About Bad Luck - by the Nightshade Fairy
Poker. Life. Career.
There are several profound similarities in how each is played to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (also know as Bad Luck). Mike Caro, the "Mad Genius of Poker", has observed people from across the poker table for decades, and has plenty to share with us about the gambling game that is poker - and how we apply his observations to the gambling game that is our life. Over the next several articles, we will examine Caro’s poker strategy, compare his advice to real life business examples, and adapt it for the gambling game that is our career.
I began studying poker as an intellectual outlet during dark times. I was initially attracted to the game as a strategy exercise to distract from the frustrations caused by thickheaded business associates. Poker began to fascinate as a model for how people acted not only at the poker table, but also in countless business meeting rooms and offices across the country.
There are compelling parallels between poker, gambling, and skirmishes at the office. Life is a gamble. Our career is a gamble. Everyday each of us evaluates risks and rewards. We choose our actions based on strategy and what we want to get out of every interaction. Poker and other gambling games are formalized, simplified ways of experiencing risks, choosing our actions, using strategy, and striving to achieve success. In poker, success is winning the pot. In our career, success is winning the promotion, keeping our job during layoffs, or acquiring more power and prestige.
Let’s talk about luck first. Namely, let’s look at Bad Luck.
Advice # 1 - The cards probably won't break even. The misconception here is that if you play the game long enough, the cards will start coming your way. In other words, eventually your Bad Luck will change and become good luck.
Life is not equal, lucky, or fair to everyone. Some of us are blessed with excellent health; others are sickly and spend lots of time in the hospital. A flood might sweep away someone’s home and possessions, while others never experience this disaster. Your roommate comes from a well-to-do family and also wins a million dollar lottery jackpot. You can barely afford peanut butter sandwiches.
At the poker table, you can be constantly hit with the Bad Luck stick. You might get full houses, but only in low-limit games. You might have good luck and win satellite tournaments and get a seat in the World Series of Poker finals, only to find yourself up against Doyle "Dolly" Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, and Johnny Chan at your first table. You might find opponents weaker than you during your first visit to a Las Vegas poker room and you walk away with a smile and a fortune. Does this mean that some people are luckier than others? Yep. Is it fair? Nope.
Before we look at how we can still win despite Bad Luck, year after year, at the poker table or in our daily business skirmishes, I want to tell you about a profound run of Bad Luck I had as a software project manager.
It started out that this company needed a new website to replace a sadly out-of-date site that kept going down and getting hacked. So the company had me hire in top-notch technical staff, and then the company executive proceeded to dump Bad Luck onto the project. The company executive first insisted that we had to use an outside vendor to work on the project because there was an existing contract with this vendor, and the executive couldn't figure out any other way to spend this contract. Never mind the spotty track record with this vendor. And there was an aggressive delivery date. And it was a constant struggle to get any of the executives to participate in their responsibilities for the website. And the vendor required spoon-feeding of the worst kind. And then the tech lead’s computer crashed a few weeks before delivery so NOTHING could be retrieved. And the vendor kept going around me and complaining directly to the company executive - to keep the spotlight off of their marginal performance. It was a project that gives managers nightmares.
So when did the good luck finally kick in? It didn't. We finished the website about a month late. And bam, they laid us off.
Was all this Bad Luck? Yep. Was it fair? No sir. I've managed so many projects that have been pummeled with the Bad Luck stick, I find myself joking with the other Job Fairies over Friday afternoon brewskis that at least my professional life has a sameness I can count on - Bad Luck will screw it up.
So according to Mike Caro, how do we still win, year after year, in gambling games requiring skill, even if you're constantly hit with Bad Luck? Here’s how: make the best decisions over and over, without fail.
Go to the poker table, or to the workplace, with a simple objective to make the best decisions always, and don't worry about good luck or Bad Luck. You can't control how lucky you are, but you can control the decisions you make. And if you consistently make good ones, winning the poker pot (or promotion, or raise, or dream job, or fiefdom-building) will follow.
Remember, you control the decisions you make. We can all learn the good decisions by studying the game. Poker has an advantage because it is smaller than the world of work and many professional poker players write books that we can study and apply to our own poker game. The world of work requires observation to learn the best decisions. We'll talk later in this article series about using observation to figure out the career gambling game.
Next time we'll look at how we fail because we pursue meaningless goals that keep us from winning the poker pot.
Mike Caro’s website and the inspiration for this article is at http://www.poker1.com/.