In this episode, Tony Dye and I dig into Annie Duke’s book “Thinking In Bets“.
You can listen to the episode here:
For more on Tony, check him out at TonyDye.com.
Tony Dye: “Thinking In Bets” by Annie Duke
Mickey: [00:00:00] One of the most controversial decisions in Super Bowl history took place in the closing seconds of Super Bowl 49. In 2015, the Seattle Seahawks with 26 seconds remaining and trailing by four points. Had the ball on second down in the New England Patriots one yard line. Everybody expected Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to call for a handoff to running back Marshawn Lynch.
Why wouldn’t you expect a call? It was a short-yardage situation and Lynch was one of the best running backs of the NFL. Instead, Carroll called for quarterback Russell Wilson to pass New England, intercepted the ball, winning the Super Bowl. Moments later, the headlines the next day were brutal, and there were a bunch of headlines.
I’m not gonna read ’em all here, but continue on from the book here.
Although the matter was considered by nearly every pundit as beyond debate, a few outlined voices argued that the play choice was sound, if not brilliant. Benjamin Morris’s analysis on five 30 eight.com and Brian Burkes on slate.com convincingly argued that the decision to throw the ball was totally defensible, invoking clock management and end of game considerations.
They also pointed out that an interception was an extremely unlikely outcome. [00:01:00] Out of 66 passes attended from an opponent’s one yard line during the season Zero had been intercepted in the previous 15 seasons. The interception rate in that situation was about 2%. Those dissenting voices didn’t make a dent in the avalanche of criticism directed at Pete Carroll.
Whether or not you buy into the contrarian analysis, most people didn’t wanna give Carroll the credit for having thought through it or having any reason at all for his call. That raises the question, why did so many people strongly believe that Pete Carroll got it wrong?
We can sum it up in four words. The play didn’t work.
So that was from Annie Duke’s book, thinking in Betts, and joining me to discuss today is Tony Dye. So Tony, welcome to the show. Tell the folks a bit about yourself.
Tony: thank you Mickey. I’m an old IT guy who is retired, which means I sit around and do absolutely nothing but read books. Except for all the other things I do from time to time, which is all over the place. But this book caught my attention. I think you had read it before I read it, you had made some comment to it, and I grabbed it and I did it as [00:02:00] an audible book, and I immediately listened to it all the way through again. And then I got the physical book and I listened to it all the way through. I think I’m on like my sixth time going through this book.
Mickey: Wow. Gotcha. So why don’t you summarize it for folks that haven’t read the books, certainly the Seahawks analogy was part of it, but decisions and outcomes being different. But give, gimme your, your three sentence overview of what you thought here.
Tony: I don’t know that I’ve got three sentences. I may very off a little bit here ’cause I spent the first couple minutes thinking What kind of book is this? know, is it about decision making, alternative views, communications, relationships, something else? Everything else? It’s got time travel in it. It’s mentoring in it. It’s accountability in it. It has got so darn many different things in this book that, hard to put one name on it,
Mickey: Yeah. Fair enough.
Tony: but I’m gonna go [00:03:00] in a direction, something
Tony: she caught me, and I’m gonna stray off for just a second here. Epistemology is one of my favorite words, but recently because I’ve always looked at that and said, that’s one of those darn theological words, and hate theological words.
We need to fix the world and not use those and explain what we really mean.
Tony: I was reading a book a while back and it used epistemology and it wasn’t a spiritual book at all. It was about communication. It explained epistemology. I said, wow, that’s philosophy, not And so I’m gonna give my definition, or it is not even a definition of epistemology, is do you believe on a topic? Why do you believe it, and how strongly do you believe it? How strongly fits what Annie likes to say. One of her common things in this book is wanna bet are, are you willing to bet [00:04:00] that this is true? And I just love that concept. So I’ve taken which has been a favorite word, and then I read another book recently that brought in the word teachability, which is not a new word, but I kind of like that one.
Tony: it. But Annie goes into. Truth seeking and I like that better than the other two.
Tony: be a truth seeker.
Mickey: Yep. Yeah, this is just audio, but I see over your shoulder, on the wall it says value truth above all else, which I love that. That’s when I think of truth though, I do think of you ’cause you look at things from every angle. And we’ll get into some of that in a bit too, but
Mickey: that’s a great way to put it.
So yeah, for those that haven’t read it yet, the book is Thinking In Bets, and that’s Annie’s push in this is to think of things as bets, as odds to succeed or fail and not necessarily be worried about the outcome. Um, I, I saw a good summary of the book somewhere. . That said, you might not be a gambler, but that’s no reason to not think in bets, whether or not there’s money involved.
