to things outside of you, which are factors you don’t control, the quality of relationships and people.
What I’ve seen is that in everyone who is an extremely high performer, high achiever in some aspect of life, you can find these four factors and that they are very honed in on them and they are interdependent. If one of these things is way off or out of alignment, it will inevitably drag the other ones down. What I like about this framework, it gives people a very simple way to look at how to improve and where they can do better in each of these areas. It’s not a hack, it’s not a quick fix. It’s a framework that illuminates where you might be at a threshold level across these areas.
You mentioned values, which brought to mind Myers-Briggs and I know a lot of people don’t like Myers-Briggs. You can learn from a lot of personality tests in general, maybe not so much about you as much as about others, if it’s the opposite personality type to what you are specifically. I remember in the F versus T dichotomy of Myers-Briggs, if you had a high F that you made your decisions based on your values, but if you had a high T, you didn’t. It was all facts, figures and that kind of thing. I found it interesting because when I took the test, I got a zero on the F, I got 100% T. I never saw anybody else get such a high or low. More people are towards the middle somewhere. I thought that it was interesting that I don’t make any of my decisions based on my values.
I’m not sure about that. That may not be the best predictor of that because if these high-level decisions or these lower-level decisions, there’s probably some order of magnitude there. One of the most important and valuable tools people can have in their life is to be able to articulate their core values. I think everyone knows them. They feel violated when you’re off the path. It’s different from being able to be like, “Here’s what it is and here’s why.” Every good leader I know is in tune with that. When you think about decisions about who you want to marry or be a partner, where do you want to live, the job you want to take. These are things where the core values are misaligned.
It’s probably not going to work. It’s not going to feel good. If you’re trying to be a leader and not leading from who you are, then you’re probably being surface-level or not being authentic. Either it works and you’re not authentic to yourself or people see right through it or it’s exhausting. My thing is that I think that all of there. It’s like the instruction manual that no one sent you when you were born. The processes are identifying them, articulating them, and then being able to use them and be like, “I can’t stand being around this person every time. Our values aren’t aligned.” If I understand that and I even realize we’re having that issue, then I can deal with that.
I hear a lot of problems with the organizations where they don’t even talk about their values or how they’re doing aligns with their values with employees. I think that sometimes they find out later, once they’re in, that there’s so much talk about that. When we’re talking about cultural issues in the workplace, you touch on a lot of things that a lot of people need help with. You mentioned you have this Friday Forward, which is your newsletter and that has been successful. I mentioned how many hundreds of thousands of people get this. How did that tie into what you wrote about in your book? Did you take information from that and lead into this book?
It all came together. It started as a note that I sent to my team that came out of some leadership stuff that I did and wanting to work on my morning routine and start with a positive focus on the day. Some of the stuff that I was reading. It wasn’t just that I was given a suggestion that didn’t do for me. I started writing that and sharing it with my team. Long story short, people started sharing it with other people. I ended up then intentionally sharing it outside the company and it kept growing. I went to write a book that was a compilation initially. When I went around to all the agents, they all said, “That’s interesting and you have a growing audience, but no one buys compilations.”Anything that appeals to everyone is nothing to anyone. Click To Tweet
I talked to another agent who said the same thing, but he said, “The stories are interesting. They’re clearly resonating. I think you have a story here.” I went to look at that. I spent some time writing and thinking, and then I realized that as I was alluding to before that why I thought Friday Forward had an impact was the same principles that we were using to grow people at our company. It was also the same things that I had used personally and it was all these same elements of capacity building. It all came together in that way.
Your company is a marketing agency. Are the tips you’re giving based on being in marketing?
No, it’s not. They’re general.
Why Friday Forward? Did you write it on Fridays? Is there some other reason behind that? I’m curious.
I have a couple of names in the beginning. I think it was Friday Inspiration. Eventually, I renamed it Friday Forward because everyone was forwarding it and that became the thing. They would say, “I forward it to my mom or my dad,” or someone would say, “My brother’s company sent this around.” That’s how it got the name Friday Forward. The message was never about our company. It was always about a principle or something like that, where an idea or something they could get better at. They’re actually applied universally. I never thought of sharing outside the company because I started within the company thinking it’d be a good way to connect with employees and to motivate them or to give them something to think about.
