Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts with Annie Duke

Taking advantage of the unexpected things that happen in life is a good practice, and understand that having a statistical mind helps us to make smarter decisions. As the only woman who has won the World Series of the Poker Tournament of Champions, Annie Duke helps people to recognize the uncertainty in every decision they make. As a consultant on the behavior of making decisions, Annie teaches people that the uncertainty of decisions is derived from hidden information and the element of luck. She explains that as long as you try to guess the probability of your decision, then you have already made a smarter choice.

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions

We have Annie Duke here. Annie has won more than $4 million in tournament poker. She is really an interesting person, her background and she’s taken what she’s learned to write this book, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts, a really fascinating discussion. I’m looking forward to having her on the show.

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Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts with Annie Duke

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions
Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts

I am here with Annie Duke who’s an author, an experienced corporate speaker and consultant on the behavior of decision making. On February 6, 2018, Annie’s first book for general audience, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts has been released and it comes from Penguin Random House. As a former professional poker player, she’s won more than $4 million in tournament poker. During her career, she won the World Series of Poker bracelet and is the only woman to have won the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions and the NBC National Poker Heads Up Championship. This is going to be very fascinating. I’m really looking forward to talking to you, Annie. Welcome.

Thanks for having me on. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

I played a little bit of poker. I’m terrible at it. I’m definitely not winning $4 million anytime in my life doing that. What got you interested in poker and what led to all of this?

This is a good lesson in understanding the points of luck in your life and how you take advantage of those things that happen that are unexpected. I finished college and I went on to graduate school at UPenn where I was doing PhD work in Cognitive Science. Specifically, I was studying First Language Acquisition. That was what I thought that I was going to do with my life. I thought I was going to become a professor. During that time when I was in college and graduate school, my older brother, Howard Lederer, was playing poker. He had started playing poker as a living. This is in the ‘80s and early ‘90s when poker was not all over television. It was not something that you could have ever grown up thinking, “That’s something I want to do for a living,” because you didn’t even know that it was a living that you can make. My brother had found his way into this through a love of chess that he had. Some people who play chess also played poker and that’s how he had gotten introduced to it.

I had this weird little introduction into poker as a career but certainly I thought, “That’s what my brother does. This is not what I’m going to do.” Right at the end of graduate school as I was on my way to start interviewing for jobs as a professor, I got sick. I had been struggling with some stomach issues during the last year of graduate school and they got very bad right at the end. I landed in the hospital for two weeks. I had to cancel all of my job talks and take some time off. The plan was that I was going to go out the next season, which would be the following spring, after I’d recovered and once again go out for some professorships. During that time, I realized I needed some money because I wasn’t teaching and I didn’t have a fellowship. My brother suggested to me, “You’ve certainly watched me play a lot and I’ve been playing so why don’t you try playing some poker in order to make some money?” That’s what I did. I still wasn’t thinking that was going to be my career. I thought, “Here’s this thing I’m doing. Hopefully I can make a little bit of money at it while I’m waiting to go back and finish.” It’s supposed to be a meantime deal and the meantime ended up going from 1992 to 2012. It was a very long meantime.

Were you super competitive as a child? You’ve mentioned your brother. Did you guys compete a lot or this just turned you into a competitor later?

I was super competitive as a child. Interestingly enough, that was something that in order to become really good at poker, I needed to become less of. We didn’t play poker when I was growing up. My dad had an old set of poker chips that maybe once a year he would pull out and we will play. It wasn’t poker. It was games with lots of wildcards like baseball and that thing. I’d hardly call it poker. The main games we’re playing were things like gin or hearts. When I was fourteen, I was playing bridge with my dad as his partner. We played lots and lots of cards. My brother was two years older than I was and my dad was in his 30s and 40s.I didn’t do a whole lot of winning. When you’re seven and your brother’s nine, it’s such a huge difference. I did almost no winning. Most nights that were playing cards would end with me at some point bursting into tears and throwing the cards against the wall and walking out of the room. Was I competitive? I would say so. I wanted to win. What’s interesting is that part of my journey as a poker player was refocusing what my goal was. My goal became less about winning in the sense of just winning an individual hand or ending up with all the chips at the end of the night. It became more about trying to in a much less emotionally invested way. Emotions get in the way of trying to figure out how to make the best decisions and find the best lines of play for any hand and becoming much more accepting of losing. The fact is the best poker player in the world is going to lose over 40%ofthe time at the end of eight hours. You better get okay with losing and not throw the cards against the wall. That was part of my journey.

