I heard a professional poker player being interviewed.

Over the course of her career she’d won many millions of dollars.

She was asked about the secret of her success.

Was it learning to spot the other person’s “tell”.

She said no, that was for amateurs.

The “tell” was popularised in the movie Casino Royale.

James Bond says the trick is to watch the other player’s facial expression.

They will always have a compulsive movement: a twitch, a raised eyebrow, a cough, a scratch, something they do involuntarily when they’ve got a great hand.

For James Bond, the secret was learning to read the other player, so their hand becomes like an open book to you.

The female professional player said that was nonsense.

And this is the brilliant part.

She said that all a “tell” could reveal was what the other player thought about their cards.

Not the truth.

She said, early in her career, she had been playing against an opponent for a quarter of a million dollars.

She had learned to read his “tell”.

She could see he thought he had a great hand, and she knew she didn’t, so she folded.

When the cards were revealed he didn’t actually have a great hand at all.

Her cards could have beaten his easily.

But he thought he had a great hand, and that made the difference.

She had folded to his opinion, not the facts.

She hadn’t realised that she was a much better player and he had read the cards completely wrongly.

So he thought he had a great hand.

That was the last time she ever placed any faith in the “tell”.

Because it was just someone else’s opinion.

From then on she always relied on the facts.

She always kept the numbers in her head.

She knew what cards had been played, what cards were left, so she knew exactly what the odds were.

She played the odds, not the other person.

She said that was why most people lost.

They treated it as a macho battle between human opponents.

Bluff and counter-bluff.

She’d learned the hard way that it was about playing the numbers, the percentages, the facts.

She’d learned that other people’s opinions are just that.

Opinions. Not facts.

It’s the same everywhere.

In any business meeting, any discussion about strategy, any presentation of thoughts, any review of work.

Other people may be more eloquent, they may be able to shout louder, they may be more plausible, even get more agreement.

All of that makes them appear confident.

And if we are impressed by their confidence, we begin to doubt.

We begin to believe that maybe they are right.

Because we see they are confident and we assume they know something we don’t.

And we fold even when we shouldn’t.

But what if their confidence is misplaced?

As it was with that poker player’s opponent.

What if they aren’t as good as us and they don’t know what we know?

What if they’re wrong?


Sometimes confidence comes from ignorance.