Betts, make us take a harder look at how much certainty there is in the things we believe. [00:05:00] Consider alternatives and stay open to changing our minds for the sake of accuracy. So let go of right and wrong when it’s decision time, except that things are always somewhat uncertain and make the best bet you can.
And I thought that was a great summary of the book, just to, to look at it that way. We’ll talk about some of those sorts of things. One, one I really liked, um, is how things are just never a hundred percent. You know, I’ve, I’ve seen people that say, you know, this is a hundred percent chance this is a 0% chance.
And I don’t, I don’t believe that in life. I think, I mean, I fully plan on publishing this podcast and someone’s listening to it. It worked out, but it’s not a hundred percent. I mean, things can go sideways and things happen. So a couple quotes that she said from there, I thought were great. She said, one, she said,
Quote, forcing ourselves to express how sure we are of our beliefs brings to plain sight, the probabilistic nature of those beliefs, that what we believe is almost never a hundred percent or 0% accurate, but rather somewhere in between. And then she also said, quote, there are many reasons why wrapping our arms around uncertainty and giving a big hug will huck up help us become better decision makers.
Here are two of them. First, I’m not sure, is simply a more accurate [00:06:00] representation of the world. Second and related, when we accept that we can’t be sure we’re less likely to fall in the trap of black and white thinking. So I thought that was fantastic. Digging into those.
Tony: It, she follows on a theme that you’ve been on for at least a few months, maybe a few years. And that’s, who was it said, Adam Grant. The joy of being wrong.
Mickey: I think that was him. Yeah, exactly.
Tony: And you’re wrong, that means you’re less wrong than you used to be. I.
Mickey: Exactly. Yep.
Tony: she’s all about this theme, so I’m, I’m really good with what she’s saying.
Mickey: Yeah. The Less Wrong is Great. It was, um, I’m pulling it up now here, just, I, I can’t remember who said it, but yeah, it was from Adam Grant’s book. So yeah, I do enjoy having been wrong because it means I’m now less wrong than I was before. So, yeah, you said it about perfectly there, but yeah, so we’re talking.
Mickey: Hey, there you go. I’m quoting Adam Grant. He’s probably pulling it somewhere else, so. Yeah. , . My favorite thing about this book though is yeah, thinking in terms of [00:07:00] of good decisions versus good outcomes and how they’re not necessarily related. I heard her on a podcast once talking about if you, you know, she’s a poker player.
That’s how she started all this. She was a professional poker player, now has become more of an author, but most of her stuff ties back to gambling and poker. But she gave the example of if you start a hand of poker and you have two Aces in your initial hand and you end up losing the hand. What lesson do you take away from it?
Do you fold next time you get two Aces to start a hand? Like that’d be ridiculous that you had a, a good decision and a bad outcome. And it happens. But if you start with two Aces next time, you’re probably gonna win. But if you tie those together, say, Nope, I, I made a bad decision to stick with two Aces.
Like that’s a horrible bit of reasoning there.
Mickey: Um. And she talks about this a bunch, kinda like the Seahawks example we started with where that was a good decision. It just had a poor outcome at a very big stage. But she says a couple things that really tie into that. She says, quote, what makes a decision great is not that it has a great outcome, A great decision is a result of a good process.
And that process must include an attempt to accurately represent our own state of knowledge. That state of knowledge in turn is some variation of, I’m not sure. And [00:08:00] then she also said over time. These world-class poker players taught me to understand what a bet really is. A decision about an uncertain future.
The implications of treating decisions as bets made it possible for me to find learning opportunities in uncertain environments. Treating decisions as bets I discovered helped me avoid common decision traps, learn from the results in more rational way, and keep emotions out the process as much as possible.
And I think you, you talked about truth. I think truth and emotions can a lot of times . Contradict each other, or at least have conflict, like, you know, you’re emotionally invested in something and so you don’t want to see that. It’s not true, but it, it’s a tough thing,
Tony: It is very hard to remove emotions. I think it’s a great idea to remove emotions from all decisions, and I’ll let you know when I’ve done that.
Mickey: Exactly. Yeah. Much easier said than done. I mean, yeah, that, that’s something I struggle with too, is in terms of, you know, selling marketing services like our company. I wanna be very rational and clear about things, but I know that emotions are a big part of it. I struggle too. I don’t wanna say manipulate it certainly wouldn’t do that.
