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Lessons in Entrepreneurship from Poker – Turn-taking

Posted on:January 20, 2024

Poker, at its core, is a game of turn-taking. That’s where I like to start when explaining how to think about the game. If everyone at a poker table were equally skilled and played in a similar manner, essentially reaching an equilibrium, each player would win an equal share of hands or pots. Playing heads up? You and your opponent win half the time each. Six-handed? One in six, or slightly less than 17%. Ten players at the table? You get the idea.

So, when figuring out what percentage of hands you should be playing or how often you should be winning, this is a good starting point. Of course, I’m oversimplifying it, but to win or come out ahead of your competition, you must find ways to earn more than your share. You have to win more than the average player. That’s not easy when everyone else is trying to do the same thing. And if people see you attempting to take more than your fair share, it can backfire on you. You must appear as though you’re only taking your share while secretly doing more.

Now, poker is a zero-sum game, but life and business are not. That’s an important lesson in itself. An intuition for zero-sumness can reveal situations where people falsely view something as that type of situation when it’s not – like when you and a competitor share a market or when team members fight over something they that way, which can harm the team.

Anyways, In business, even if it’s not zero-sum, there is still a pie. To stay in business, you should look for where you can have a bigger slice. Like in poker, if you’re not taking that slice, it might mean you’re not profitable and won’t keep playing.

The whole turn-taking concept learned through poker primes you for sensing when balance is happening or not. Like when a team member isn’t speaking up when they should, or someone is dominating the conversation, or one group is outperforming while another isn’t pulling their weight. You can see when maybe some of the business’s activities are starting to feel off-balance. If it’s not distributed equally, you might have a problem.

After internalizing this turn-taking game for a while, you just start to notice these things a little more innately.