Annie Duke: 'What Life Lessons Can Poker Teach Us? All of Them.'
- For two decades, she was one of the top poker players in the world
- Brings her background in cognitive science and 20 years of experience in the real-world behavioral lab of professional poker together to understand how we make decisions
- Writes, coaches, and speaks on a range of topics including decision making, emotional control, critical thinking, and embracing uncertainty
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Annie Duke has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking. 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, was released by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. In this book, Annie reveals to readers the lessons she regularly shares with her corporate audiences, which have been cultivated by combining her academic studies in cognitive psychology with real-life decision making experiences at the poker table. Her most recent book, How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, trains readers to combat their own biases, address their weaknesses, and to become a better and more confident decision-maker.
For two decades, Annie was one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to study Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Annie now spends her time writing, coaching, and speaking on a range of topics such as decision fitness, emotional control, productive decision groups, and embracing uncertainty. She is a regularly sought-after public speaker, addressing thousands in keynote remarks at conferences for organizations ranging from the Investment Management Consultants Association to the Big Ten Conference. She has been brought in to speak to the executive teams or sales forces of organizations like Marriott, Gaylord Resorts, and Ultimate Software, among others. She is also a sought-after speaker in the financial sector, with clients such as Susqehanna International Group and CitiBank. Annie regularly shares her observations on decision making and critical thinking skills on her blog, Annie’s Analysis, and has shared her poker knowledge through a series of best-selling poker instruction and theory books, including, Decide to Play Great Poker and The Middle Zone: Mastering the Most Difficult Hands in Hold’em Poker, which were both co-written with John Vorhaus.
Annie is a master storyteller, having performed three times for The Moth, an organization that preserves the art of spoken word storytelling. One of her stories was selected by The Moth as one of their top 50 stories and featured in the organization’s first-ever book. Her passion for making a difference has helped raise millions for charitable causes. In 2006, she founded Ante Up for Africa along with actor Don Cheadle and Norman Epstein, which has raised more than $4 million for Africans in need. She has also served on the board of The Decision Education Foundation. In 2009, she appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice, and raised $730,000 for Refugees International, a charity that advocates for refugees around the world. In October 2013, Annie became a national board member for After School All-Stars. In 2014, Annie co-founded the non-profit, How I Decide, with the goal of helping young people develop the essential life skills of critical thinking and decision making. In 2015, she became a member of the NationSwell Council. In 2016, she began serving on the board of directors of The Franklin Institute, one of America’s oldest and greatest science museums.
Hearing Is Believing: Belief Formation & Motivated Reasoning. Once we form a belief, we have a robust tendency to reason around that belief, applying information that confirms our beliefs and ignoring evidence that disconfirms our beliefs. We will also actively work to discredit evidence that disagrees with us. This is a biased process, with different standards for evaluating evidence that agrees with our beliefs and evidence that disagrees with us. The process forms a vicious circle where we reason to support beliefs we already hold instead of updating and changing our beliefs as we gather new information. Annie Duke explains this robust cognitive error and how it impairs our decision-making in business and throughout our personal lives. She traces the origins of this bias in memory and thinking and offers strategies to becoming better and more flexible thinkers.
Big Data: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. As we become a more data-driven society, we face new questions of how best to use all this new data to improve human decision-making. Annie Duke explores the ways in which big data has the potential to overcome robust irrationalities in how we process information and solve for the problem of uncertainty. She also points out the pitfalls and dangers of big data and provides advice about how data is aggregated and collected and where the “human element” still needs to be in control of the analysis in order to interpret and model the data.