But just even to [00:09:00] tap emotions of people, I don’t wanna do that ’cause it feels wrong. But that’s, that’s how people make decisions. You know? People make decisions and I, I know I’ve done this with purchasing things. I’ll buy something emotionally and then try to find the facts later to support why I needed that new car, that video game or whatever it was like.
Yeah, we all do that quite a bit and it’s, yeah. Bad place to be.
Tony: teach us this for thousands of years, and I agree with them, and someday
Tony: get there maybe.
Mickey: There you go. Um, another thing she talked about I thought was interesting was temporal discounting. Where letting the future person handle it. You know, which, which is a tough thing. She talked about Jerry Seinfeld’s whole spiel with night guy versus morning guy where the Jerry can stay up late at night ’cause it’s the other Jerry that has to wake up early in the morning.
And I’ve talked about that too with like the flashcards. I study, like I throw flashcards into my system all the time for things to remember. ’cause I don’t have to go through the flashcards. That’s the other Mickey that’s gonna deal with that tomorrow, like . I just wanna learn that thing, so I’m gonna throw it in there.
I thought it was fascinating to think about that sort of thing with Yeah, what, what the future looks like. [00:10:00] I heard a thing, I don’t think it was in this book, about your calendar. You know, it’s so easy to say, can you meet for lunch tomorrow? You’re like, oh, I’m too busy. But how about in a month? Oh, sure, I’m wide open in a month.
But you shouldn’t accept that if you wouldn’t do it tomorrow. Like, I’m bad about that. Something I don’t wanna do. I’ll accept it because it’s far enough in the future. It’s not, not me, but it is me. And that temporal discounting is a big, big struggle I have, and I think most people have.
Tony: I loved her whole concept of. Time travel, the future, me and the past me and the current me, I want all three of those to talk to each other.
Tony: was just a neat idea that what I do today will affect the future. What I did in the past me today in future, and I need to look at that.
Mickey: Yep. Yeah, it was, it was a fascinating thing. I think usually it’s, it’s troublesome, you know, like the calendar thing. It’s usually . Taking on burdens you don’t wanna take on. But because it’s so far out, it’s the other guy handling it. I think that’s where I think it’s kind of neat the way I handle it with flashcards though.
’cause it’s tricking me into learning more because the future me will have to do the learning. [00:11:00] So it’s kind of a good thing if you can play it the way, but I, I certainly handle the, the bad side of it quite often too, so it’s, that’s a good point.
Tony: Her Alliance for Decision Education.
I love this, uh, know, alliance for decision education.org, but you go to the first page on it and it’s just this gorgeous, simple page Every day, our children make thousands of decisions on their own. Statistics. 70% of young people mistake ads for news.
Tony: of children see web content as fact.
Mickey: Those are big numbers. Wow.
Tony: here’s my thing, and this reinforces something, Annie said, we tend to believe what we hear later maybe go check it. I have not
Tony: this website. Because it’s Annie site and I know that she’s [00:12:00] a fact-checker, I immediately believe it I ought to check fact check it, but I haven’t.
Tony: And also, the other thing she says, and many other books reinforces once you believe something, you’ll keep finding evidence to support what you believe. Therefore, these are absolutely in her terms, 100% true facts that I just gave you. Has to be true. So
Mickey: Hmm. Yeah, that’s
Tony: If you disagree with me, you are rolling and I’m right.
Mickey: right. Because you’ll find other websites that happen to agree, even if it’s only 2% that agree. I mean, we see a lot of things. That’s a, that’s a. a great point. I mean, I agree completely and
Tony: know, this is a neat thing that she’s doing, that she’s working within the school system trying to say, let’s make better decisions.
Tony: is that?
Mickey: yeah. That’s, that’s pretty awesome. I think maybe that’s, uh, where we are in the world too, because I think growing up when we had encyclopedias, I think those were, were more trustworthy. You go look something up. That’s where you looked it up. And I guess maybe we should, could have fact checked that, but I don’t know how you would fact check [00:13:00] against an encyclopedia in 1980 either.
So things were more true, but.
Tony: and check out a dozen books
Mickey: Yeah. Yeah. So now you have better ways to fact check, but more need to fact check as well. And a lot of people are still stuck in the I saw it, so it must be true. And it, it fits my narrative, so it really must be true. So that’s, yeah, she does a great job of, of fighting against that and something I try to fight against a lot.