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions
Making Smarter Decisions: The best poker player in the world is going to lose over 40% of the time at the end of eight hours.

I could imagine. It’s like golf. You keep throwing those clubs, you’re in trouble. I grew up with siblings that were quite a bit older so I can relate to your story of losing quite a bit. We played cards a lot. We played hearts and both of my parents, oddly enough, both played cards every day of their life. My dad played gin and my mom plays bridge. I was fascinated by what you do. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence, so I’m fascinated in the whole psyche of the poker player and when to bluff and when you can tell there’s too much bluffing and how if somebody sits down at the table, you can tell they’re a newbie. What are they doing? What are the mistakes they’re making? I like to just get a little into that before we talk about you’ve used this for because I think it’s fascinating.

First of all, a lot of the way that you tell that someone is new to the game has to do with how they are at the table. It doesn’t have to do with their play but how they handle the chips, for example. Someone who’s been at a table a long time handles the chips differently. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched poker on TV. You see people shuffling the chips. It takes a lot of time to learn how to do that. Another thing that happens is that naturally if you have a stack of twenty chips, after you’ve played for awhile you can naturally just grab five of them and you just know it’s five just because you’ve been handling them for a long time. Whereas someone who’s new is going to be fumbling with that and sometimes count them out one at a time or whatever. They’ll tend to hold themselves differently at the table.

There are also those cues that are going on where you’re like, “This person probably hasn’t played a lot.” That was an interesting thing when online poker first exploded, some of the things that you use at that time, 2004, to know that somebody was new to the game didn’t correlate so well for a moment. Eventually, all the people who played online did end up playing a lot of live poker, but in that moment there were a lot of people who had played a lot of poker online but had yet to step into an actual poker room. It was interesting because you see someone who is fumbling with the chips and didn’t know how to handle the chips or count the chips out or any of that stuff, but they’d actually played way more hands than you could even imagine. You had to take it into account for a little while. Not anymore, because now it has gone back to correlating pretty well. There was a moment where you would mistakenly be like, “I think this person is really new,” and it turned out they were a huge poker genius themselves. That’s number one.

Then number two, another big key, is how you peak at your cards. Newer people need to see the whole face of the card in order to know what it is. An experienced player knows that you only need to see the upper right corner of the card. People should try this who and you’ll see it. If you just look at the upper right 5% of the card, you know everything you need to know about the card. There’s stuff like that. In terms of betting, there are other things that can tell you that someone is newer. Their bet sizing tends to be off, which means how much they bet in relation to the pot. That will tend to be off and that will tell you something about them, how often they are willing to enter a pot. Generally, that’s a good signal as to whether someone’s very experienced or not. There are a lot of things about the way that they’re executing on the hands that will tell you that someone’s probably more of a beginner as well.

Is Ben Affleck overrated as a poker player or is he considered good?

Ben Affleck actually won a very big poker tournament. Is Ben Affleck a top professional? No, just like I’m not a top actor. It’s not what he does every single day, eight hours a day, but for as much time as he has put in, he’s quite good at the game.

How do you know when to bluff? Is there too much bluffing? Is there a point where it gets to be so bad that you’re bluffing too much? How do you know?

Let me simplify it in the first way, which is most of the bluffing that you do at the table is not the bluffing that in general people think about, which is like those big bluffs where someone puts all their chips into the pot hoping for the other person to pull the worst hand. A lot of the bluffs we do are tiny little bets that are just poking. For example, there’s something called a continuation bet. What that means is that, let’s say you have a very strong hand and you raised the bet, and somebody else plays along with you and they call. Those three cards in the center of the table that you both share get put down on the center of the table. They don’t improve your hand at all. Your hand has now gone from a hand that was very good to a hand that is not so good. You’ll very often make a very small bet there because the chances that the other person’s hand has something to do with those three cards on the board is only about 30%. You can make this small bet that continues the bet that you made before knowing that the majority of the time. The other person still hasn’t really related to what’s on the board either. It’s a small way to try to win and just get them to fold. That’s most of what you’re doing. Most of the bluffs that you’re making are those small bluffs which don’t involve a whole bunch of risk to your chips. That’s simplification number one.

