Review of Blink

I started reading Blink wondering how it might influence my role as a project manager at work as a project manager is often in the position of having to make quick decisions. of course, none of the decisions I make are the kind that are made literally in the blink of an eye, but nonetheless there are things in this book I could definately apply to job.

However, what I kept coming back to in my mind was poker. I think every athelete who is genuinely good at a given sport must in some way possessmany of the skills discussed in this book. In fact, Malcom Gladwell often makes references to the split decisions atheletes make. But what struck me the most, and perhaps this is my own bias, but poker is a rare sport where virtually the entire purpose of the game hinges upon ones ability to conceal as much information as they can, and one's ability to detect what people are trying to hide or mislead you about.

Let me take a step back for a moment. I have on many circumstances with friends and acquaintences find myself defending the position that poker is not the same thing as gambling. I turn to one of my favorite scenes in Rounders where Matt Daaaaamuuuhhhnd has a diatribe about the same topic, his character very succinctly explains that if poker and gambling were the same thing then in poker tournaments we would see a different set of people at the final table every single time. But we don't, we see the same people time and time again. But why? If poker is strictly about chance then how come the same people routinely win? I am sorry, but it ain't luck. It can't be exclusively. These professionals possess skills that tip the odds significantly in their favor.

But this was the assumption I had going into Blink. That it was about skill. Poker then was a game that I could master by simply applying myself and practicing. But the axiom about Texas Hold'm "it takes seconds to learn a lifetime to master" is more accurate than I give it credit. Interpretted differently I might rephrase that sentence to be, "it takes seconds to learn and you will never master it in your entire life, unless you are one of the special few that truly have a gift and talent for the sport. Then you will be rich. Everyone else will be poor. But keep trying anyway."

Blink fundamentally reset my expectations for myself in this game. Practice in and of itself wasn't going to help me. There are skills and abilities that are either wired into us that will determine how well one will perform at poker. And Blink lays them all out in front of you:

"Asking the Right Questions"

If you read Mike Caro's book about "tells" the topic of table talk is discussed as a tool to elicit revealing information about the strength of your opponents' hands. But this is taking the concept of "asking the right questions" too literally. One secret to poker is the application of pressure at the right moments. Done properly weak hands can easily steal big pots. In fact the act of betting in an of itself is the most important question you can ask. Every bet is a test to every other player on the table, and professional players use betting as means of getting you to reveal the information they need for the next round of betting. And if you don't ask the right questions, before you know it, someone will turn the tables on you by out drawing you, or have you reveal too much about the strength of your own hand. And boom, you've lost, or you have to fold.

"Thin Slicing" and "Reading Someone's Mind"

If you read the books one thing they all have in common is the following advice, "you must remember how people acted and bet in the past with certain hands, you must pay attention to the smallest of details as every single person has a tell - afterall it is human nature." I think there are some great books out there that give some good guidelines for reading people, but every book dramatically underestimates the true innate skill it takes to read people well.

Professional poker players absorb signals in their environment around them without even thinking about it. They pick up on details most of us aren't even conscious of... even on a subconscious level. Their brain processes those signals and they are converted into "hunches." Into pure instinct. Long story short... they are experts at thin slicing, and most of them probably don't even know it. Its aggrevating really.

"Unlocking the Door"

The fact that so many of the actions we take are influenced by factors in our subconscious that are completely out of our control is the scariest part about my fantasy of becoming a professional poker player. The sad fact of the matter is that being an excellent, tournament quality poker player requires skills that are not easily learned. It requires talent you either have or don't have. And while luck still has a lot to do with it, wading through 8000 other players like one would have to do at the World Series of Poker is just not possible on luck alone. Who knows, maybe Malcom Gladwell's desire to teach people these concepts with the hopes that by knowing about them, we can change the way we think is well intentioned, but I am skeptical.

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