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Editor’s Note: Decisions

"Poker, unlike quite any other game, mirrors life. It isn’t the roulette wheel of pure chance, nor is it the chess of mathematical elegance and perfect information. Like the world we inhabit, it consists of an inextricable joining of the two,” writes Maria Konnikova in her new book The Biggest Bluff. “Poker stands at the fulcrum that balances two oppositional forces in our lives—chance and control.”

As a psychologist, Konnikova studies how people make decisions under pressure when faced with complex problems. She wondered whether she could use what she had learned to go from a beginning poker player to a professional in a year. During her journey, Konnikova learned that many of the rules of poker apply to the daily life of decision makers and their management of risk.

While poker is often depicted as a game of gut instinct, this is a fallacy, notes Konnikova. The phenomenon of relying on gut instinct is called the description–experience gap. People consistently dismiss numeric evaluations and go on their “gut feelings,” rather than on data. “We need to train ourselves to see the world in a probabilistic light—and even then, we often ignore the numbers in favor of our own experience.”

A poker term that resonates in the business world, says Konnikova, is the concept of “tilt.” Tilt means that “you are letting emotions—incidental ones that aren’t actually integral to your decision process—affect your decision making.”

Konnikova notes that the key to good decision making is not to tamp down emotions but to evaluate them rationally. “The goal is to learn to identify our emotions, analyze their cause, and if they’re not actually part of our rational decision process…dismiss them as sources of information.”

The best poker players act on a valuable piece of advice—pick your spots. This means to be a strategist and know when to play aggressively. “Any idiot can win any given hand with the best cards. That’s not the point of poker. You get dealt the best cards only every so often, and if you wait for them every time, your chips will run out.” Picking your spots, Konnikova says, “means being aggressive, yes, but strategically so: against the right people in the right circumstances.” To do this, you need the maximum information possible in the circumstance.

Evaluating risk in these unprecedented times is more difficult than ever. Security professionals now have daily duties compounded by the stressors of civil unrest and the uncertainty of a global pandemic.

This issue of Security Management can provide security experts with information on many types of risk—in supply chains, to remote workers, and to holding secure and transparent elections. By continuing to evaluate information, learn from experience, control emotion, and act strategically, security practitioners can make good decisions in uncertain times.

“The most we can do is learn to control what we can,” writes Konnikova. “Our thinking, our decision processes, our reactions.”