You write about these capacities in your books. I imagine you deal with that in your column as well and on your show. You mentioned spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional as the four capacities. Which one do you think people struggle with the most?
I think they struggle with spiritual and spiritual is not religious, but I don’t think a lot of people have spent a lot of time figuring out. They’re running the race and they don’t even know where the race is going. All the other ones you can get a start on tomorrow and get a 1% improvement and see that. I also do think people struggle with emotional because it’s not about them, it’s about the interactions with the outside world and other people. Spiritual people could be running hard in the direction but it doesn’t provide them any enjoyment. If you’re low on spiritual and good on all the other ones, you may be perfectly executing on a career and having a lot of “success” in something that provides real fulfillment or enjoyment.
I think that’s all-important. I hear a lot of talk about emotional. I’ve had Daniel Goleman on and a lot of others talking about emotional intelligence because it’s fascinating to me since I wrote about that for my dissertation. We know EQ can be developed, not so much IQ, the intellectual component. What things are you working on there?
To me, that’s your operating system. You can make it work better, faster and smarter by increasing your knowledge base and your horsepower and upgrading it. This is about goal setting, discipline, and learning and growth mindset. If I don’t know how to do something, it’s teaching myself or learning how to do it. One example, if you think about the crosses over both intellectual and emotional. Let’s say that I struggle with difficult conversations. I’m a leader in the organization and I stay up the night before and I sweat about it and I wake up in the morning and I’m nervous about it. It takes the whole day’s worth of energy for me. Clearly, it’s affecting my emotional capacity but the intellectual tie is there are frameworks out there.
I could read Kim Scott’s Radical Candor. I could read Patty McCord’s stuff on difficult conversations. I could listen to a couple of podcasts and I can improve my ability to have these conversations, learn best practices, and learn tricks. Suddenly, I’ve improved the operating system and now I go and have that conversation. It’s not as stressful and I don’t dread it and it doesn’t take up the whole day. There’s an example of increasing my intellectual capacity to do then something which also improves my emotional capacity.If you're giving a speech and no one hates it, then you didn't say anything enough to make anyone love it. Click To Tweet
You mentioned better, smarter and faster. I get The Six Million Dollar Man in my mind when you say that. Isn’t that how they described it in the intro to that show? You’re probably not old enough to remember that, but that was what we’re all trying to do is get better, smarter, faster. You’d talked about a morning routine that you do. Does that tie into the physical aspect or are you exercising in the morning? Are you doing the ice baths like Tony Robbins? What are you doing in the morning?
It depends on both. I think it’s a little more of the intellectual. I tend to focus on the offense. Not getting on my phone, not reading email for the first hour, having some quiet time either to read or to write or to look over my objectives, build a plan for the day. There’s something I always pick the top three things I need to get done that day and I try to get them done before noon. I do what you call the offensive plan like before the rest of the world comes down. Once I turn on the email or I turn on the news, I start looking at stuff. I’m going to be more reactive. Sometimes I work out in the morning or I do something, get a little physical exercise sometimes, depending on my day, it works out better in the afternoon. Depending on how my day looks, I might realize I want it a little more in the afternoon. They’ll be part of a break. It can be a little bit different each time.
You find what works for you. I’m definitely a morning person. I’m on my computer by 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning like a crazy person. Other people, they can’t even come wake until 8:00 at night. You’ve got to find the time that works best. At least that’s been my experience. You are the CEO of Acceleration Partners, a marketing agency. I teach a lot of marketing courses. I was fascinated by that being your field. Having been the program chair at Forbes, I did create some brand publishing courses that dealt with a lot of marketing. Marketing is such a challenging industry. I want to know a little bit more about your company. Who are your clients? What are your biggest challenges?
We help pretty large enterprise brands acquire new clients online through affiliate partner programs. What these are instead of going to the site and saying, “I’ll pay you for a banner or I’ll pay for a click,” you enter into a relationship where you’d say, “A click or a customer to us is worth X or it’s worth a percentage of revenue or a qualified lead is worth Y,” and you enter into a commercial agreement whereby they have control, a partner. Let’s say it’s a company selling widgets and it’s a widget review site. They agree to a contract and the widget review can talk about their widgets and promote their widgets and they only get paid a percentage of what it is that they do. Both parties have skin in the game and it’s a win-win form of marketing. We help launch and build those programs for large global brands.
