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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Annie Duke ROCKS!

One mitigative personal upside of our continuing "all-covid19-all-the-time" period for this Parkinson's-addled non-essential non-worker and life-long unlearner has been the recent volume of compelling books I've consumed while getting "three weeks to the gallon of gas" (and Netflix binge-watching) here in the Homeland "shire."    

No read more fun and illuminating than Annie Duke's delightful "Thinking in Bets."

I'd gotten one of my routine Amazon email book pitches. Intrigued, I clicked on the book cover link. It was offered up as a Kindle edition special, which, with my always-accruing credits (I continue to buy a ton of books), would only set me back 59 cents.

"What have you got to lose?" Nonetheless, after reading the Amazon blurb, I went, as is my custom, to first reading the negative one-star reviews, which can often be show-stoppers (afterward, I would muse "did we read the same book?").

Never before having heard of Annie Duke, I recall also having had the fleeting, snarky thought: "Oh, will the yummie Jessica Chastain play her too in The Movie" (successor to Molly's Game).


Annie Duke Will Beat You at Your Own Game
Late last year, I wrote to Annie Duke, a former professional poker player, about the possibility of profiling her. Duke, who for years was the leading female money winner in the World Series of Poker, retired from the game six years ago and has since refashioned herself as a corporate speaker and strategic consultant. She struck me as someone with a potentially unique and strange set of perspectives on gender, celebrity, and money. We spent the next few weeks engaged in a polite game of psychological warfare. I became attuned, moment by moment, to infinitesimal shifts in power and grew obsessed with the notion that she might be playing our negotiations like a card game. I’m still not sure how much of it was in my head.

At first, Duke enthusiastically agreed to be profiled, and often responded to my e-mails with smiley faces and exclamation points. She invited me to accompany her to a charity event and suggested that I come along to her brother-in-law’s birthday party. When I asked her to recommend friends and colleagues who might have insight into her career, she responded eighteen minutes later with an annotated list of twenty-seven names. It included all living members of her immediate family, her ex-husband, various professional poker players, and celebrities she has taught to play the game. Duke seemed to understand instinctively that affording a journalist access can actually be a form of self-protection: her avid participation would decrease my need to ferret out potentially unflattering material elsewhere.

Since retiring, Duke, who has four children and lives near Philadelphia, has travelled across the country delivering keynote speeches to conferences held by the likes of Citibank, Pandora, and Marriott. She has co-authored multiple gaming guides, and her first general-interest book, “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts,” came out in February. The book’s premise is that poker players live in a world in which “risk is made explicit” and are therefore trained to assess incoming information logically and judiciously in a way that other people are not. “A hand of poker takes about two minutes,” she writes. “Over the course of that hand, I could be involved in up to twenty decisions. And each hand ends with a concrete result: I win money or I lose money. The result of each hand provides immediate feedback on how your decisions are faring.”

Duke argues that we bet all the time: on parenting, home buying, restaurant orders. Betting is merely “a decision about an uncertain future,” and our opponents are not other people but, rather, hypothetical versions of ourselves who have chosen differently than we have. Her most urgent message is that we should all be more comfortable living with self-doubt—not for ethical reasons but for intellectual ones. Embracing uncertainty, she argues, makes you a better thinker. “Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do,” she writes, quoting John von Neumann, the father of game theory…

Read all of it.

Also buy and carefully study all of "Thinking in Bets." Not kidding.
INTRODUCTION:  Why This Isn’t a Poker Book

CHAPTER 1:  Life Is Poker, Not Chess

Pete Carroll and the Monday Morning Quarterbacks
The hazards of resulting
Quick or dead: our brains weren’t built for rationality
Two-minute warning
Dr. Strangelove
Poker vs. chess
A lethal battle of wits
“I’m not sure”: using uncertainty to our advantage
Redefining wrong

CHAPTER 2:  Wanna Bet?
Thirty days in Des Moines
We’ve all been to Des Moines
All decisions are bets
Most bets are bets against ourselves
Our bets are only as good as our beliefs
Hearing is believing
“They saw a game”
The stubbornness of beliefs
Being smart makes it worse
Wanna bet?
Redefining confidence

