Three Things A Professional Poker Player Taught Me about Failure and Risk Taking

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear a presentation on risk taking and decision making by a guy called Caspar Berry. If you’ve never heard of him before I’m not surprised; I also had never heard of the guy. What piqued my interest was the fact that he was a professional poker player, and was actually the poker adviser for the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. Pretty cool huh? 🙂

Caspar’s presentation was very entertaining. He has this uncanny ability to use a fast sequence of images on the screen to pass his message across while keeping his audience highly engaged. Here’s a short video clip of him I found on YouTube. If you get a chance to listen to him, I highly recommend it.

Caspar shared some good insights on failure and risk taking that resonated really well with me. Three interesting insights from his presentation are as follows:

1. Find Success By Taking Lots of Acceptable Risks
In business and life, some of us try to find success by looking for ‘sure things’. Unfortunately, these low risk opportunities usually have low potential rewards. Instead of looking for sure things, Caspar’s recommendation is that we look for great opportunities tied to acceptable risks. What qualifies as an acceptable risk? A good rule of thumb is that it should be outside your comfort zone, but before your zone of unacceptable consequences. For example, going to a happy hour with lots of people late in the evening is outside my comfort zone, while being unable to pay my rent is at my zone of unacceptable consequences. Somewhere in between these two examples is my version of acceptable risk; yours will be different.

2. Embrace Failure as an Important Ingredient for Success
When we talk about success, we usually mean an increase in a metric that we value, such as net worth, quality of relationships, or health. Similarly, when we talk about failure, we usually mean an increase in a metric that we don’t value, such as feeling rejected, incompetent, or uncertain. Where things get interesting is the fact that you cannot increase the metrics you value, without risking an increase in the metrics you don’t value. For example, you cannot improve the quality of your relationship with another person without a real risk of being misunderstood or rejected. As a data guy, this idea of thinking of success and failure in terms of metrics got me really excited. 🙂
In the end, the question we all need to answer is this: how much more failure am I willing to tolerate, so that I can have a shot at increased success?

3. Focus on Long Term Success (and Ignore Short Term Failures)
Bill Gates once said that “most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” A compelling long term goal provides the momentum needed to power through the inevitable setbacks that will occur along the way. Therefore, as you strive towards your long term goals, remember that you don’t have to win every single battle; you just have to win the war.

I think Casper’s insights on failure and risk taking can be summarized by a quote from Mark Zuckerberg: “I have more fear in my life that we aren’t going to maximize the opportunity that we have, than that we mess something up and the business goes badly.”  With this mindset, one can continuously take calculated and manageable risks towards the achievement of their life and career goals.

Image by http://www.solverde.pt

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How Jeff Bezos Decides When to Give Up on an Idea

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, who usually doesn’t give a lot of interviews, gave one at this year’s CodeConference. The whole interview can be found here, and if you can find 80 minutes to see it, I highly recommend it.

The part of Bezos’ interview that stood out for me the most was when he talked about how he decides when to give up on idea. You can view that specific part of the interview by clicking on this link. Paraphrasing loosely, he said:
The most important things we’ve ever done have always seemed dumb to industry experts at the beginning. You can’t listen to people in the beginning when they say it won’t work, but you have to be stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details. Now at some point, you may have to give up on the vision. How do you know when that is? I think it is when the last high judgement champion folds his or her cards.

I learned two things from Bezos’ insight which I believe I can apply in my personal and professional life:

  1. I need to intentionally schedule time to evaluate my goals. Just like in the world of business, a time may come when I may need to give up on some of my existing goals in order to move on to new things. The only way to arrive at that decision is by stepping back and evaluating things. Now it’s important to mention that one doesn’t evaluate too frequently, as that may become a distraction in and off itself. Instead, evaluations should be adequately spaced to enable the proper exploration of goals and opportunities.
  2. I need to have high judgement champions in my life; people interested in my growth and development whom I respect and admire, and whose judgement I trust. When things because unclear to me, or when I’m trying to decide if I should persevere or give up on a significant life goal, I can lean on these people for insight and advice. Some people also refer to this as having a personal board of directors.

Any other thoughts or ideas on how to decide when to persevere and when to quit?

 

Resilience By Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, gave a commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley a few weeks ago which I believe is worth sharing. There are two parts of the speech that I find absolutely outstanding: the medium and the message.