Why do you think you’ve got such a great culture there? You’re noticed by Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards, what is it that you have that’s different than everybody else?
I don’t know if it’s different from everyone else. Interestingly, my definition of a great culture is not probably what a lot of people would think. There are some things that are universal. Paying people well, treating people well and having decent benefits, those are great. Silicon Valley has confused us that like foosball tables and ping pongs and barista is great culture a lot. A lot of that is disguising a poor culture. A great culture and companies have a differentiated point of view and they’re trying to find their tribe and people who agree with that in what they say, what they think and what they do is aligned. We are not a great culture for a lot of people. I can tell you that.
What we’ve done is we’ve been consistent about our values. Here are our values, here’s how we act, here’s how we behave, here’s what we say, we think and what we do. It’s finding people who are aligned with that so that they are like, “This is the right place for me.” It’s definitely not the right place for everyone. I think that if a culture is right, it’s like anything that appeals to everyone is nothing to anyone. Someone once told me, if you’re giving a speech and no one hates it, then you didn’t say anything enough to make anyone love it. That’s it. I think that less than 1% of the people would be right for our company and we’d been on a mission to share who we are, be consistent about who we are and find the people who share those same values and like our vision and our plan and where we’re going.
You made me feel better about my next review I get if I give a speech if I hear something negative. I agree with that though. Everybody wants to be safe sometimes and if you’re too safe, nothing good comes from it. You’ve written all these important lessons from this book and I’m curious, from what you’ve written has changed what you do either at work or at home? Sometimes you make these discoveries when you’re researching these books and you go, “I need to be doing that.” Was there any a-ha thing you got from writing this book and what are the biggest changes you’ve made because of it?
The book is a compilation of all those, so it probably wasn’t the process because I had done a lot of the writing along the way. I had identified a lot of principles. For each Friday Forward, I find that it’s not that I have even an expert on whatever that topic is, but I find something interesting and I sit with it for a few hours and I formulate my opinion and then I’m sharing something that I think will help other people. A lot of people tell me that not until they write do they form or sit with it or go back and forth to edit did they understand their own viewpoint on it. All of the components of the book, things like the morning routine, setting goals, approaching relationships and doubling down on certain ones and deciding to move away from other ones. All of those things were things that I had learned and done along the way as I discovered those principles.
It’s interesting to see what every company values in terms of their principles and their values. When you were talking about sitting down and editing, it brought to mind a company I worked for where they had us memorize their values and what they thought was important. It was this three-page thing. We had to memorize it and they made us be videotaped giving it. All I remember is reading it and it was grammatically incorrect and I was going through page by page in pain trying to read this thing because it was not well written. I gave it my own spin and they let me get away with it. It was good though because it made me see what it is that they found important in terms of the culture of the company. I don’t think a lot of companies do that and I think that it’s important to discuss some of this stuff. You talk to a lot of companies, you’re a sought after speaker. What are the top speeches that you like to give to companies? Is it all about these four areas or something else?Luck is not distributed evenly. There are pockets of the world that are extremely fortunate and others that are unlucky. Click To Tweet
No. One of my biggest ones is how to develop a healthy and high-performance culture because I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, but a lot of people believe that. In the case that you said, “You should never join the company,” and then it’s like, “Now you’ve got to read and memorize this dogmatic thing.” That should’ve been in the interview and if they were consistent, they’d say, “Here’s who we are and what we value.” Things like integrity and respect and all these things, I don’t think those are real core values. I think those are deliberate. They’re pay to play. Core values have to have a differentiated point of view because who would want to hire someone that’s not respectful or that’s not integral. No one would tell you that. We screened for the core values in the interview process. We talk about it and we have people read over them. It’s not a two-page thing or three. They read the principles. They understand that our awards are based on them. Our promotions are based on them because we’re trying to drive away the people. Our number one core value is own it. If you’re not the type of person to own it and here’s what own it looks like when you work here, you’re not going to want to work here. The first time that you might make a mistake and someone tells you to write up a report and share it with everyone and you want to blame the world for that mistake, it’s not going to go over well. That to us is not own it.