In terms of the things that people more traditionally think of as bluff, which are these big moves, where you move but you really can’t, that’s actually pretty complicated and it changes depending on two factors. You have to be very flexible in terms of recognizing what the conditions are. The first factor is how willing is your opponent in general to fold along with how have they played the hand such that there is some signal that they might not have such a good hand? The reason why you need to think about those two things separately is that people think about their hands differently. I might have a hand that I consider weak, and if you make a big bet at me, I’m very likely to fold. I might have a hand that I consider weak and so we could have a similar view of our hand, but if you make a big bet, I’m much more likely to call. Even if we have a similar view of our hand the likelihood with which would be willing to actually fold could be different. You have to think about those two things. What’s the person’s view of their hand? On top of that, from what I’ve seen of their past behavior, how often do I think that they’d be willing to fold?

One thing that goes into that calculation is another thing that you need to think about, which is what is that person’s view of me? That would be what the global view of you is, which is in general, what do they think about my frequency of bluffing? The higher they think you’re bluffing frequency is, the more likely they are to call you. The lower they think you’re bluffing frequency is, the less likely they are to call you. Your bet would be considered more meaningful and more of a signal there. That’s their global view of you. You also need to think about what’s happened locally. Have they seen me bluff recently? In the last half hour of the game, have I only been turning over the good? If that’s the case, then your bluff is probably going to have a higher frequency of success. If they just saw me try to bluff a hand, it’s probably not as good a time to try another bluff as an example. Those are the things you need to think about. You need to be pretty flexible.

There is just so much though going into all this and you talk about incomplete information and unknowns and different things in your book. I could see why what you’ve done with your work and playing poker would make you very interested in writing the book like you have and working with leaders and helping them with decisions. I liked the quantifiable nature of how you look at all this and you say life is like poker, not like chess because it’s a foundation of game theory. Why is that important for us to know about when we’re making decisions?

You just heard in that discussion of when do you bluff and when do you don’t bluff. Nowhere in there did I say, “Here’s the situation you bluff for sure.” You heard me say the word “likelihood” a lot. You’re thinking about it probabilistically. Is the likelihood higher? Is it lower? What are the chances that this bluff will work? You’re hearing all of this language in a way that I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about the outcome of my decisions as probabilistic. That there’s a chance of the bluff working and there is a chance of the bluff not working and that’s probabilistic. What I’m trying to do is try to figure out what the probability of those different features is. This is why it’s so important to realize that life really is much more like poker than chess. Let’s think about the differences between the two.

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions
Making Smarter Decisions: Most of the bluffs that you’re making are those small bluffs which don’t involve a whole bunch of risk to your chips.

In chess, there’s at least as far as the pieces are concerned, no hidden information. There’s a little bit of hidden information, like I don’t know what opening you might have just been studying. That now would be information that’s hidden from me. In terms of the position of the pieces on the board, there is no hidden information whatsoever. I can see your whole position, therefore I know what all possible moves are. The second thing is that there’s very little luck, certainly not in a sense that somebody rolls the dice and then your bishop comes off the board all of a sudden. The pieces stay where they are until somebody moves them and because there’s no hidden information, you know exactly what all those possible moves are. What that means is that in chess, the quality of the outcome is very closely linked to the quality of the decisions. It also means that the future is much more predictable. If my rating is 1,800 and your rating is 1,700, we can predict with near certainty what the outcome of us playing a game together is, assuming that we’re both trying. The other thing we can do is pretty easily work backwards from the outcome to the decision quality. If we play a game of chess and I lose to you, we can work backwards from that to say that I made the worst decisions in the game than you did. That’s a totally reasonable thing for me to do. Let’s take poker. We can see that there are two significant differences between poker and chess. The first is the hidden information. I don’t know what your cards are. Not only do I not know what your cards are, but it’s a very small percentage of the hands in poker where all the cards were ever revealed. In fact, at the top levels of the professional game, somewhere between 10% and 20% of the time that any cards are revealed at all at the end of the hand. The majority of the time, not only do you not see the players’ cards while you’re making the decision, but you don’t even get to see the players’ part after the decision is done.

You don’t know what made them fold.

