Decisions, process and results

I am always interested in what “sticks” when I read a book, what messages or lessons persist once time has passed and the details are forgotten. Call it a “book recall” rather than a “book review”. Human memory being what it is (recalled from The Invisible Gorilla), I am sure that these memories are not perfect, but I will commit to this method and not check my work (caveat emptor).

I read “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” by Annie Duke some time last year, a former poker player’s take on handling uncertainty and making decisions. Unsurprisingly, we learned that becoming more comfortable with uncertainty is good for decision-making. But the main thing which stuck with me was about assessing our past decisions. It’s all too easy to focus on the outcome of a decision, whether the end result was a good or bad one. This is obviously particularly relevant in poker, where a hand can be won or lost. But what is more important is whether the process that went into making that decision was good or bad.

Probably pretty obvious stuff. But it is so easy to myopically emphasize results, so-called “resulting”, if memory serves. In some cases, the quality of a result can be related to the quality of the process – in these cases there is no downside to resulting. But we all know that results can also be driven by things outside your control. To avoid getting inappropriately disheartened (in the case of bad luck), or hubristic (in the case of good luck), a focus on process not outcome is a useful tonic that is not always instinctive.

I am sure I have butchered Annie’s message along the way. But that is the main thing I recall, and have tried to actively bring to my life since finishing the book. Give it a read!

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