Um, that brings a, a good point here. So like, you gave me the book called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, and I’m like, no, I don’t agree with this. I don’t like it. It went again, but I read it and it opened my eyes like it was. It’s forcing my, you know, forcing people to look at things from a different perspective and the case, the book actually made a great case for fossil fuels and it was a fantastic read to understand where they were coming from, even though it didn’t, didn’t fit my natural belief there.
So that’s, I think part of what we do is force ourselves to see other things. Uh, the quote from the book that reminded me of that, uh, she said in the book, she said, quote, we might think of ourselves as open-minded and capable of updating our beliefs based on new information. But the research conclusively shows otherwise, instead of altering our beliefs to fit new information, we do the opposite,
altering our [00:14:00] interpretation of that information to fit our beliefs. So exactly what you said a minute ago, I mean, again, you’ve read the book six times, so you’re probably quoting from memory for some of her stuff. But if that’s something I try hard to do because I do the same thing. Like I want to believe this thing, so I’m gonna find research to back it up and ignore the stuff that’s against it.
’cause they’re silly people, they don’t know what they’re talking about, but it’s, that’s not a good way to go about things. To be objective is very difficult.
Tony: am following your lead in all of this is I want to leave that room for stuff being a little bit wrong and let me investigate it. Am to change my mind on something that I’m firmly convinced of?
Tony: I will tell you yes, I don’t know that I have the evidence to back it up.
Mickey: I think most people would say yes, but I think the fact that you’re willing to consider that perspective puts you in a small minority already, which is a good place to be. You know, there’s a lot of people that don’t even think about it, you know? They just blindly accept it, so.
Tony: you and I, I think are two people, maybe the only two I know who are willing to be just a little bit wrong in everything we believe, and I place to be.[00:15:00]
Mickey: Yeah, I think that’s fair. Yeah, because I don’t think in absolutes too much. I think of things like, I have a theory that I’ve not tested. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I have a theory that everyone is a little bit agnostic, you know? The, the most diehard Christian in the world is gonna have moments of doubt, but the most diehard atheist is gonna see a sunset and say, well, maybe there’s something else.
Like I just have a hard time believing anyone is a hundred percent or 0% on either end of that. And I see so many things through that lens. Like, okay, this person is a serious believer, they’re 99%, but I’m sure they’ve had moments of doubt and this person believes God does not exist, has all the evidence.
But every now and then probably thinks like, huh, that really adds up differently. And I try to see things through that lens and have that lens myself, you know, again. I think people on both ends will argue, but if there’s, I’m sure I could talk to a Christian that’s a hundred percent sure and an atheist that is a hundred, a hundred percent sure.
And one of them is clearly wrong, . So, you know, just has to be, so it’d be interesting to see there.
Mickey: Um, I. It talking about being wrong here. It’s another quote from the book I thought about how to figure out you might be wrong. This is great. You’re just leading me through my notes without seeing, which is [00:16:00] fantastic here.
Um, she said, quote, why might my belief not be true? What other evidence might be out there bearing on my belief? Are there similar areas I can look toward to gauge whether similar beliefs to mine are true? What sources of information could I have missed or minimized on the way to researching my belief?
What are the reasons someone else could have a different belief? What’s their support and why might they be right instead of me? What other perspectives are there as to why things turned out the way they did? Like, she asked a lot of questions that we can ask ourselves and dig into that thing. Again, looking like the Seahawks, you know, it’s, it’s, there’s so many different ways to look at that situation and, and wonder, you know.
Did we see it wrong? Did Pete Carroll see it wrong? Like who, who saw what? And there’s, there’s no right answer. You know, even, even the stats I put at the beginning that passes has only been intercepted 2% of the time. Well, he probably knew that there was a chance it’d be picked off. He just figured that odds were low enough and he was willing to, to roll the dice to, to make a good decision with a likely good outcome.
And that’s, that’s what sports are, that’s what life is, is making the best decision we can. And heck, I, I always wonder with that game too, if they’d handed off to Marshawn Lynch and he happened to fumble. [00:17:00] How many people would’ve come out and said, well, C, come on. They had plenty of time. They should have tried to pass first before they hand it off.
They had plenty of time to hand it off to ’em later. They should have passed first. You know, so easy to be a, a Monday morning quarterback and that sort of thing. But if think about how, how you might be wrong is, is a great thing to do. And yeah, I, I do a lot of that and you, you certainly inspire that from me as well.