The second thing is that there’s a lot of luck even if you take out the hidden information piece. Let’s say that you put all your chips in the pot and I look down and I have two aces, which is the very best possible hands you can have in Texas Hold’em, until I call you and we turned our cards face up and I see that I have aces and you have two fives. Now, they deal out the rest of the cards. It doesn’t mean I’m going to win. I clearly made a better decision than you did and have a better hand than you do, but I can still lose because you can just have a five hit on the board or you could make a straight or something. There are things that can happen where I can just end up losing because of that. That is very different than chess. It’s much more the decisions that we make in life than in chess. What that means is that unlike in chess, if you and I play and we know that, objectively speaking, I’m a better player than you are, that doesn’t mean that we can predict the outcome of a given hand like we can in chess. You could be the worst player and have luck intervene to your favor and win. You could win over an eight-hour game against me right away. We know that. That means that how we think about how the future will turn out, we think about very probabilistically. The second thing is that it brings to the forefront the fact that working backwards is hard. If I lose a game, it doesn’t mean that I made bad decisions necessarily. It doesn’t mean that I was a worst player than you necessarily. We would need to have that reveal itself over a lot more time.

We have hindsight bias. We are able to look back and think, “I should’ve known better.” That’s simple to do but you talked about outcomes which is fascinating because I think you mentioned in your book about Pete Carroll and the worst call in history against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Was it really a bad decision or a bad outcome or is it both?

This is a good example of the problem of what happens when we treat lifelike chess and not like poker. In 2015, in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks with 26 seconds left were down by four. They were on the New England Patriots one yard line. It was a second down and they had one time out left. They have a running back on their team named Marshawn Lynch who is one of the best running backs in the history of the game, particularly in a way short yardage situation, he’s the monster. Everybody’s expecting Pete Carroll to hand off to Marshawn Lynch. Instead he called a pass play. Russell Wilson passes the ball and it’s intercepted by Malcolm Butler in the end zone, and the game was over. Let’s agree that this is a spectacularly bad outcome. The end game calling by Chris Collingsworth was pretty brutal. I can’t believe we made that decision. It was a bad decision. The headlines the next day agreed. There seemed to be an argument among the pundits, not about whether it was a good or bad decision, but whether it was the worst decision in Super Bowl history or the worst decision in NFL history period. What is interesting about that is that it does reveal exactly what happens when you treat life like a game of chess, which is you’re making a pretty strong assumption there that the quality of the outcome tells you everything you need to know about the quality of the decision. That because the outcome was bad, we can use that result in order to derive that the decision quality must’ve been bad as well.

In poker we call this resulting. It’s when you lose a hand. If someone loses a hand and you say, “They played horrible,” and somebody wins a hand and you say, “They must be a genius,” what you want to say is, “Let’s imagine that it’s more like poker. There might have been some luck that intervened in creating that bad outcome. Let’s start to try to figure out if maybe there was some bad luck in the way that that turned out.” One of the first questions that you might want to ask, if you were trying to figure out what the luck element in that outcome was, was, “How often was a ball intercepted historically in the NFL in that short yardage situation so that we can understand what the probability of an interception is there?”That would be a good first question to ask. You can assume if the probability of an interception was 90%, then that was such a likely outcome that a path we could agree was a very poor choice because you’re choosing something that has a high likelihood of failing. Let’s agree that if the probability of an interception there was really low, that that would might be the first clue that maybe the decision making was okay and luck intervened in a way that didn’t turn out well. Let’s ask what that is. In that season, the probability of an interception in the NFL in that particular situation was zero. Over the course of fifteen years in the NFL, the probability was between 1% and 2%. That’s our first clue that maybe strategically, it’s not great to say the quality outcome tells me the quality of the decision. In this particular case, the outcome was extremely low probability, between 1% and 2% of the time that particular outcome occur.

The rest of the time, everything turns out fine. It turns out fine in one of two ways. The ball is either caught for a touchdown or it’s dropped, which is relative in that event because it stops the clock and then they can go and hand it off to Marshawn Lynch on the next try. I don’t need to go into the decision anymore. There are a lot of clock management issues. There’s an issue of how many plays are you getting, things like that. I would recommend that if people do want to delve into it further, a great place to go look is Benjamin Morris on FiveThirtyEight. He has a very good analysis of that play. Actually, Bill Belichick has defended it as well. It’s such a great example of what happens when we act like there isn’t any luck involved.

It’s so fascinating your statistical mind to this. It would make things such quantifiable way. It seems like to make the decisions, whether it’s poker, football or in leadership, you really have to have a very statistical background almost. A lot of people don’t though. What do you do to help them?

