We all have to commit to a path even with under stress. Now more than ever do have to focus on decision making under pressure. Given the shifts in business over the last few months, leaders will have to make some hard choices. The skills of decision making under pressure can be learned. There is a formula for it. My guest today is Alec Torelli, a professional poker player, who has that formula for decision making under pressure. He has spent years in high stakes games and forced to make decisions with logic and intuition. We look at all aspects of making a tough decision and the enemies of being decisive. Alec also shares a little about his experience being in Northern Italy during the COVID-19 ordeal. Join us today to increase your capacity for decision making under pressure.
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Alec Torelli: The Transcript
Target Audience: Alec Torelli is the Founder of Spinther LLC. He is also an Entrepreneur, Keynote Speaker, Pro Poker Player, and a Full-Time Traveler. 9th biggest winner on Full Tilt Poker in the year 2007, 33rd all-time No Limit Hold’Em money winner on Full Tilt Poker, and 84th all-time overall online money winner.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Well, if you think about where you’re likely to end up, right, your trajectory in the business world, it’s a combination of the quality of the decisions you make, and randomness or luck. And you can’t control the latter, right, you can only control you can’t control the cards you’re dealt, you can only control how you play the hand. So it’s pointless to worry about the things that are beyond your control.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett, I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:39]
Making decisions under pressure? That’s really what it’s all about. With this pandemic going around, you feel the pressure to either increase revenues, increase the level of service, maintain your market share, maybe even grow, create new opportunities. decision making is essential to all of that. As a leader. You know that The higher quality of decisions you make, the more likely you are to come out on the other end of any economic downturn. Today we have Alec Torelli. He is a professional poker player. He spent years of traveling the world, putting himself in high stakes games, and understanding the critical elements of decision making. And we talked about those today we talked about you’re creating the space to take emotion out of your decision making, what that means. What is the power of using logic and intuition inside of decision making? Today’s episode is a special one. Alec comes from ground zero inside of Italy, just outside of where it first broke in Italy, and he’s lived through this for the last six or eight weeks. He shares a little bit of that with us but the real key to this message is about improving your decision making under pressure is critical.
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Excited about sharing this with you and before you run. I have done So many interviews in the last few weeks, I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to genehammett.com/worksheet. So you can get the 12 principles, and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align with each episode. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need, so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this. But you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. Now, here is the interview without Alec.
Gene Hammett [2:38]
Hey, Alec, how are you?
Alec Torelli [2:40]
I’m well thanks for having me here. Gene. A pleasure to be here.
Gene Hammett [2:42]
Well, it’s great to have you on Growth Think Tank, we are going to have a great conversation with you. I know you’ve spent years being a professional poker player, but a lot of that those skills are translating into the business world. So give us a little idea of your background.
Alec Torelli [2:59]
Yeah, so as my I’m a professional poker player and more recently been doing coaching and I’m a poker training site as well. So it’s a little bit more on the entrepreneurial side. But I got started when I was 16 got invited to a friend’s house to play poker. And as they say, if any Gambler, you know, the worst thing that could happen is you win your first time, because then you’re hooked. And so I won $12. And I just fell in love with this game. You know, I was never big in sports. In high school, I was in musical theater. But poker was something that I felt like, you know, I can beat my friends and I could Excel it. And I just loved the game. So I absorbed as much as I could about reading the few books that there were available at the time, watched it all on TV. And that just became obsessed with poker from a very young age started playing online.
Alec Torelli [3:41]
When I was 18, I came to a crossroads in my life where I either had to decide to go all-in because I couldn’t get to that next level. I was in college at the time at SMU, but I wanted to travel around and play tournaments around the world and I had to choose. So I evaluated my worst-case scenario and said, You know what, the worst thing that happens is, I lose The money I saved up and I’m a year older, I’m 19 with no money, which is the same as being 18 with no money, but the best-case scenario is that I make it and I could travel around and have poker pay for the lifestyle that I’ve always wanted to live while playing a game I love. So I went all in and never looked back.