Own is like, “Even though all these things happened that I couldn’t have figured out, here’s what I could’ve done better and here’s what someone else could learn from this the next time around.” I do a lot of coaching with people on core values in companies and some nonprofits. There are a couple of things. They need to be differentiated and the DNA of the person, don’t confuse them with a public marketing thing and they need to be something where you could sit down and objectively have a discussion with someone about it. For instance, ours are own it, embrace relationships and excel and improve. If I’m sitting down with Diane having a review and I’m like, “Here’s how you could have been better at owning it this quarter. Here’s the situation when you didn’t lean into relationships that we have and you could’ve done that better or you did great. Here’s an opportunity where you are great at excel and improving or where you weren’t. They’re very objective.”
I even worked with a nonprofit and they wanted to celebrate diversity as a core value. I was like, “To me, that’s like a slogan that’s not under the definition of the DNA of the person.” I’m not going to sit down and be like, “Diane, you’re poor at celebrating diversity this quarter.” That’s my metric. I don’t think people pay attention to these things, but there’s a school of thought that I strongly subscribe to that core values are not marketing thing. They are the DNA of a successful person. They need to have a differentiated point of view that no one would say the same three because they represent a unique point of view that not everyone would want to agree with. Some people don’t want to own it. Some people want the middle lane and don’t want to excel and improve and that’s great, but they should be clear that we’re not the right company for them at this phase in their life.
It’s important to spell out the culture and it sounds like you’re doing a great job. A lot of people are probably going to be interested in learning more, maybe getting on your Friday Forward list, listening to your Elevate podcast, reading your book, Elevate and finding out more about you. How can they do that?
Everything is now conveniently all in one place. It’s at RobertGlazer.com and you can find the book on there. You can find the podcast or sign up for Friday Forward.
Thank you, Bob. This was interesting stuff and essential for people to know about ways to improve their culture. Thank you.
Life Lessons From Poker With Alec Torelli
I am here with Alec Torelli who is a professional poker player, digital entrepreneur and full-time traveler. Over the last decade, he’s traveled to more than 40 countries while playing poker and running an online business. He now teaches others to do the same. It’s nice to have you here, Alec.
Diane, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
I don’t get a lot of poker players, although Annie Duke was on. She was interesting. Have you ever played against Annie?
It’s funny, I’ve never played poker against Annie, but I was part of the poker league she founded. We know each other off the felt. We’re friends off the felt as well. Annie is awesome. She has great content. I love her book, Thinking in Bets. I highly recommend that. It’s a great approach to decision-making that comes from poker and she’s done a lot of cool things. I like Annie a lot.
You both do a good job of taking analogies and learning lessons from what you’ve learned in life with the cards and poker. My dad was a gin rummy player and he did a lot of going to Vegas. I hadn’t heard the off the felt. I like that. The stuff that you’re working on, your keynotes, you talk about being dealt a winning hand in life. What do you mean by that?
Growing up in Southern California, in Orange County, I lived in this bubble where everyone was essentially dealt a winning hand in life. Everyone has a good situation just because they’re born into that reality and that’s something that we can’t control. That’s what we’re given. In poker, you’re dealt your first two cards. While you can choose which hands to play in poker, in life, it doesn’t work that way. You’re either born in this reality or you’re not. I lived out in Macau because there were some of the biggest poker games in the world there. It’s a little island off the coast of Hong Kong. I got to travel quite a bit to Southeast Asia and I had many experiences there. One, in particular, stood out where I was in Cambodia and we did this local tour to see how the villagers live. It was like a food tour, but we got to see people that were similar to me.What keeps poker exciting is that no two situations are ever the same. Click To Tweet
My wife and I, they were maybe our age, but their daily reality was different. They were climbing trees to pick fruit to make little things so that they could sell to make a couple of dollars a day. This is how all of the villagers live. It struck me during that moment and I thought to myself, “The biggest difference between the opportunity I’ve had in my life and what I’ve been able to do and achieve and the experiences I’ve had is it’s largely because I was born into a reality where I had these opportunities and these people weren’t.” Unfortunately, they live in little Hudson. Some of them don’t have electricity and no running water. Literally this one family would spend their entire day filter iron out of the water so they can drink it and this is what they had to do to survive. I never was exposed to that and that was luck.
Poker made me reshape my relationship with luck and not how it applies on the table but in life as well. Luck is not distributed evenly. There are pockets of the world that are extremely fortunate and lucky, so to speak, if you’re born there and you can live there. There are other pockets that are unlucky and they get dealt bad hands. It made me realize how much of what I’ve been able to do is because of the hand I was given and you have to play the hand well. If we could talk about that, you get to play the hand strategically that you’re dealt, but a lot of my message is just to be grateful because I think many people are certainly reading this, fall into that category of being dealt a winning hand. That’s a great place to start.