Is it helpful to have a statistical background? Sure. I’m trying to get people, for example, I’m thinking about the Pete Carroll decision or any decision, to start recognizing the uncertainty in the way that any decision works out and the uncertainty derives from two places. One is hidden information and the other is from this luck element. Can you express that uncertainty as probabilities? Sure. You can say, “The chances of an interception where between 1% and 2%. There are other ways to express probability. First of all, number one is to recognize that when you’re taking a guess at the probabilities, very often you don’t have fifteen years’ worth of historical data in order to put a probability on it. A lot of times, particularly when you’re trying to figure out if I implement a particular strategy or if I make that particular decision, what are the chances of a good or a bad outcome happening here?

It might be the first time you’ve made a decision like that or maybe there are only a handful of decisions that are similar that you can relate to it. You’re probably taking a guess at the probability. Get comfortable with that because if you don’t take a guess at the probability then you’re not trying at all. You’re acting like it’s a 0% or 100% or maybe 50-50 gets thrown in there. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Let’s say that you say, “I think it’s between 40% and 70% of the time.” I understand that that might feel in exact, but it’s a lot more exact than zero or a 100% at a time. That’s a big range. First of all, at least you’re trying. You’re bringing your experience to bear, to figure out, “Do I think this is going to happen four out of ten times, or seven out of ten times, or eight out of ten times?” When you’re asking yourself those questions and you’re recognizing, “I’m just going to make a guess at it,” what’s good about it is that it causes you to be information hungry. It means that you’re focused on trying to make these guesses about the likelihood of things happening such that you realize that going and trying to reveal these hidden information, to try to find out more about what your opponents might be holding becomes helpful in making stats with those probabilities. When you become information hungry, you’re much more likely to go and gather relevant information so that you can refine your guesses and recognize their guesses.

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions
Making Smarter Decisions: When you become information hungry, you’re much more likely to go and gather relevant information.

As I said to you, when I’m at a poker table, I don’t know exactly what your probability is at folding when I bluff. I’m making a stab at it, given what I know about you, but obviously I can’t be exact. There’s too much unknown information. That’s number one. You can do it and try to do that. The other thing is there are other ways to express uncertainty. Here is a way that you can do it just using natural language. I read this opinion piece on Trade that was talking about the effects of trade wars on the US economy. It was an interesting opinion and I thought it was something to think about. It’s the only article that I read and I haven’t researched it further. Let me tell you what was in the article. I thought it was good food for thought, but just know it’s the only thing that I’ve read. Notice how much uncertainty I just expressed there. I didn’t say what’s the probability I thought that the article was right. I didn’t think in mathematical terms in any way, but I let you know what state my information was.

It’s interesting to me because I’m writing a book on Curiosity. You talked about being information hungry. You’re a curious person from all your education and all the stuff you’ve done. I was doing a pitch for something that was about something that you talk about, fake news and our motivated reasoning behind it. People tend to buy into that stuff because it aligns with their values and what they want things to be. How can having curiosity help us determine whether fake news and is it something real? What’s our thought process that we can improve there?

This goes to whether your belief is in progress or under construction or whether they don’t. It goes back to this uncertainty thing. Do you think you’re playing chess or do you think you’re playing poker? Most of us act like we think we’re playing chess. We declare with certainty that Pete Carroll’s call was ridiculous, because it didn’t work out. That would not be viewing that your belief is under construction or in progress. Notice when I sent to you, when I was describing the whole thing when would you bluff or not in poker, there was a lot of stuff about in progress decisions. I have to think about your overall view of me. What do I think about you? What have I seen from you recently? What have you seen from me recently? These are all things that are causing this belief that I have. The belief moves you around depending on what information and what the things that have happened recently. I view it as a very flexible belief. The more that we can say, “Not only are the way things are going to turn out probabilistic, it’s a different future that could occur or has some likelihood of occurring. None of it is a sure thing.” It’s good to come back in and say, “This is how I view my beliefs as well.” I understand that my beliefs are also probabilistic, the chances that anything that I believe in a moment is a 100%right or 0% right, that probably is never the case. It’s probably somewhere in between. My job is to try to get those to be as accurate to the objective truth as possible.