Alec Torelli [4:15]
The rest was not history, I had a lot of ups and downs, which we could talk about I had a great year in 2007 was one of the biggest winners in the world 2008 2009 I lost a lot of that had kind of build it back up from scratch. So I learned a lot of lessons there that that also applies to my business world, like managing money and managing risk and not putting all your eggs in one basket and making decisions not out of emotion which we can talk about as well. Because when you are investing money and you’re emotional, not in the combination, needless to say. And so yeah, and then I moved to Macau in 2012 because the gaming revenue there’s seven times bigger than Vegas that was like the new mecca of poker and one of the things as a professional poker player that’s very much like being an entrepreneur is that you have to find where the Opportunity is and just like in the business world, you always have to be pivoting and changing because the business model that worked in 2005 isn’t going to work in 2015 2020, because of the world changes. And the poker world changes a lot. And so where the opportunity was when I was coming up in my career 15 years ago is not the same place that the opportunity is today. So I had to travel around to different parts of the world to find games where I could compete in and excel at it. So that led me to Macau where I took things to a whole new level. And after that, I decided to build a training site and business sharing things. I’ve learned poker that apply towards life and business sharing poker strategy, as well as lessons and giving talks and keynotes as well.
Gene Hammett [5:41]
Well, that’s a pretty good take on this. When I saw your request to be on the podcast come in, it took me a moment just to look at that and see how does this lesson of poker apply to the business world and I know you’ve made that transition and I thought, a pretty good fit because I as we record this, you’re actually in Italy, you’ve lived through the last, what, four or five weeks, or maybe six weeks of real uncertainty and fear. Just tell us just a little bit about that.
Alec Torelli [6:14]
Well, yeah, so I’m actually at Ground Zero in Italy, the first town that was quarantine. It’s a little town called Cadonia. And that’s 24 miles from where I am. And our hospital here was the one that was hit the hardest, you might have seen that photo of the doctor on his knees with his hands over his face, and the other nurse coming to console him that photo that went viral is from our hospital. So yeah, it was quite surreal, but it is a little bit like living in the future. And so I’ve been putting out a lot of content about raising awareness about what potentially is coming for the US, but it’s been so the first case was February 21. And I was reading up on what was going on.
Alec Torelli [6:55]
So I started social distancing men, Today is April 3. So that’s about six weeks. But I haven’t been around anyone for six weeks, but we’ve been on actually locked down for I think, close to 40 days now, which means I haven’t left the house, the laws in Italy are a lot different where we’re not allowed to leave the house unless you have like a permit or a reason which, you know, there’s some work-related reason or something like that. So I haven’t left my apartment in over a month. So it is a different world. And finally starting to taper off and hopefully, we’ll go back down.
Gene Hammett [7:31]
I appreciate you sharing this with us and my hearts out to you and your family and all the people that you probably know around you that are suffering from this and in the US. We’re of course a few weeks behind.
Alec Torelli [7:43]
Yeah, that’s a scary thing is it’s just replaying in a different part of the world. You know, and I hope things flatten.
Gene Hammett [7:50]
Well, I wanted to have you on here to talk about decision making, but specifically under pressure, and I can’t think of You know, many places where you can put yourself in a position where you’re under pressure, like, you’ve got a pretty good hand. And you’ve got to decide where you’re going to put all your money into it, and be out of this tournament or be out of this opportunity, or do you hold back and play another hand? So decision making under pressure is kind of the focus today. Why is decision making so important in the business world?
Alec Torelli [8:27]
Well, if you think about where you’re likely to end up, right, your trajectory in the business world, it’s a combination of the quality of the decisions you make, and randomness or luck. And you can’t control the ladder, right, you can only control you can’t control the cards you’re dealt, you can only control how you play the hand. So it’s pointless to worry about the things that are beyond your control. But what you have to focus all your attention on is the quality of those decisions that you’re making. And so poker teaches you this because you can’t control which cards are dealt, right you can put all your money in with the best hand and you’ve seen this on TV or your experiences if you play poker, there’s nothing like taking what’s called a bad beat, which means, you know, getting unlucky and a hand.
Alec Torelli [9:06]
But the winners don’t focus on those sorts of things because they know that this is just part of the game. And they also know that if you put yourself in a situation repeatedly, where you are making what’s called plus skeevy decisions mean positive expected value Decisions, decisions that are going to yield a profit. If you do that repeatedly, you will come out ahead. And this is why the house always wins because they don’t care if they lose one spin of Roulette or one hand of blackjack, they know that if you keep betting they have the odds in their favor and even a small edge like one or 2%, which the house has, will manifest a profit over time. And the same is true in the business world. If you’re consistently making good decisions with anything with your marketing strategy with your executives with the direction of your company, whatever it is, you will come out ahead and that decision that that will manifest Over a period of time, and so that’s really what poker is about. It’s really what it teaches you to focus on. And so all the time I spend at the poker table is really focused on how to make those high-quality decisions.