CHAPTER 3:  Bet to Learn: Fielding the Unfolding Future
Nick the Greek, and other lessons from the Crystal Lounge
Outcomes are feedback
Luck vs. skill: fielding outcomes
Working backward is hard: the SnackWell’s Phenomenon
“If it weren’t for luck, I’d win every one”
All-or-nothing thinking rears its head again
People watching
Other people’s outcomes reflect on us
Reshaping habit
“Wanna bet?” redux
The hard way

CHAPTER 4:  The Buddy System
“Maybe you’re the problem, do you think?”
The red pill or the blue pill?
Not all groups are created equal
The group rewards focus on accuracy
“One Hundred White Castles…and a large chocolate shake”: how accountability improves decision-making
The group ideally exposes us to a diversity of viewpoints
Federal judges: drift happens
Social psychologists: confirmatory drift and Heterodox Academy
Wanna bet (on science)?

CHAPTER 5:  Dissent to Win
CUDOS to a magician
Mertonian communism: more is more
Universalism: don’t shoot the message
Disinterestedness: we all have a conflict of interest, and it’s contagious
Organized skepticism: real skeptics make arguments and friends
Communicating with the world beyond our group

CHAPTER 6:  Adventures in Mental Time Travel
Let Marty McFly run into Marty McFly
Night Jerry
Moving regret in front of our decisions
A flat tire, the ticker, and a zoom lens
“Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?”
Tilt Ulysses contracts: time traveling to precommit
Decision swear jar
Reconnaissance: mapping the future
Scenario planning in practice
Backcasting: working backward from a positive future
Premortems: working backward from a negative future
Dendrology and hindsight bias (or, Give the chainsaw a rest)

I was gratified to see that a lot of the books she cites are ones I own and have read. Were I still teaching "Critical Thinking" her book would be a required text.
Once something occurs, we no longer think of it as probabilistic—or as ever having been probabilistic. This is how we get into the frame of mind where we say, “I should have known” or “I told you so.” This is where unproductive regret comes from.

By keeping an accurate representation of what could have happened (and not a version edited by hindsight), memorializing the scenario plans and decision trees we create through good planning process, we can be better calibrators going forward. We can also be happier by recognizing and getting comfortable with the uncertainty of the world. Instead of living at extremes, we can find contentment with doing our best under uncertain circumstances, and being committed to improving from our experience…

One of the things poker teaches is that we have to take satisfaction in assessing the probabilities of different outcomes given the decisions under consideration and in executing the bet we think is best. With the constant stream of decisions and outcomes under uncertain conditions, you get used to losing a lot. To some degree, we’re all outcome junkies, but the more we wean ourselves from that addiction, the happier we’ll be. None of us is guaranteed a favorable outcome, and we’re all going to experience plenty of unfavorable ones. We can always, however, make a good bet. And even when we make a bad bet, we usually get a second chance because we can learn from the experience and make a better bet the next time.

Life, like poker, is one long game, and there are going to be a lot of losses, even after making the best possible bets. We are going to do better, and be happier, if we start by recognizing that we’ll never be sure of the future. That changes our task from trying to be right every time, an impossible job, to navigating our way through the uncertainty by calibrating our beliefs to move toward, little by little, a more accurate and objective representation of the world. With strategic foresight and perspective, that’s manageable work. If we keep learning and calibrating, we might even get good at it.

Duke, Annie. Thinking in Bets (pp. 230-232). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Very smart woman. Lots to ponder. You will do well to watch all of it.

"Once something occurs, we no longer think of it as probabilistic—or as ever having been probabilistic. This is how we get into the frame of mind where we say, “I should have known” or “I told you so.”
Annie says poker players call this "resulting." An interesting chronic problem in this time of being fashionably "data driven," and the tendency to spuriously correlate the quality of individual decisions with their singular outcomes. "Hindsight bias," in brief.

So, how does this stuff cohere with the so-called "Science of Deliberation," scientific thinking directed at accurate decisionmaking?


She touted this one on Twitter.

I'm a couple of chapters in thus far. Very good. I can see why she recommended it.

More to come...

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