Business and Poker

Tony Hsieh is one of the most important business leaders of our time, in his book Delivering Happiness he explain how Zappos is built on branding, culture and pipeline as the only competitive advantage that Zappos will have in the long run.

In the chapter 3 of the book, Tony clearly defines the lessons he learnt from playing poker and that can be applied to business:

Evaluating Market Opportunities

  • Table selection is the most important decision you can make
  • It’s okay to switch tables if you discover is too hard to win at you table
  • If there are too many competitors (some irrational or inexperienced), even if you are the best it’s a lot harder to win

Marketing and branding:

  • Act weak when strong, act strong when weak. Know when to bluff
  • Your “hand is important”
  • Help shape the stories that people are telling about you


  • Always be prepared for the worst possible scenario
  • The guys who wins the most hands is not the guy who makes the most money in the long run
  • The guy who never losses a hand is not the guy who makes the most money in the long run
  • Go for positive expected value, not for what’s least risky
  • Make sure your bankroll is large enough for the game you are playing and the risks are you taking
  • Play only with what you can afford to lose
  • Remember that is a long-term game. you will win or lose individual hand or sessions, but is what happens in the long-term that matters


  • Don’t play games that you do not understand, even if you see lots of people making money from them
  • Figure out the game when the stakes aren’t high
  • Don’t cheat. Cheaters never win in the long run
  • Stick to your principles
  • You need to adjust your style of play throughout the night as the dynamics of the game change. Be flexible.
  • Be patient and think in the long-term
  • The players with more stamina and focus usually win
  • Differentiate yourself. Do the opposite of what the rest of the table is doing.
  • Hope is not a good plan
  • Don’t let yourself go “on tilt”. It’s much more cost-effective to take a break, walk around or leave the game for the night

Continual learning

  • Educate yourself. Read books and learn from others that have done it before
  • Learn by doing. Theory is nice, but nothing replaces actual experience
  • Learn by surrounding yourself with talented players
  • Just because you win a hand doesn’t mean you are good and you do not have more learning to do. You might have just gotten lucky.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advise


  • You have to love the game. To become very good you need to live it and sleep it.
  • Don’t be cocky. Don’t be flashy. there is always someone better than you
  • Be nice and make friends. It’s a small community
  • Learn what you have learnt with others
  • Look for opportunities just beyond the game you sat down to play. You never know who you are going to meet, including friends for life or new business contacts
  • Have fun. The game is a lot more enjoyable when you are trying to do more than just make money

Read more, not only from business but happiness: Tony Hsieh. “Dilivering Happiness a path to profits, passion and purpose” Business Plus

Change Management and Communication

Communication problems are regularly cited as a main issue for delays in change, misunderstanding, lack of coordination, etc. However basic information about the change program is relatively easy to provide.

Those involved in change usually have many questions and concerns, but they also have very good ideas about how to make the change work. Communication should be an ongoing two-way process.  This process is about understanding issues and needs. Effective communication ensures that those leading and executing the change are aware of issues, questions and concerns, and that their answers are provided on time, with consistency and in the right context.

Core questions to answer:

  1. Is clear, timely and complete information available to the key audience involved and affected by the change?
  2. Do this audience have access to information and also can provide timely input and feedback?

Tactics to follow:

  1. Develop a clear summary document – to read more on this see change management with clarity
  2. Emphasise listening through formal and informal surveys, meetings, discussions, forums
  3. Continually update and revise the resources (e.g. FAQs, summary document, guides, blog)
  4. Create a system to capture feedback (e.g. a wiki)
  5. Deploy social media to maintain and keep an updated flow on information

Change Management with Leadership

Employees who are involved in change but not leading it often complaint that they have to change and promote change while leaders continue behaving in the old way.

From some initiatives, new leadership may be needed to ensure success. Examples of new behaviours include promoting cross functional cooperation, focusing on customer experience,  digital transformation. etc.

The change initiative will achieve success if an executive sponsor is both committed and involved. The leader will help with prioritisation, protect the program from conflicting initiatives or corporate politics, guide on problem solving by removing any problems that could impede the success of the program and finally with the promotion of the change initiative, championing the benefits.

Core questions to answer:

  1. Are leaders at al levels of the organisation involved and committed to the change?
  2. do leaders follow-up on issues, provide guidance and manage the process?

