How To Improve Your Business Strategy Using Poker

The business environment is one that never stops changing and evolving. Consequently, good business owners are constantly learning and growing with it, even with products and services that have been unchanged since time immemorial.

There are tried-and-true methods to build strategies, such as attending industry-specific — or at least relevant — seminars and trade shows, reading books and articles, or hiring inspiring talent with fresh insights, something we recently published a guide on how to achieve. Owners should be looking to upskill for the betterment of the business just like the employees, and one of the less intuitively obvious places to do this is around a poker table.

Indeed, the poker achievements of successful business people such as Cirque du Soleil owner Guy Laliberté or founder of Greenlight Capital David Einhorn could be attributed partly to their existing wealth, giving them an advantage. But rather than only assign reverse causality and minimize the skill of those competing at the top levels of what amounts to something of an American obsession, we can consider what aspects business and poker share in common. Here are three.

Managing Emotions

Very often, the crucial moments in a poker session are the ‘tells,’ which for inexperienced players may more frequently be behavioral patterns such as how they stack their chips. Still, in a more professional poker setting, a single glance can be all it takes to give the game away literally. Good business practice is more transparent than a poker game, but there is a common proper strategy of ‘acting like you’ve been there before, not to give away how you’re feeling inside. Focusing on the goal vis-a-vis lets you see how others in the room will respond — your team in a business setting — and will help avoid derailing when you’re close to sealing a win.

Determining Value

At the fundamental core of poker is reading situations and determining value. Every hand needs to be assessed in terms of its worth and a decision made as to whether to pursue it. At a very basic level, too, there are the chips. All poker chip values vary, despite the chips being the same size and weight; the color defines their value. Determining worth isn’t always about the opportunity but assets and things you already have close, like chips. Sometimes, it might not be obvious what that value is, but it is in other situations, such as chips. In other words, if the hand is more of an intangible asset, chips are more tangible. A prerequisite to being responsible with assets is staying on top of both.

Don’t Chase Losses

This is one very human trait that relates to the first point about managing emotions. It’s a classic temptation for a player who’s been ‘tilted’ in poker to start making it worse. Even top players will admit to this happening occasionally. Anyone who’s managed a stock portfolio will tell you that cutting losses can be harder and more complex than the simple phrase suggests. If a business is one you helped build from scratch, with projects or employees that you’re attached to, it can be even harder to look at the hard numbers and admit things aren’t likely to start turning around.

Poker can be fun, but there’s more to it than that. And while the common ground between poker and business shouldn’t be overstated, there are plenty of lessons to be taken from the former to strengthen the latter.

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