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Entrepreneurs and poker players share characteristics

There are two mercurial personalities that we all would like to emulate: the great poker players who see possibility where few others cab see it and the entrepreneurs who also see possibility where few others see it. 

What Do Great Poker Players and Entrepreneurs Have in Common?

We think we know what makes a good poker player great and we think we know what makes a simple businessperson into a great entrepreneur.  There are surprising similarities between poker players at the top and the best business innovators. 

Great poker players often get started as online poker players.  Online poker is a major gaming innovation of recent years and poker players are as in tune to innovations as are entrepreneurs.

Poker Players and Entrepreneurs are Always Learning

In his famous Paris Review interview, the great novelist Saul Bellow was asked what he was reading.  He said that he was reading about fifteen books in a wide range of subjects.  He was an acknowledged superstar writer but he knew that he needed to learn more.  Entrepreneurs know that they never have all the information.  Poker players also know that there is always more to learn than what they already know.  Many good poker players rely on online poker for their “university level course” in poker.

When you play poker online, you get a world of information in a tightly controlled environment.

Poker Players and Great Business Innovators Know People

The great writer Ernest Hemingway gave a formula for writing stories: set out the plot and then put in everything you know about people.  Entrepreneurs know that they cannot do it alone.  They need to hire great people to help them see the mission through.

Great poker players observe people all the time.  It isn’t enough to watch the other players around the table.  Great poker players watch people everywhere because every little insight they can glean about people may help them in a difficult hand.

Learn from Failure

You can’t win every hand.  You can’t even evaluate every hand correctly.  But the great poker player never gives up and always learns from his or her mistakes.  The great entrepreneurs always have that spirit even after a major failure.   Sam Walton lost his small retail shop because the land lord wouldn’t renew his lease.

Rather than give up, Sam Walton simply resolved to never rent a space for a store again!

Stay Strong and Calm under Pressure

We all know about the importance of keeping a poker face.  What we don’t always know is how to keep the poker face while we are under pressure.  A young, entrepreneurial businessperson may be in an interview hoping to get a big loan from the bank and the banker asks a very difficult question.

The businessperson is suddenly placed under a great deal of pressure.  The entrepreneurial spirit may take hold and see the person through the interview without the banker seeing that the businessperson was dealing with a tremendous amount of stress.

Poker players face tricky assessments all the time.  You have to be able to telegraph only the information that you want to telegraph and no more.

The Cup is Always Half Full

No matter what setbacks you might face, an entrepreneur and a developing poker player have to be eternally optimistic.  A great poker player is like the person that plants a tree knowing that they will never see the tree in full bloom.

An entrepreneur may start a business late in life.  Ray Croc was well into his 50’s when he began to turn the one McDonald’s restaurant in Southern California into a world-wide giant.

Identify Risks

This seems like a no-brainier.  Of course poker players and entrepreneurs have to identify risks!  However, not every apparent risk is a real risk.  Secondly, the next step is crucial to the success of the new business or the poker hand.  There may be great risk but both poker players and entrepreneurs see far ahead well beyond the immediate risk.

In that sense, they are both like top grade chess players, seeing many moves ahead.

Calculating

This is the trait that separates people who are thrown when they see risk and the people who immediately start looking for solutions.  Great businesspeople and great poker players always look for the calculated decision.  They are at the same time cautious yet unafraid and unhesitating when they absolutely have to make a decision.

Robert Townsend was the president of Avis in the 1960’s.  He commissioned an ad campaign.  The ad agency presented its work a few weeks later and admitted that they didn’t like the campaign themselves.  Robert Townsend and his team also didn’t like it but Townsend had to make a decision.

He decided to trust the president of the ad agency despite that man’s misgivings about his own product.  “We Try Harder” went on to be one of the greatest ad campaigns in history.

Ask Good Questions

Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.  Good questions lead you in the direction of good answers while poor questions lead you in the direction of poor answers.  Mark Twain was a humorist but he was a humorist in the sense that he always tried to express universal truths in a soft, friendly manner.

He said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

Enjoy Challenges

Every hand is a challenge.  Every day in a business start-up is a challenge.  The great poker player and the great entrepreneur thrive on challenges.  They thrive on the act of looking for solutions to those challenges.

They are willing to make big sacrifices in the service of their passion.  Bill Gates made an ad years ago in which he described producing great software as “our passion”.  The great businesspeople and great poker players are tremendously passionate and always in control of their passion.

Cultivate Memory

In modern life, memories are short.  Poker players and entrepreneurs have to have very long memories.  They need to remember things from many years ago and they need to remember the lessons of the people who came before them as well.

Never Gloat

Finally, we will end with this observation.  Great poker players and great entrepreneurs know that tomorrow might bring a major failure.  Today they may be on top of the world but an earthquake may happen overnight sending the Earth beneath their fee to shift.

Sam Walton losing his lease, Steve Jobs being fired from Apple, the value of Amazon stock plunging almost to $0.  These are three famous examples from business.  Poker players also should stay even-keeled even when everything is rosy for them.

In that way, they show great integrity which may be the foremost hallmark of poker and entrepreneurial success.