Through your motivated reasoning point, I’m reasoning about the world in a way that’s just saying I have this belief that I’m 100% certain of. Anything that disagrees with me is viewed a threat to this certain belief, which is obviously part of my identity. This isn’t a conscious process obviously, but the way that I process information is now going to make sure that the thing that I already believe is right. Do I say, “I think that my beliefs are under construction and the rightness or wrongness of them is somewhere between 0%and 100%? It floats in between and my job is to try to move it as close as I can toward that 100% mark. I know that I’m not there and I know that I probably never will be. Once you take that attitude where you wrap your arms around the uncertainty, you become incredibly curious because how can you calibrate the belief? How can you move it forward without actually going out and finding information that’s relevant to the belief? What becomes beautiful about that is that I already know why I believe what I believe. I already know the reasons that I think that something is true or that something is false. I already know all of that. What happens is that the most valuable information to me, the information that helps me, the most is information that descends with what my view is. That allows me to get a perspective that I don’t have myself. It allows me to explore hypotheses that perhaps I haven’t thought of. It allows me to come across data that I otherwise would not have seen.

Information that disagrees with me is no longer a threat to my identity because my identity isn’t about beliefs that I believe to be 100% true. My identity is built around being flexible in the things that I believe and trying to be a good belief calibrator. In order to do that, I have to be information-hungry. This is what goes along with that that’s super interesting. When I express myself this way, let’s take the example that I gave of trade. Let’s say that I just said to you, “Trade wars are ridiculous for the US economy and I can’t believe anybody would ever start a trade war.” Notice that all I’ve done here is just express certainty. Let’s say you disagree with me and you think that in certain cases, terrorists can be very helpful to the US economy. You’re very unlikely to now tell me. It will be a combative exchange. I’ve said to you, “This is what I believe. End of story.” If you believe something else, there are a lot of social norms that would suggest that you wouldn’t then just pipe up and tell me what you think. If I say to you, “I read this interesting opinion piece. It was suggesting that trade wars can be very bad for the US economy, but it’s the only piece that I’ve read. I haven’t studied it very far. Let me tell you what it is that I learned in it.” By expressing myself that way, I’ve now opened the door wide for you to give me your opinion. Maybe it’s stuff that you’ve read that agrees with that piece. Maybe it’s things that you’ve read that disagree with it. Maybe you have a different opinion or a different hypothesis or a more nuanced view, but whatever it is I’ve told you, I want to know it.

You used the word can, which is a very open word as compared to a closed word so this will or must of some of these other terms. It’s fascinating how you talk about reasonable and rational and all of that. I’ve got a certification for the Myers-Briggs MBTI instrument and I don’t know if you know your type or if you’ve ever taken it, but there is the dichotomy of whether people are thinking or feeling personality types. Those who have a really high F feeling, they make their decisions based on their values and those who have a very high T, are more like what you’re saying. You reason it out based on what you’ve read about and researched and thought about, of what’s out there. If somebody’s got a really high F, it’s their personality type that they’ll always have throughout their life. How do you deal with that thinking? Do you know what your type is if you’ve ever taken it?

I have taken it. All I can tell you is I’m an NTJ. I can’t tell you what the first one is. It literally depends on the day. If I take it right after I’ve given a keynote, I am very strongly an “I,” as an example. If I’ve done something super public, I end up strong. It changes. It’s relatively consistent NTJ.

Definitely you are T, there’s no question and an I. Actually, I came in at zero on F which was fascinating to me. How do you focused on helping somebody with that’s all F? Do you know what I mean? It goes against their nature.

There are two good strategies for dealing with people who are more likely to go by their gut but are more likely to say, “This is my intuition. I can feel that this is true.” It’s good to get people to focus on the future rather than on the past. Very often when someone has had some decision that has already happened, the decision is already done and you’re trying to explore it with them, they can get themselves into a defensive position. They’ll tend to close or you’ll end up with a backfire effect trying to explore it with them if you try to get them there. I tell a story in the book about this exact problem. David Letterman was giving an interview to Lauren Conrad who was a reality show star on a show called The Hills. She was on a reality show when she was 21 until it was all about the drama of her friend group. She was in this interview with David Letterman and she was talking about all this drama that was happening to her, so and so was being mean to her and so and so did this. He stopped her in the interview and he says, “That brings up the question, do you think it might be you?”

If you think about it, this is a completely reasonable question to ask. If you think you’re having drama literally with every single person in your life, what might your personal contribution to this drama be? He says, “Do you think it might be you?”She clearly had a terrible reaction to this. He realizes, “This is bad.” He tries to backpedal and what he says is, “Let me give you an example from my life. I spent my whole life thinking, ‘This guy is an idiot and this woman’s an idiot and this person’s an idiot.’ I just thought everybody around me were idiots and then one day I thought, ‘Could all these people be idiots? Maybe I’m the idiot and it turns out I was.’” She then responded with, “Are you calling me an idiot?” None of this went well. It was an interview that went quite south, but the point being that it can be very hard when you’re exploring things that have already happened in order to get somebody in a place where they’re willing to be open-minded. That’s what I say it. Don’t go into the past, go into the future. Let’s imagine that instead what Letterman had said was with lots of empathy, “That must be really hard and really frustrating to always have all of this drama with your friends.” Just the firm, then say, “What do you think you could do about it in the future?”