You bring up some important points about timing and luck and in business. I give a talk about curiosity quite often since I wrote my works on curiosity. Some of the things that hold people back from being curious are their environment. It’s interesting how some people can overcome it and others can’t. If you look at Elon Musk versus Steve Wozniak, for example. Elon Musk’s family wanted to get away from his dad and his situation because he told him you’d never amount to anything. He moved away from it and didn’t let it stop him. Wozniak’s father said, “Here’s how you create all this stuff. Let me show you why you need electricity and why you need these cables.” Don’t you find it fascinating how one person can find the strength to overcome bad luck or capitalize on good luck or whatever it is? What did you learn from your experience in that realm?
I think a lot of it is the environment and that makes a lot of sense. The challenge is that we have the tendency to compare our hand, so to speak, our reality, the hand that we’re dealt with to the people that are closest to us or in our modern world through the lens of social media. The problem is that people that are dealt objectively winning hands, let’s say they’re in the 80th or 90th percentile of good fortune, they’re comparing themselves to the people that are the 5%, 10% or 15% that are ahead of them. Comparatively, it seems like when you’re 90% of the way up to the top of the mountain and you just landed there from birth, you look at the people on top of the mountain and you’re like, “Everybody’s ahead of me.”
The people aren’t looking down to see the people that have it worse than them. This is because we compare our daily reality to the highlight reel of everybody else’s life on social media or what we see in the press or the media or on YouTube or whatever it is. If you look around, let’s say you’re born in the US and objectively you’re in the top 90th percentile of wealth in the world. Being born there is to be lucky. That’s what it means to be the 90th percentile. That’s luck. When you see everybody else around you is equally lucky because they’re all also born in the 90th percentile. There’s a disparity amongst a city. Typically, the average in the city is going to have a certain wealth and that crushes the average of someone living in Africa. There’s no comparison.
We only compare ourselves to the people around us so it makes it seem like good fortune is normal because everybody else is lucky. That’s what I meant to say in the beginning that luck is not distributed evenly. For me, it took traveling to the third world and seeing that there’s an entire nation that was dealt a bad hand or on the lower end of the luck distribution in terms of where they were born, the opportunities they have, the wealth they have, the purchasing power or whatever it is. I think that’s the challenge.
For me, it took the understanding that half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. That’s like 50/50. You think about the universe flips a coin before you’re born. You could either be born in America or Europe, but you could either be born in the first world or you can live on $2.50 a day or less. That’s 50/50. It’s the toss of a coin. It’s not like you’re going to lead the living on what you’re living on your average salary than the person next to you is going to be living on $2.50 a day if you’re born in America. It doesn’t work like that. It took me traveling and going to other countries to see this firsthand to feel what I knew intellectually. I feel like that’s the challenge for people is to internalize that idea.
You’re talking about analysis, discovery and curiosity to find out more about the world, which is interesting. I don’t know if you have even heard of it, but my great grandfather, C.D.P. Hamilton, wrote a book called Modern Scientific Whist, which was prior to bridge. It was the big game that was such a big deal everybody was into. People love bridge now. I have the older generation more maybe. Whist was the big thing. I didn’t even know he wrote this book until a few years ago and I went and I found it. It’s out there and I bought this on eBay or something. This thing is like a dictionary. This guy went through every single possible hand you could ever get in the game of whist, which think about that in poker. If you went through every single possible thing and wrote a book to show you how to deal with that, are you going to write a book like this? Can we analyze anything to death and figure out how to make good decisions? How much analysis is required?
There’s a fun fact here about the permutations of poker in comparison to other things in life. I was writing about this. It’s funny you mentioned writing a book because I’m almost done with my first official book. I’ve been writing about this and one of the things I put in the book was eight fun little inserts about facts about poker and how many permutations there are of hands that you can be dealt. Every time you shuffle a deck of cards, it’s extremely likely that no deck has ever been arranged the same way before. A deck of 52 cards can be ordered in many different ways. It’s hard to fathom how big this number is. To do the math, you’d have to do 52 times 51 times 50 times 49. That number is 8 times 10 to the 67th power. It’s hard to fathom how big that number is.