Evaluation Of Feedback: The Rough Road Of Learning Through Experience. In Annie Duke’s 20 years playing poker, she noticed that most players quickly plateau in their learning despite an abundance of evidence about how they can improve. Players win or lose hands many times an hour and get feedback about the quality of their play almost immediately. Outcomes are closely tied in time to decisions. Poker provides a closed, tight feedback loop so it should provide an ideal environment for years of learning and improvement. Players also have the opportunity to watch others win or lose hands even more often than they play hands themselves. Yet most poker players repeat the same mistakes. Players have trouble incorporating both positive and negative feedback. When things go well, they give maximum credit to their skill. When things don’t go well, they blame luck. Wins, therefore, teach them to do exactly what they are already doing. They ignore losses, attributing them to factors outside their control. Of course, this occurs in every facet of our lives. Annie examines this process with examples from poker, familiar personal and business decisions, and behavioral science research. She shares comprehensive strategies to mitigate these biases, embracing the feedback that our outcomes provide to become better long-term learners. These strategies can be adopted by individuals or at an organizational level.
How Winning & Losing Drives Irrational Choices: Lessons From The Poker Table. In poker and throughout our lives, we should try to maximize the time we spend in favorable situations and minimize our time in unfavorable ones. Poker players are too quick to quit when they are winning. They look for any excuse to put the session in the (nonexistent) win column. The same players will refuse to quit a losing game. The same thing happens outside poker: Sales professionals not giving up on a dead lead and investors unwilling to sell their losing investments. Even something as pedestrian as picking the slowest line at a grocery store and being unwilling to change lines stems from the same bias. Annie Duke examines how the interaction of many cognitive biases (including loss aversion and sunk-cost bias) drives this behavior. These tendencies cause us to miss good opportunities and continue playing when the odds are against us. Annie provides insight into avoiding this costly decision-making error with strategies that prevent us initially making these poor decisions and how to take a longer-term view so we are not as caught up in the emotion of the moment. These strategies apply in the workplace, to parenting and to other personal decisions.
Tilt: Managing Your Emotions. Has anyone ever told you, “Why don’t you sleep on it?” or “Take ten deep breaths before you decide” or even “Calm down”? If so, you (like everyone else) have been on tilt. Tilt is a state of distress that causes us to make emotionally charged and irrational decisions. In poker, many talented players go broke because they play poker on tilt. Making decisions in this unproductive emotional state is not confined to the poker table. Tilt is common in corporate environments, in finance and sales, and, of course, in our personal lives as anyone with a teenager can attest. The best poker players in the world devote tremendous time and energy on how to reduce the effect of their emotions on their decision-making process. Annie Duke shares the secrets and strategies the top players employ to avoid emotionally charged decision-making.
Taking Care Of Your Future Self: Temporal Discounting & The Sacrifices We Make To Feel Good Now. One of the biggest challenges poker players face is how to maintain a long-term view that maximizes their results over their career when they are making moment-to-moment decisions in highly emotionally charged situations. One of the biggest obstacles to success as a player is not talent as most might suspect. It is the ability to balance the future against the present moment, to avoid making decisions that might feel good in the moment but will be costly to your future self. This is the same problem we all face in making decisions on just about anything—retirement savings, dieting, portfolio management, and procrastination, to name a few. Annie Duke shows how temporal discounting, discounting the future in favor of feeling good in the present, hurts our overall productivity both in a corporate environment and as individuals. She discusses how this irrational weighting of the present interacts with other cognitive biases to prevent learning, to create emotionally charged decision-making, to cost us wealth and to prevent us from realizing our long-term goals. She offers concrete solutions in the form of both cultural and individual supports for making the kinds of decisions in the moment that more rationally take into account our future selves.
Annie showed us how to scale thoughtful risk taking in a complex organization and in so doing realize the dream of Collaborative Agility! And she helped me hold up a mirror to my own biases and self-limiting beliefs, helping me let go and grow toward becoming the leader I have always wanted to be.
Annie was engaging, incredibly interesting and articulate, authentic, warm and impactful. We are so grateful that Annie generously gave her time to our group.
Annie Duke was a homerun at the Mid-Year Meeting. The title of her presentation… had people intrigued even before the program began. Her engaging style and informative insights on how lessons learned at the poker table might be applied in the business arena, including the trial of cases, kept her audience of lawyers, spouses and guests riveted from start to finish.
Annie Duke’s extraordinary life experience combined with her incisive brain and her clued-up attitude all combine together for unique and compelling listening.