This forces you to start thinking about how your actions might be contributing. In order for you to think clearly about what you might do about this drama in the future, you must think about why the drama has been occurring in the past. I’ve gotten you to loop back on your own, not in a way where I forced to there. I’m being completely non-confrontational in this exchange now. I’m just saying, “That’s must be really frustrating. I hate it when there’s all this drama. What do you think you could do to avoid the drama in the future?”That’s one way to do it is to focus on the future. That will generally get them to start thinking a little bit more about how their actions might impact. That’s thing number one.

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions
Making Smarter Decisions: Focus on the future. That will generally get them to start thinking a little bit more about how their actions might impact.

Thing number two is to not deny the power of intuition or the power of gut, but to insist that that still be held accountable to some rational, conscious reasoning process. What I mean by that is that clearly there are lots of decisions that you actually have to make with your gut. I’m sure it would be one of them, I’m driving along and a deer jumps in front of my car. I hope I make a gut decision there and I don’t draw the decision to be really bad. Also, we know that for example, firefighters making in the moment decisions about whether to enter a burning building are pretty good in the intuitive process. There are times when, for example, you’re in the middle of a sales meeting and you had a strategy that you had gone in there with and through all of your experiences as a salesperson, you realize that you need to sift in the moment. That would be a gut thing that you do and you would sift strategy. I don’t have any problem with that. That’s fine as long as later on you can explain why, as long as later on you hold the intuitive response accountable to some rational process so that you can catch when the intuitive process maybe with biased or wasn’t the most optimal decision that you could make.

What I’m unwilling to accept from somebody is, “Why did you do that?” “My gut told me so.” “Why did your gut tell you so?” “That’s what my gut said.” That’s not an explanation. Again, in a non-confrontational way, the way to get them to start thinking about like, “Why does my gut tell me that?” is to say, “I want to be able to teach this to someone. I want to be able to teach what you just did or the reason that you made this decision for somebody else so that they can repeat it.” Force them into a teaching moment. What happens there is that then you are holding it accountable to rational thinking. What you find is sometimes their intuition was pretty good and they should probably just keep going with that. Other times, you’ll find out it was not so good. I found this in my own poker career. When I started teaching poker, I ended up changing strategically a lot of the things that I was doing at the table because I realized that while that had been intuitively what I thought I was supposed to be doing at the table, the minute that I tried to teach it to another human, the whole logic currently completely fell apart. It’s a good process for me.

It’s a lot different to teach. It is very challenging. You have done some amazing things with not only helping others with your teaching and your writing. You’re a co-founder of

I so appreciate you asking me about that. Thank you.

I want to know about it. Can you give us just a little bit about that?

If I were to do it in the, “I’m going to make a joke about it” way, it would be, “I’ve spent a lot of my career taking advantage of other people’s poor decisions so I decided that I should maybe go and help to get people to make better decisions.” That would be the snarky answer. The thing that we’re not giving our kids enough of, particularly in the educational system, is the ability to think rationally about the information around them, about their own beliefs, about their own habit, about how to process evidence, about uncertainty, about what is the probability. What does it mean that the future is uncertain? It means that things will only occur with a certain likelihood. The thing is that, like all facts are available to us now, fact memorization is not particularly valuable anymore because I can just look it up on Google. What matters is your ability to reason about the facts that are in front of you. This goes back to the fake news problem. If we’re not teaching our kids to be rational decision makers, to figure out how to process information in a way that’s going to move you toward discovering what the objective truth of the matter is, then we’re missing something in terms of how we’re treating our kids and how they’re going to be able to go out into the world and deal with the information that comes their way and the outcomes that come their way, to become flexible thinkers and open-minded and to be able to have open and civil discourse with other people, particularly people who disagree with them.

I think that’s great that you’re doing that.

We founded How I Decide not only to create programs that we can deliver with a focus on underserved youths, but also to try to catalyze the field, to try to get other people to get as excited about the idea of teaching decision making and critical thinking skills, and making that a centerpiece of, how we’re teaching our kids.