Tactics to follow:

  1. Ensure the executive sponsor is accessible and consistently driving the change
  2. Engage leaders on planing and executing
  3. Implement activities to maintain leaders engaged, e.g. weekly conference calls, newsletters, blogs, twitter, forums, etc.
  4. Address concerns and questions leaders may have about their responsibilities during and after the change
  5. Use key influencers to spread the message and motive the teams across the organisation – consider snowball sampling to tapping the power of hidden influencers

Change Management with Alignement

Alignment is about ensuring that business systems and processes collaborate to move the change ahead. To successfully execute change, it may be necessary to modify rewards, controls, communication, training, IT applications, sales, etc.

For example, a re-organisation of the sales force may involve the implementation and training on a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, changes in rewards and incentives, accounting processes, major changes in one location, division or account. There will lots of questions about these changes and a plan must be in place to address all these issues.

Core questions to answer:

  1. Do systems and processes support the change?
  2. Have required changes to these systems been identified, developed and deployed?

Tactics to follow:

  1. Assess key process to ensure and support the change
  2. Add training and developed programs as required
  3. Review communications processes to be consistent and support changes
  4. Share information about the changes across the organisation and not just the areas affected, customers should also be aware of what is happening
  5. Continually seek input from stakeholders on systems and processes that may be impeding change and that require adjustment to ensure better alignment with the new objectives and direction

Change Management and Resources

Many change efforts fail because the required resources are not in place. Significant time is needed to put change into effect. For example, new organisation structures may need to be developed; training is required;  people need to be selected to take on new leadership roles; new tools and software need to be deployed, etc.

Managing change is a complex process that involves analysis, planning, communication and execution. Managers need to recognise that some projects may need to be deferred if the change is to move forward.

Core questions to answer:

  1. Are required resources (financial, people, technical) in place and available?
  2. Is an effective team in place and ready to guide the change process and motivate employees?

Tactics to follow:

  1. Acknowledge the additional workload created by change efforts, if required engage additional resources (e.g. outsourcing)
  2. Facilitate adjustment of priorities (day-to-day operation vs. change), provide guidance to employees to address the issues
  3. Identify and acquire required skills and resources
  4. Make appropriate budget provision to ensure resources can be sustained
  5. Communicate these costs as a continuous process in the change management

Change Management with Engagement

Engagement can be described as an indicator of the degree to which employees are committed and involved in their work. Engaged employees are more likely to be effective team members and to support and drive change efforts.

The work environment, culture, team behaviour, recognition and involvement in work decisions and processes are key factor that contribute to have an engaged team.

In the process of change, you need to prepare, engage and support managers to communicate and actively lead their teams through the change process.

Core questions to answer:

  1. Have individuals and groups who can influence the outcome been engaged by becoming involved in the process?
  2. If so, have their input and ideas been acknowledge and applied to planing and action ?

Tactics to follow:

  1. Support manager when they meet with their team, provide guides and FAQs
  2. Emphasize employee involvement in planning and executing the change
  3. Train the managers to build employee engagement trough goal setting, support, feedback and recognition
  4. Ensure leaders are involved and remain open to questions, ideas and discussion about the purpose of the change and hoe it will be accomplished
  5. Use face to face communication like forums, open sessions, ongoing meetings and other activities
  6. Identify key stakeholders and conduct ongoing assessments about their concerns, needs, questions and ideas

Change Management with Clarity

In many change programs, the context and purpose of the change is not clearly communicated to those involved and affected.

The lack of clarity leads to uncertainty, lack of confidence, miscommunication and poor execution. This result can derail the change initiative from the beginning.

To avoid this, a clear summary document is very important. It can focus the purpose of the change, it provides stakeholders with a source material, tools for communicating with others and guidance on how to provide support during the process.  It gives the foundation and the framework at the same time.

Development of this document encourages a clear thinking about the process and the process. The secret of good writing is clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity.

Core questions to answer:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. How can we make this happen?
  3. What does it mean for me?
  4. Are the purpose, direction and approach defined and documented clearly?

Tactics to follow:

  1. Develop a summary document to drive clarity and to serve as a reference source on the purpose and process of change
  2. Distribute the document
  3. Create a brief elevator pitch for managers (what is changing and how the transition will be accomplished)
  4. Create other tools to assist in the process e.g. video presentation from executives discussing changes with their teams, teams in charge of execution discussing the approach
  5. Maintain and manage the summary, keep it current, accurate and complete
  6. Provide online access and enable input, questions and discussion