Tony: Well, I’ve got a friend who is actually my next door neighbor who has anywhere I have a belief, he has the opposite belief. I mean, just down the line. Opposite,
Mickey: All right.
Tony: With the one exception we like each other, I.
Mickey: All right. Good.
Tony: that’s irrelevant. go have a beer and talk about it.
Tony: And he has given me a couple of books and I look at these books and I think, wow. Um, one of my best books on Christianity is a book that is totally against Christianity. Because it’s
Tony: absolutely right that we are a bunch of nut cases, You go back to the reformation and you step forward and you know, [00:18:00] I couldn’t agree with you.
So we’re gonna start a new religion. I couldn’t agree with you. So we’re gonna split off again and we’ve now got, you know, four different branches. Of course we’re crazy.
Tony: So how do we circle that back? And that’s the book he gave me. And I love that book because I have to say right. Darn it. May be wrong in the big picture, but he’s absolutely right in the million little pictures.
Mickey: right? And all those sorts of books too. One, because it may change your perspective on things, but also can help you learn how to defend your own beliefs even stronger. So you become, you know, it’ll give you ammo to learn how to, to fight back and defend whatever your belief might be. But you have a friend like that as well, that him and I disagree on pretty much everything, but we get lunch once a quarter or so and talk things through.
It’s mostly political disagreements and that’s great. I love to hear why he believes what he believes, and we both come away a little bit. Little bit more open-eyed as a result, and it’s, it’s fantastic.
Tony: I love the part of this book where she talked about what was happening in the past where Supreme [00:19:00] Court Justices would have clerks from the other party.
To intentionally say, me what I’m gonna run up against before I run up against it. And to
Tony: moderate the views
Mickey: Yeah. I thought that was fantastic. Yeah, I do, and I’ve talked before, like on my blog and other places. It, it frustrates me a little bit too when I can tell what someone thinks on other beliefs because of one belief they have. Like if someone says they voted for Trump, I bet they’re . You know, anti-abortion.
I bet they’re anti Bud Light. I bet they’re pro-gun like you can, and those shouldn’t all necessarily go together. You should have unique thoughts on things. Adam Grant talks about a lot about taking each issue and saying, what do I really believe on this issue? Versus saying, well, if I believe this one, I’m gonna vote for that guy.
I have to believe this whole list of things. And you don’t. You can agree with some and disagree with some, and again, make the best vote you can based on the majority of what you believe. But much easier said than done , for sure.
Tony: sure is.
Mickey: Um, so yeah, so as we’re wrapping up, um, I have one more quote and then if you have anything else to add, you can, but I thought this was just a great way to, to summarize the book from her.
She said, . [00:20:00] Quote, incorporating uncertainty in the way we think about our beliefs comes with many benefits by expressing our level of confidence in what we believe we are shifting our approach to how we view the world. Acknowledging uncertainty is the first step in measuring and narrowing it.
Incorporating uncertainty in the way we think about what we believe creates open-mindedness, moving us closer to a more objective stance toward information that disagrees with us. So again, just what you said, finding that the open stance, the O objective, . Sorry. That open stance toward information that disagrees with us is exactly what we’re saying.
It’s just, yeah, being willing to look at it and see it and give it a, a honest look to see if it might be something that we were wrong about or we were right. And now we have more, more proof of that. So,
Tony: The 99% is, I’m willing to disagree with you 1%.
Tony: we move forward from there?
Mickey: Exactly. It does indeed. So, yeah, I may need to read this again because I’ve read it once and I’ve kind of dug back through my notes again. But yeah, I need to be better about rereading books and if there’s one to reread. And if you haven’t read this book, this is absolutely one to get.
So Thinking in Bets is a [00:21:00] fantastic book. Tony, how can people find more about you, what you’ve got going on in your life?
Tony: I’m not sure they want to, but,
Mickey: They might, they might.
Tony: I very rarely nothing like you daily do I blog. Um, I do have a website, tonydye.com, T-O-N-Y-D-Y-E. It’s been a long time since I’ve put anything out there that’s
Mickey: know, but I, I, it’s in my feed reader though, and I wait for it. When stuff comes in, I see it. And so, yeah, I encourage you to, to publish more and let people tell you why you’re wrong. So that’s, that’s the whole idea here. So.
Tony: I need to put a note out there about anybody who knows me should be, uh, checking out stacking knowledge and, uh, oh, by the way, I was on it,
Mickey: There you go. Perfect. Appreciate your time, Tony. So great to talk to you.
Tony: good to talk to you, Mickey.
Mickey: See you.