When I say the medium, I mean that the speaker was outstanding. I must confess that I’ve never really been a fan of Sheryl Sandberg. All that “Lean In” stuff really put me on edge and made me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I needed to hear it. 🙂 Anyways, what blew me away was how vulnerable she allowed herself to be during the speech, irrespective of the fact that she’s one of the most powerful business leaders in our world today. I was really inspired by her example, and challenged to become even more vulnerable with my co-workers, friends and family.

Now to the message. Sheryl Sandberg shocked her audience by stating that instead of sharing life lessons, she’ll share the lessons she learned from the unexpected loss of her husband. A key insight she shared is that when we experience a negative event, we process it through one of the following ways:

  • Personalization, which refers to thinking that we are to blame for everything that’s wrong in our lives,
  • Pervasiveness, which means that one bad event will affect all areas of our lives, and
  • Permanence, where we project our current feelings out indefinitely.

However, once we can sidestep these emotional land mines, and realize that:

  • We are not responsible for every bad thing that happens in our lives,
  • Being bad at one thing doesn’t mean you’re bad at everything, and
  • Our current emotions, whatever they are, won’t last forever,

We can go beyond our adversity, and instead choose joy and meaning. I’m really inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, and if you watch her speech, you just might be too. 🙂

Imabe by news18.com

Cool Videos of 2015

I thought it’ll be a good idea to end the year by sharing some pretty impactful videos regarding leadership and personal development that I’d come across this year. I’ve always preferred videos to books because they’re easier to consume. Also, there’s something to be said about a speaker’s charisma which may not be captured in a book. These videos had at least one message that resonated strongly with me and I hope they do the same for you too:

1. Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability: This is a very popular TED video which most people might have already seen. Interestingly enough, I had to see it a few times before I really really got the gist of it.

Big Idea: This video has so many good ideas that revolve around how we need to be vulnerable if we want to live a full and meaningful life. One key message that stood out for me is that if we want to connect with those around us (spouses, siblings and colleagues), we need to let ourselves be really seen. This means that we need to be authentic. Another idea that I really liked was that we need to move away from thinking that we’re not smart, rich or interesting enough in certain situations to believing that we ARE enough.

2. Jim Collins – Drucker Day Keynote: I stumbled upon this one on YouTube and really loved it. If you don’t know Jim Collins, he’s a Stanford Business School grad and professor who wrote two business classics: Good to Great and Built to Last. This was his keynote address at a celebration of another management guru: Peter Drucker. If the management stuff bores you, I’ll skip right to the 47th minute to get the personal leadership ideas that he shared for consideration by younger folks.

Big Idea: The ten ideas that he shared towards the end of the talk are pretty awesome. The one that resonated with me the most was this: the fact that an opportunity before you is a once in a lifetime opportunity is a fact, but not a reason for you dive in. Carefully unplug from the opportunities that distract you.

3. Clayton Christensen – How Will You Measure Your Life: I saw this video for the first time in 2012, and blogged about it then. I decided to add it to this list because it is that profound.

Big Idea: Most of us don’t plan to be broke, ill or have poor relationships with the people we care most about. Instead we unknowingly prioritize our lives using a short term focus that sets us on this self destructive path.

As always, I’d love to thank you all for visiting my blog and checking out what’s going on in my head. Here’s to a fulfilling and growth-oriented 2016!

Final Quarter (Spring) Courses

Oh Spring quarter! The final lap of the bschool experience. When you realize it’s all coming to an abrupt end, you can do one of two things: have your final course binge in order to maximize the value of your tuition and/or complete the requirements of your desired major, or take things really easy with respect to academics so you can take the rest of the experience in. Guess what I did? I chilled!

I decided to take a few classes for two main reasons. The first was that I wanted to have time to connect with my classmates before we scattered to different parts of the globe, and to plan my wedding (yes I did do some of the planning 🙂 ). The second was that I wanted to have a lot of time to dive deep into my finance classes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn’t enjoy Fin D because I didn’t have enough time to work through the cases in depth, and I didn’t want to feel that way with the final finance classes I was taking at Kellogg. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m glad I took 3 credits in my final quarter. The classes that I took are as follows:

1. Entrepreneurial Finance & Venture Capital: I really enjoyed this course. It focused on the venture capital industry, an industry that I continue to be fascinated by. Through this course I was able to understand key industry terminologies like pre-money, post-money, and the various types of investment vehicles available to early stage investors. I was also able to debate with my classmates about the future prospects and possible valuations of a wide variety of businesses from biotech to enterprise software. These conversations were the best part of the class. We also had a few visiting entrepreneurs and VC speakers which was cool.

