On Season 4, Episode 38 of Unleashed, Annie Duke – bestselling author and the world’s first ever female champion poker player – shares practical and actionable advice on how to improve decision making, and why it’s so important to do so.

Actions You Can Take Right Now

  1. Challenge yourself to place more emphasis on the quality of decision making, not the outcome.
  2. Don’t ever accept “I’m just guessing”. Resist making decisions based on intuition. Fight confirmation and other biases by looking for objective data.
  3. Resist group thinking by seeking independent & asynchronous opinions prior to the brainstorming or decision-making meeting.
  4. Avoid motivated reasoning by setting up performance benchmarks and kill criteria in advance.

View or listen to this and other past episodes at www.unleashresults.com/unleashed-series

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Episode Highlights and Excerpts

  • Life is determined by two forces
    1. Luck – factors like your parents, socio economic background, physical attributes, etc.
    2. The quality of your decisions.
  • You can’t influence luck, all you’ve got is your power over decision making.
  • We often see a bad outcome and blame the decision, but if the same decision had resulted in a good outcome, we would herald it as brilliant. Most of us internalize this and blame ourselves for bad outcomes, even when the probabilities support a good decision. A poor outcome doesn’t make your decision bad if you applied the right forecasting and probabilities to the decision-making process.
  • Hiring is a good example. The odds of hiring a great candidate are likely 50/50 on average. Ideally, we put processes and best practices in place to increase the likelihood of a great hire up to 60%. That still leaves a 40% chance of failure. We shouldn’t blame the decision makers for the bad candidates, OR credit the decision makers for the good candidates too much.
  • Our decisions are plagued with cognitive biases. Confirmation bias is a big one. We look for information that supports our own beliefs. There’s also overconfidence, planning fallacy, availability bias > all these biases live in our gut, or our instinct. So when we use instinct to make a decision, your decision is bound to be compromised.
  • The way to get away from these biases is to gather objective data and research-based truth. And we can seek the perspectives of other people.
  • We must guard against team decision making. Strong voices in the room can have undue influence. No one wants to disagree with leadership. Instead of round table discussions or brainstorming, seek independent & asynchronous opinions prior to the meeting. Eliminate group think. Normalize the notion that differences are good, that’s why we have a team in the first place.
  • Don’t ever accept “I’m just guessing” as the rationale for a decision. We can always assign probabilities and make educated guesses. When you do this, you become a knowledge seeker. The stronger your forecasting of the future gets, the better your decisions will be.
  • The problem with phrases like “it’s really likely”, or “maybe” is that others interpret them differently than you do. You could both agree verbally, but you’ve actually had a strong disagreement, you just don’t know it yet. In hindsight when evaluating the outcome of the decision, this could become a real problem.
  • You know you’ve gathered enough information to decide when the next piece of information isn’t going to sway your path.
  • Motivated reasoning is powerful – people reason to get to a conclusion instead of finding the truth. You see this in politics and hot topics like gun control. A data table – which should be entirely objective – is often evaluated very differently by individuals with varying beliefs.
  • We fight against motivated reasoning by thinking the evaluation through in advance. Set up performance benchmarks that guide your decision making. Ask yourself “what would I have to see in the data in order to change my mind?”.


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Annie Duke

Annie Duke is an author, corporate speaker, and consultant in the decision-making space. Her book, Thinking in Bets, is a national bestseller.  

As a former professional poker player, Annie won more than $4 million in tournament poker before retiring from the game in 2012.  

Annie is the co-founder of The Alliance for Decision Education, a non-profit whose mission is to improve lives by empowering students through decision skills education.