For comparison, if someone’s shuffling a deck of cards once per second since the beginning of the universe, they would have shuffled the deck less than 10 to the 18th times. We’re talking about 10 to the 67th. There are only 10 to the 23rd power stars in the entire known universe. The amount of possibilities that there are in the ways that the deck of cards can be shuffled is unfathomably large. That’s what keeps poker exciting is that no two situations are the same. You also have the nuance of playing against different types of people. That’s what keeps the game interesting. It keeps you on your toes. It’s humbling, poker, as a game because no matter how good you think you are, how much you’ve learned or accomplished or whatever, there’s always a new situation. If you’re not always learning and trying to get better, the game will pass you by or someone will get the best of you.
I think in poker it’s unique because it mimics the game of life in the sense that everyone at the table that you play against does some things well and they also have flaws. They do some things not as well. Everybody has strengths and everybody has holes in their game or weaknesses or things that you can exploit as their competition. It’s taught me in life always to try and learn from other people, even if I don’t like them, even if I’m not a fan or let’s say like a politician. You typically dislike half of the people in politics. You’re either for one party or against one party. You can always learn something from everyone because everyone has some strengths that got them to where they are.
I try and look for that at the table and see instead of looking at the glass half empty, I’m trying to say like, “What does this person do well?” Even if they do 80% of the things poorly, they might do 20% of the things. What are those things? What can I learn from that? How can I adjust and outplay them and get better, but also how can I make the best of what they’re doing and then internalize a little bit of it and be a little bit more prepared, be always learning, keep my feet on the ground and try and stay ahead of the curve? That’s some fun facts about poker too.Poker mimics the game of life in the sense that everyone at the table that you play against does some things well and they also have flaws. Click To Tweet
The numbers are staggering. That’s why when I saw his book and how much time it would take to do what he did, I thought it was pretty neurotic, first of all, that you’d want to write that book. I’ve got to give him credit that he went through all that because there’s so much to it. In poker, you’ve got tells, you’ve got bluffing, you’ve got things that remind me. My dissertation was emotional intelligence, which is all about empathy and understanding of other people’s emotions. I would like poker for that aspect. Especially I may have played poker a handful of times in my life. I know the basic premise of it and Maverick was a great movie with Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster. I’m not hugely knowledgeable in the area of poker, but I do know the bluffing aspects a little different than some other card games. How does that tie into life? How do we bluff and have tells? Do you talk about that in any of your keynotes?
What I would say is that it’s important to be what I call situationally aware and to understand that maybe how it translates into the real world. You might be playing against someone and they have a typical mode of operating and they’ll be playing in a certain way. They have a profile as a character or as a person and their personality that leads insight into how they’re likely to play the game. For example, if they’re retired and they’re dressed very conservative, you might expect them to play what’s called tight, meaning they don’t play a lot of hands. They wait for solid cards. They don’t like to risk money, for example. This might let you think like, “They’re not likely to bluff me.” There are also times where people do the opposite of what you expect because circumstance changes and so they don’t behave in the way that they would normally behave. For example, when someone is losing and we call this tilt. They start to play poorly. They chase losses, they gamble excessively. They played more and more hands because they’re losing, they’re frustrated. They’re in a different mental state than they are normally.
This changes the way that they see the world temporarily. It changes their emotional psychology and the way that they actually make decisions. If I think this helps in the real world as well, if you’re working with a team or have employees or whatever it is, because people are emotional creatures. Different things trigger people in different ways. It’s a job certainly of a leader or also just being involved in a group to understand what things are going to get people off their game and then reading into that situation to be able to know what the best way to react is. That’s helped me with being more aware and in tune with people in general and what’s going on in the moment.
Also, I think to talk about a little bit about the emotional control side of things, is to be not influenced by external circumstances as much and things that are out of your control. For example in poker, you can play very well and still lose and that’s part of the game. It’s part of life. You can show up and do your best and not get the job or if you’re an actor going to addition, you could be the best one and you don’t get the part because they didn’t fit the profile of what they were looking for. There’s luck, there are variants, there are things that happen that are beyond your control.
