Luck Versus Skill

Right after Matt posted on Complex Adaptive Systems and the Illusion of Control, I read Maria Konnikova’s book The Biggest Bluff. In it, the author uses her training as a psychologist to explore the interaction between luck and skill, and she uses No Limit Texas Hold’em as her laboratory. Having never played a hand of poker before, she convinces poker champion Erik Seidel to become her coach, and the book describes her journey from novice to pro.

She uncovers and reflects on many ways we can make better decisions based on incomplete information – and talks a lot about the illusion of control in the process! In thinking about Matt’s post, what really stood out to me was this:

“If you win right away–if your first foray into any new area is a runaway success–you’ll have absolutely no way to gauge if you’re really just that brilliant or it was a total fluke and you got incredibly lucky.”

Maria Konnikova, The Biggest Bluff

This, in my mind, is the argument for providing “loose guidance and some experimentation” when adapting to a sudden disruptive challenge. If an idea works straight out of the gate, it makes it hard to understand the conditions that made it successful – especially in a complex adaptive system. With multiple interdependent variables, how can we understand if our outcomes are based on skill (repeatable and within our control) or luck (right team, right time, etc.)?

Consortium members often talk about how three seems to be the magic number; if it’s a really new and innovative idea, they have to try it three times before it works, because by then they’ve learned enough about how it doesn’t work.

Poker champion Dan Harrington tells Maria, “You will never learn to play good poker if you get lucky–it’s as simple as that. You just won’t.” You need a way of testing your thought process to see if this is a repeatable chain of events, or the luck of the draw – so that you understand what is in your control and what is not!

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