2. Financial Modeling For Leveraged Buyout Transactions (LBOs): I took this 5-week class because of the professor. Chirag Saraiya is a professor at Kellogg and a partner at Training The Street, a training outfit that teaches financial modeling and Excel skills to some of the most reputable banks and consulting firms in the world. I encountered Chirag and his amazing teaching style during one of his weekend workshops at Kellogg focused on financial modeling, and decided to take his class, even though I knew I wouldn’t be doing any LBO transactions anytime soon. What I really liked about his class is that he uses a lot of real-world examples, and tells us how finance-related stuff (like calculating WACC) plays out in the real world. I’ll definitely recommend this class for anyone interested in real-world corporate finance, or kick-ass Excel modeling skills.

3. Healthcare Information Technology: I decided to take some ‘random’ classes during my final quarter at Kellogg. By random I mean classes that had nothing to do with my primary interests: marketing, finance and technology. This turned out to be one of those classes, and I can’t say it went very well. It was a 5-week class so it wasn’t too bad. While we were talking about healthcare IT which is a hot topic, we ended up spending too much time on healthcare and not enough time on technology. With the right balance of both, it could be a pretty cool class.

4. Healthcare Quality: This was the other random 5-week class I took, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. Maybe it was too far from my comfort zone. We talked a lot about how hospitals measure quality and other similar but overall it was just a bad fit for me. Wouldn’t recommend.

5. Entrepreneurship: Building Innovation, Teams and Cultures: This one was good; really good. Think entrepreneurship meets technology meets organizational behavior. The professor, Mark Achler is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. He’s incredibly accomplished and yet so humble, and he has this vast network of entrepreneurs that he willingly shared with us. This was also a 5-week class, and every week the professor brought in a past or current CEO to chat with us about topics around corporate culture, bootstrapping a business, and other inspiring topics. The best speaker in my mind was the former CEO of Redbox. He had an incredible life story that left some of my classmates in tears. Definitely recommend!

Overall, a great quarter, and a good end to my academic experience at business school. Unless I have some sort of mid-life crisis (which is a distinct possibility), this is the end of formal classroom learning for me! 😀

Afropreneurship with Sim Shagaya

I recently came across this video interview of Sim Shagaya. Sim is the CEO of Konga.com, a fast growing ecommerce startup in Nigeria. The first thing I observed about this guy was his top-notch academic and professional credentials. Sim bagged degrees from George Washington University, Dartmouth College and Havard Business School, then did stints in investment banking (Rand Merchant Bank) and technology (Google) before pursuing his dreams of entrepreneurship within Africa. What I like about the video is that it provides a pretty good insight into the choices he has made so far with respect to starting and growing a technology startup in a developing country like Nigeria. Enjoy!

Living an Extraordinary Life: Hakeem Bello-Osagie

For those of you who know Hakeem Bello-Osagie, nothing more needs to be said about him. For those of you who don’t, words don’t really suffice. Let’s just say that he is the kind of guy that makes your average ‘high-flyer’ uncomfortable. With degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard Business School, and a distinguished career spanning across the energy, financial services and telecommunications industries, Keem (as he is called by friends) is a very very impressive guy.

This is Keem’s second speech on my blog. The first one (also worth watching) addressed the dilemma of citizens of developing countries studying in developed countries like the US. After graduating, should they stay back or go home?

This speech is awesome for a number of reasons. The first is that Keem shares his career story in a very candid way, which I think is quite inspiring. Another reason why I really enjoyed this speech is that I found Keem’s thoughts on living an extraordinary life to be quite profound. What he said is that if you want to live an extraordinary life, you have to be willing to try a lot of things that seem impossible. By definition, if you are trying a lot of things that seem impossible, you will probably fail a lot. However, once in a while, you’d surprise even yourself. Let me stop typing. Enjoy the video. 🙂