I serve on the board for LeaderKid and we work on emotional intelligence. A lot of things you’re talking about, critical thinking. The K through 12 kids need more of that. That’s awesome that you’re doing that. You’ve done so many things. You’ve won a televised championship in Rock, Paper, Scissors. I don’t know if you can do it on Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock. You’re watching that on Big Bang. They’ve added a couple dimensions.

I haven’t watched Big Bang. I hear it’s a very good show though.

You might want to look that up because they’ve added a couple dimensions that you might appreciate. You’ve done so many amazing things. A lot of people are going to want to know how they can find your book and how they can find out more. You mentioned the one website. Any other websites or information you want to share? It would be great.

I would love it if people would visit It’s a mission that’s incredibly important to me. I do think it’s important to our youth. Please go and explore that. Hopefully people will get as excited about that mission as I am. You can also find me on Twitter @AnnieDuke. I’m pretty active on there. I post things that are in the space of thinking about decision-making in discourse and descent, and how we process this information. Hopefully, people will like the content that’s over there. You can find my book at any book seller in the country and any online site: Amazon, Barnes &Noble, Indie Books, Hudson Books, go look if it’s there. You can go to my website On my website, there are a few things you can do. One is you can hire me there in case anybody’s interested in hiring me. You can also contact me there. You can also take a look at my newsletter which goes out every Friday, which is a deep dive into these thinking styles and bias, how we combat bias where you’re seeing bias in the news and in current events, and what new science is coming out in this area. The good news is that you can look at the archives before you subscribe. You can find the archives in there and decide whether you like the content or not before you sign up for it. I also do have a landing page for my book there. That’s another way to buying my book.

It’s fascinating because the work I’m doing with curiosity ties all into a lot of the things that you write about. I hope everybody takes some time to go look at your site. This has been so interesting. Thank you so much for being on the show, Annie.

Thank you. I love that you’re writing about curiosity. I hope it comes across in my book how much I think that curiosity is so incredibly important to developing a rational view of the world. I’m just a huge fan of that topic. I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what you’re writing, to see what you’re doing in terms of fostering curiosity.

I’m always open to input from people. If anybody’s interested in sharing what they think helps them with their curiosity can always reach me through I really think that the people who probably need to know more about becoming more curious, aren’t curious enough to pick up a book to read about it. That’s the problem. I really think we need to get the leaders, too and teachers and people that have more influence to have the ability to get people more interested.

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions
Making Smarter Decisions: Curiosity is incredibly important to developing a rational view of the world.

Just to go back to something that I said earlier. If we do believe in the value of curiosity, the things that we can be thinking of for ourselves is how do we get other people to be curious without challenging them in a way that shuts them down? That was what I was getting at by saying, “The drama is so horrible. How do you think you could stop it in the future?” That’s a way to hopefully foster some curiosity where they start thinking about, “What could I do?” thinking about ways that they could change what their outcomes are without challenging them and causing them to shut down or causing it to backfire. If you are a curious person and you value curiosity, it’d be great to start thinking about, “How can I foster curiosity in other people around me who maybe aren’t so curious?”

A lot of it begins with having emotional intelligence, your interpersonal skills, all the things you mentioned, and empathy and putting yourself in their position of how you think they’ll react to you promoting it to them. Annie, this was so great. Thank you again. I enjoyed having you on the show.

Thank you. I loved the conversation. It went to a lot of places that I haven’t talked about on other podcasts, so I appreciate it.

Thank you so much to Annie Duke. I hope everybody takes time to check out her site and her book. She has an interesting way of taking what she’s learned in poker that’s fascinating stuff. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.


About Annie Duke

TTL 186 | Making Smarter Decisions

Annie Duke is an author, and experienced corporate speaker and consultant on the behavior of decision making. On February 6, 2018, Annie’s first book for general audiences, “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” will be released by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. As a former professional poker player, she has won more than $4 million in tournament poker. During her career, Annie has won a World Series of Poker bracelet, and is the only women to have won the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions, and the NBC National Poker Heads-Up Championship. A mom of four, she has written five books and raised more than $18 million for charities. Annie is a cofounder of, a member of the National Board of After-School All-Stars and a member of the NationSwell Council. In 2016 she joined the board of directors of the Franklin Institute, one of America’s oldest and greatest science museums. She has also won a televised championship in rock-paper-scissors.

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