Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the March, 2009 issue. David’s and Alan’s book was later titled DUCY?
Original Editor’s Note: This month’s contribution by David Sklansky will be a chapter from his forthcoming book with Alan N. Schoonmaker Ph.D. It is tentatively titled “Food for Thinking.”
Many of this book’s chapters will have a similar format. They will start with David’s ideas and stories, followed by comments from Alan.
Two Examples of Creative Thinking
On a Friday night, or perhaps it was New Year’s Eve, several years ago every table in the Bellagio was full with a waiting list. I was playing $200-$400, which was then the biggest game in the room. In walked a bunch of high rollers, all friends of mine, but not usually competitors. They looked around, hoping to start a huge game, but were told that no table was available.
My friends were not used to being turned away. They were $2,000–$4,000 players, and they did not mind greasing palms or whatever else it took to get their game started quickly. They wanted to start playing so that hundreds of thousands of dollars could change hands. Because there was no table, they were planning to take their game to a different hotel.
Just before they left, I walked over to Chip Reese and asked, “Chip, what are you doing? Think! You’re not thinking.”
Since Chip was one of the world’s greatest players, hardly anyone told him that he wasn’t thinking, but he was smart enough to listen to me. He replied, “What can I do? Every table is full. I know they are small players, but I can’t tell them to quit.”
“Of course not. Don’t tell them to quit. But don’t you think that – if you go up to a $1 to $4 game and give every player a $100 bill – they will gladly quit?”
He immediately realized that it was a simple and good idea. He got a $100 each from his group. Ten minutes later they were playing $2,000-$4,000, while the $1 to $4 players had smiles on their faces.
Along similar lines, the following occurred while I was playing $100–$200 hold ‘em. The first name on the waiting list was a truly terrible player with a lot of money. All the players in the game were good, solid players, and we were all licking our chops about the money we would take from this man. In this situation they sometimes add another chair, but this time the management wouldn’t allow it.
So we were all playing against each other, passing money back and forth. We started to realize that none of us had any intention of quitting because we all wanted to get a piece of the twenty or thirty thousand dollars he would probably lose. But, if we did not let him into the game quickly, he would leave.
So I piped up, “Let’s have an auction!”
“An auction? What kind of auction?”
I said, “Well, I’ll quit if each of you gives me 800 bucks.”
And then, of course, they realized that somebody would say, “Well, I’ll take $750.” And someone else would probably say, “I’ll take $720 per person.”
When the smoke cleared, one player took something like $300 from everybody else. He walked away with over $2,000 in his pocket, the live one got in the game, and he lost his $20,000. So again we were all happy.
What both these stories have in common is that you have to free your mind up from the chains of routine thinking. Don’t constrain your thinking. Once you free your mind, the solution can become quite obvious.
Freeing your mind from what David called “chains of routine thinking” is far from easy. Everybody, including David and me, has these chains, but they vary from person to person. Your chains are different from mine or David’s. For example, David thinks more creatively than I do because my years in academia created certain chains that he doesn’t have.
We are usually unaware of our chains. In fact, if we were aware of them, they might not exist. We are used to thinking in a certain way, and recognize its limitations only when we are forced to do so. For example, you have certainly become annoyed with yourself for not thinking of something that seemed so obvious after you saw someone else think correctly. You angrily asked yourself, “How could I be so stupid? or “Why didn’t I see that?”
Unfortunately, you may not ask those questions until it’s too late. Or you may ask them rhetorically, but not really try to answer them. To protect your ego, you may not want to know why you don’t think too well.
Motivation is critically important. You have to want to think well more than you want to be comfortable. Motivation is particularly important when you need to think more creatively. You won’t break free of those chains without really wanting to do so. You will have to work, and some of that work will be uncomfortable, even painful.
The first step is to identify your personal chains of routine thinking, and that step can be quite painful. You have to take a hard look at yourself, and it’s not fun. But it’s worth it. David frequently states that he examines his own thinking, and you should follow his example. Self-examination is always valuable, but it’s particularly useful when you need to think creatively. Take a hard look at your own thinking and ask yourself, “When do I act on autopilot?”
If you seriously try to answer that question, you will certainly see that you often do it, and that it is much more likely to occur in certain kinds of situations. Then ask yourself the next question: “Why do I do it here, but not there?” You may find that you essentially stop thinking when you encounter situations that are:
- So commonplace that you just act habitually
- So emotionally troubling that you don’t want to think about them
- So outside your control that you believe that there is no value to thinking about them
There are almost certainly other factors that prevent you from thinking creatively, and the more deeply you analyze your thinking, the more aware you will become of your own chains of routine thinking.
The next step is to break those chains, and I’ll have a lot more to say about that subject later.