I think not letting the results get to you and focusing on the process is a good skillset to adopt. Poker players do that very well because they know that they can’t control which cards come. They can only control how they play the hand. All of their focus is channeled on the process of trying to make high-quality decisions. They know that if they stick to that and they do that over and over again, the expectation they will gain in making profitable decisions will extrapolate to them winning money over time. That’s the process that is important to focus on, whether it’s in poker or growing a business or pursuing your goals. Focus on showing up every day, playing your best and in the end, the results will come.
I liked the psychological aspect. It almost seems like we’re our own coolers. I don’t know if that’s the term, and be like the Maria Bello movie, whatever it was. I can’t remember. Bill Macy or whatever that movie was. A cooler is somebody who gets near your table and all of a sudden you’re not doing well.
We use cooler to say cold deck. When you get unlucky that the deck was not in your favor, we’d call it a cooler. It’s a common poker term.
There are a lot of things in poker that I found interesting. I talked to Annie a little bit about this. How do you tell if someone’s a novice thing or are there any real things if somebody wants to get into poker? I know we’re going to be talking about business in general, but in the poker world, that’s a red flag or this girl doesn’t know what she’s doing? How do you tell a novice poker player?
There are a lot of ways. There are tactical ways that I won’t bore the readers with in terms of betting strategy, which would be tantamount to a chess player opening their A-pawn. It’s a clear novice move. You never do that. We did talk about something that I think applies to life as well. That’s this cooler idea. Cooler is a way of expressing that you got very unlucky in poker. You have a great hand, you go all in and your opponent has a better hand. There’s nothing you can do. The difference between an amateur and a professional is amateurs complain or when they talk to you about poker, when the topic comes up, they talk about things that are beyond their control.
They talk about the time that they got unlucky and you’ll see this all the time. It’s called a bad beat story. They tell a story in which they were a mathematical favorite to win the hand and a bad card pain. They got unlucky and look at me, “Look at how unlucky I am.” That’s the clearest sign of a bad poker player because their focus is on something they cannot control, which is the cards that come. If you talk to a professional, even if they lose a six-figure hand, a $100,000 a hand and they get super unlucky, they might talk to you about a hand that is a 10th of that size or 5% of that size. They will ask you a question about the quality of their decision and what they could have done differently.
If you play with them for an hour, they lose a huge hand where it was a cooler. They’ll never talk to you about it in the future. They won’t even bring it up. They’ll never mention a bad beat story because they know that’s beyond their control. It doesn’t affect their win rate. It doesn’t affect their bottom line, but they will focus intense effort on all of the different decisions they could make even in a smaller hand because that is the process that allows them to improve. It’s through the process, it’s through the journey of improving that they ultimately reap the benefits of winning money and that’s how they come to be professionals.
I think one of the biggest signs between an amateur and a professional or anyone with a winning mindset and a losing mindset is a losing mindset person and this applies everywhere in life. They’ll be like, “I never catch a break. Things don’t go my way. I’m never lucky,” whereas a winning mindset is like, “What could I have done differently to put the odds in my favor?” If someone’s like, “I’m late to work,” a losing mindset is like, “I’m late. I hit every red light.” The winning mindset is like, “I’m late to work. I should’ve got up earlier.” There’s this binary way of looking at things that is fundamental between a positive outlook and a negative one, however you want to define that. In poker, it’s about the way that people see the events that happen.People are emotional creatures. Different things trigger people in different ways. Click To Tweet
That’s interesting when you talk about mindset. I write about the mindset a lot because of Carol Dweck’s work. If you’re an open mindset, you have this ability to realize that harder work, positive things will get you more out of life. That’s what I’m interested in. In poker, there are a lot of ups and downs and you’ve got to handle failures and setbacks and that’s what you’re talking about. I saw it from my dad playing cards, he didn’t do that for a living, but he did it quite often for fun. You get people, you see these emotions run wild, they get upset. There’s a lot of jealousy. There are a lot of things that happen in the working world that I could see how this could tie into. What’s the biggest thing that you talk to people about in terms of that handling failure and setbacks?
Poker is interesting because a lot of times, you see people at their worst. It’s the test of character. It’s the test of your grit and your resilience to see everyone could play well when they’re winning. Everyone made good decisions when every KPI in their business got hit and everything is going excellent. It’s easy to make the rational, long-term patient, execute correctly and all of these things. The test of character, the test of someone’s ability to lead or their success ultimately, I feel like it’s what they do when things aren’t going their way. You find this in poker all the time. Even the best players in the world lose 30%, 40% of the time because there’s luck involved on any day. It’s not like chess where the best player is always going to win. The best players are going to lose quite often. It’s how you would react in the moments of adversity that define you.
