Is “results-oriented thinking” the best way to function in the real world of business? An expert in the world of play poker online weighs in, using his experience as a poker pro to provide guidance and practical advice.
Poker pro Tommy Angelo is a believer in results-oriented strategizing but, he says, it’s not always the best solution. Angelo, poker coach and writer, says that his experience in poker has taught him that results-oriented strategies only work when the circumstances dictate it.
According to Angelo, “results-oriented” has a hearty, laudatory ring in many business contexts as it does in poker. But it’s not always the right solution. “In professional poker, results-oriented-ness is something that you want to experience less of — it is considered to be a flaw. You might make a really bad play and it comes in well and, because you won, you think, ‘I made a good play.’ Bad plays happen to win sometimes, and good plays happen to lose,” Angelo said. He points out that players shouldn’t continue to make unwise bets simply because once, the final card created a winning hand.
Culture of Finance
Angelo is the author of the classic “Elements of Poker.” He observes that, what he calls the “culture of finance” is all about results-oriented-ness. That’s misleading, says Angelo. “They use the phrase like it’s a positive thing. As if, if I return 30 percent, it doesn’t matter how I played.”
Business, investments and poker are alike in that all three activities involve using generally imperfect information to make decisions that can bring monetary gains or losses. Additionally, for poker players and for investors, achieving a positive outcome involves a combination of being luckier than the other investors/players and making better decisions than they do. It actually makes sense that experts in the one discipline could have something to teach experts in the other.
In business, as in poker, a true professional is trying to make the best possible decisions at all times. Angelo believes that problems occur when an investor (or a poker player) tries to interpret the results of whatever has occurred. “When investors are talking among themselves, and they’re talking about ‘How can I improve my game?’ or ‘How can I get better?’; getting rid of results-oriented-ness should be part of that conversation.”
To do a proper assessment, the individual should ask him/herself, “Given all the information I had at the time, was my decision the right one? If I made my decision in each of the universes I could have been living in at the time, with each containing different hidden past events and different unknowable future events, what would the result have been in each? If I assess all of the decisions I could have made and all the universes I could have been living in, and set the appropriate probabilities, which decision on average has the best outcome — with ‘best’ up for me to define as I see fit?”
That sounds good but it’s not always possible. So Angelo suggests a shortcut, termed by psychologist Daniel Kahneman as “attribute substitution.” Kahneman says that, when trying to assess the wisdom of a prior decision, it’s preferable to simply ask oneself “how did it work out when I did it last time”.
No one is suggesting that actual information regarding previous performance is irrelevant. However, for investors and poker players alike, it’s critical to figure out how to get beyond knee-jerk reactions in order pull out critical insights.
Short-Time Scales Vs. Long-Time Scales
Aaron Brown, managing director and head of financial market research at AQR Capital Management weighs in on the question. “Be process-oriented on short time scales, results-oriented on long ones. The trick is to know what is short and what is long in terms of your area of risk-taking and strategy.”
Brown is the author of “The Poker Face of Wall Street.” He concurs with Angelo’s basic point that “results oriented” has different connotations among poker players and investors. But, says Brown, it’s important to remember that “Quantitative investors think like poker players…In poker and quantitative investing, you’re making lots of bets with small edges. Therefore, it takes very large drawdowns before you question your strategy. Poker players and quantitative investors need the strength to stick to their strategies through the noise of frequent large upswings and downswings.”
Reliance on Data
Research suggests that results-oriented thinking is more common among investors who rely less on data. According to Brown, “Qualitative investors and traders tend to make fewer bets with larger edges. Even a single loss is worth exploring for potential lessons. These individuals “need to be constantly learning.”
In other words, for those who make a small number of high-conviction decisions through consideration of what a specific outcome might tell them about the strength of their process, it’s not necessarily a mistake.
But what happens when a decision must be made regarding with which manager to entrust with the money? What is the investor relies too heavily on results. According to Brown, “Too many investors chase funds with good three- and five-year track records” In Brown’s view, this is unfortunate because three- and five-year performances tend to revert.
Angelo says that poker players can teach investors a thing or two here. The refusal to let irrelevant results influence future decisions is a skill in which poker players excel. “A lot of what I offer is just awareness,” Angelo said. “Awareness is the most important thing that a trader would need to know if they’re going to succeed in the long run. They can’t just expend energy on making their ‘A-game’ better — they also need to lop off their ‘C-game,’ and the discipline that takes is huge.”
For computer-based traders and online poker players alike, Angelo offers an easy tip: Get up and walk around your chair every five or 10 minutes. Angelo reasons that “If somebody did nothing but that, I think they would make more money, because they’d be less likely to fall into that trance state where they’re not necessarily conscious of the emotional decisions they’re making….all of the pitfalls that poker players suffer from, and that traders also suffer from, are covered in great detail in the book by way of characters talking about them. It’s not about trading directly, but there’s a lot in there that could be related to trading.”
In short, one thing that both poker players and investors must learn is that past performance is no guarantee of future results.”