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Lessons in Entrepreneurship from Poker – Don't be Results-Oriented

Posted on:January 14, 2024

A common piece of advice in poker circles is to not be results-oriented. Essentially, it means you shouldn’t focus on winning or losing a hand or tournament, but rather on whether you played optimally. You can win by sheer luck, or “running hot” in poker lingo. However, consistently making suboptimal decisions will lead to subpar results in the long run. This lesson has been invaluable in all aspects of my life, especially when building products and companies.

It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re doing something smart simply because it’s happened to work, or that following others’ paths will yield the same outcomes. This is why I find it hard to stomach some arrogant entrepreneurs and their followers who share their playbooks as if they’re the ultimate guide to success. While sharing is fine, it’s the assumption that what worked for them will work for everyone else that gets me. Luck, timing, and other factors are often overlooked. Our brains love creating narratives that fit our experiences, even if they’re not accurate.

In poker, I’ve seen players win big tournaments and earn a fortune despite playing poorly. They then continue playing above their skill level or bankroll, only to crash and burn later. Meanwhile, there are grinders who diligently work their way up from low stakes, honing their skills as they go. When these players eventually score big, they’re already exceptional and don’t squander their winnings.

Applying this to business, when I’m seeking a co-founder or hiring early employees, I’m looking for people with traits similar to those grinders – accumulating experience, humility, perseverance, and talent while refining their craft. Too many people will undervalue those types, and overvalue things like the school someone went to or the names of the companies on their resume (results).

I’ve seen this so often at the companies I’ve been a part of, to our own undoing in some cases. Even though I’m primed to not be results-oriented, I’ll sometimes fall for the credentialism and look at someone’s past achievements and assume that it guarantees future success. You know, like, “Oh, so-and-so worked here; they must be great. We should definitely hire them over another candidate.” This mindset isn’t limited to just hiring decisions; it also extends to the products and features we create, as well as the processes we follow. We tend to think, “It worked this way before, so let’s do it again.”

That’s exactly the type of results-orientation someone who’s played a lot of poker tries to avoid!