It’s learning to manage your emotions. It’s learning to be humble with the process. It’s learning not to have an ego and understand when you’re outmatched or when you’re not feeling like you’re best for playing or when it’s not your day. Being able to say, “I lost because I got my butt kicked. I got outplayed and I need to have the humility to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I did wrong, to correct my mistakes and be better next time.” Because you’re continually losing, I feel like it’s a good challenge, but it also keeps your feet on the ground and it always forces you to study and look to find ways to improve and get better. You do have these moments where you feel like you’re flying high and you’re invincible, but then you always come back to reality because you always get your butt kicked eventually at the table. I think that’s a great process to have, focus on improving, on keeping your feet on the ground and stay humble and to never feel like you know everything and you’ve figured it out. Because right when you feel like you know everything there is to know, you fall behind the curve.
You could see how it mimics life in many ways outside of the game. I’m curious, what is the highest pot you’ve won?
In Macau, we played in some big games. I don’t want to say a specific number. It’s a weird question. It’s a fair question because like in basketball, you keep score in terms of titles, points or wins, but poker, you only keep score in terms of money. It’s always been that measurement for me where you keep score and stuff like that, but at the same time, I feel a little apprehensive talking about finance.
Didn’t you say you’ve won seven figures in overall casino tournament winnings though? This is big money.
That’s totally fair. That’s public information. Those are documented records of all the tournaments and everything. There was a specific circuit of events. It’s not like you play one hand and there’s a pot. Let’s say the average by the end of a tournament I’ll play is something like $10,000. You buy-in $10,000 and if you get far in the event, you win a certain prize of whatever. The biggest event I’ve won is $350,000 in a single event. In a specific hand of poker, it’s different because there are cash games and the buy-ins are different. It’s a different format. The tournaments are different games. I mainly played cash games though. That’s my main focus and expertise in poker. I did do well in tournaments and I’m grateful for that. I mostly focused on cash games.
We want to keep it on the up and up. I had Molly on my show from Molly’s Game. Molly, I liked her. We talked a lot off the air. She was awesome. It has been interesting, Alec. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I could see so many life lessons learned from this and I think a lot of people could learn a lot from you. Is there some site you want to share?
There are two places to look for me. If you want some poker strategy specifically, like technical strategy in terms of how to get better at poker, I put together a poker training site called Conscious Poker and that’s where I share all my poker strategy. We also have YouTube and social media as well. There are over 500 videos on YouTube. I’ve been producing content there for a few years. It’s a ton of poker strategies to help you on your journey. For content for me personally, in terms of life lessons from poker that apply to life in business, check out AlecTorelli.com. That’s my personal site. I’m active on social media. I’m @AlecTorelli on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Probably Instagram and Twitter are the best places. If you DM me or say you found me here, I’m active. I read all my messages, come say hi. I’d love to meet you.
Alec, thank you so much. It was fun.
Thank you for having me, Diane. I appreciate it.
I’d like to thank Bob and Alec for being my guests. We get many great guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can go to the radio portion of the site. You can find out more about Cracking The Curiosity Code and my work with curiosity, my speaking and all that. It’s all on the same site. I hope you check it out. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Alec Torelli
- Acceleration Partners
- Elevate podcast
- Friday Forward
- Daniel Goleman – past episode
- Radical Candor
- Annie Duke – past episode
- Thinking in Bets
- Modern Scientific Whist
- Molly – past episode
- Conscious Poker
- YouTube – Conscious Poker
- @AlecTorelli – Instagram
- Twitter – Alec Torelli
- Facebook – Alec Torelli
- Cracking The Curiosity Code
About Robert Glazer
Robert Glazer is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global performance marketing agency and the recipient of numerous industry and company culture awards, including Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards two years in a row.
He is the author of the inspirational newsletter Friday Forward, author of the international bestselling book, Performance Partnerships, and of the new book, Elevate. He is a sought-after speaker by companies and organizations around the world and is the host of The Elevate Podcast.
About Alec Torelli
Alec Torelli is a professional poker player, digital entrepreneur and full-time traveler.
Over the last decade he has traveled to 40+ countries while playing poker and running an online business. He now teaches others to do the same.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!