Hold on for a second, Alec just mentioned, constantly making decisions. Do you feel the pressure to always be right? Well, here’s the thing. A lot of leaders think that they have to be the expert they have to know the answers. But sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is to say, I don’t know, create some space for you to think about it, create some space for your team to think about, invite them to actually be a part of that decision. It really will help them raise their own level of trust in you and confidence to trust their own decision making. What you really want is those employees to bring to you issues and challenges with decisions that they’ve already made. decisions that how we can move forward, bring you those new ideas, and let you talk about it and see how that fits in with the overall plan and strategies of business. Back to Alec.
Gene Hammett [11:02]
Let’s dive into that a little bit. Alec, we talked about something in setting up this call and really focusing on the best content for the audience was you have this kind of idea of logic versus intuition.
Alec Torelli [11:16]
Gene Hammett [11:16]
I want to get I want you to explain that to us. But, you know, we all use logic to read the data that’s coming out of this next opportunity we’re in, we’re under a lot of pressure to make decisions. So logic plays a piece of it, but you have, you have the distinction between logic and intuition gives us let’s start there.
Alec Torelli [11:35]
Yeah, so I first came up with this idea for a talk I gave it at Cisco, where I was thinking about the ways that I make decisions at the poker table. There’s really three types of decisions. The worst are emotional decisions, which we can talk about later. Those are decisions that lead to problems.
Alec Torelli [11:49]
You make a decision from a place of emotion, whether it’s in a relationship or in a business, that’s going to lead to suboptimal decision making you think that part is pretty clear. But then when it goes comes to making those high-level decisions, you really have two forces that are at play here. There’s your logic side of things and the intuitive side of things. And most people think that these things are conflicting. They think that you kind of have to choose one, you’re either a math person, and you trust your head, or you’re an intuitive person and you trust your heart. But I actually find that it’s a marriage of these two where the best decisions are made. So let me give you an example.
Alec Torelli [12:24]
When you if you think about just a simple situation, like you meet someone for the first time, you’re not using your logic to understand whether or not you like them, you’re not saying something rational, like, Oh, you know, Genie, that’s a black shirt. I like black. Therefore, I like G. It’s just kind of a vibe that we get, you know, we’re connecting on this call, we’re talking, we’re having a good time. We like each other. So that’s just an intuitive read that you get. And the same is true with the poker table. You do this when you’re playing a hand where you are with someone and you’re playing against someone, you have to decide whether or not they’re bluffing you or not. And that’s just an instinctual feeling you get and that’s usually Something that’s worth listening to. That’s usually something that’s right. It’s your subconscious mind quantifying something that you can’t explain with logic. But then what you have to do after that is you have to take a look at the math and see what the data says and say, well wait a minute, okay, I feel that this is what the situation is telling me. But let’s look at what the numbers say. Let’s look at the pot odds. Let’s look at the math or let’s look in the business world.
Alec Torelli [13:22]
Let’s look at the data. Let’s look at the numbers. And if I intuition says that this is the direction that things are heading, let’s look at the data to see if it backs up those things. And where these two things converge, where you have your intuition pointing to one thing and your logical mind pointing to the same thing Those were the best decisions are made. And I find that when these two things have a discrepancy, it’s usually when you want at least personally at the poker table when I feel like this guy you know has a really strong hand but then I talked myself into calling him anyway those are what that those are the situations are I pay the price and I feel like this is like the same in the real world as well.
Alec Torelli [13:59]
When know you shouldn’t go into business with someone, but then you talk yourself into it because of, you know, the resume or the opportunity or the money that’s involved. And you talk, you talk yourself out of what you know to be the right decision. Those are the times we pay the price. And so I feel like this relationship between these decision-making forces and poker has really helped me also navigate in the real world as well.
Gene Hammett [14:19]
Let’s go put a spotlight on this a little bit because I have been in those situations where I have talked myself out of a decision I kind of felt like, in fact, one of the biggest decisions I made was an investment for $3 million into a business partner on a deal and it went it went not sideways, it cratered. My business. This was 10 years ago. And I overlooked the signs. I overlooked the red flags, and my wife even said Don’t do this. But I felt confident myself I felt like I can move forward. This intuition sometimes you What How do you sense when you’re, you’re in that moment of overruling what you really should be doing? Maybe your guts telling you, but you’re like, I really want this opportunity.
Alec Torelli [15:10]
Yeah, so that’s where, you know, like, a great book by Ryan Holiday, you know, ego is the enemy because it clouds the judgment that you know, to be the space. So I feel like what people what we commonly do in our lives and speaking as a collective here, because I noticed this happening is that we’re always stimulated, we’re always bombarded. We’re always trying to optimize time, we’re trying to, you know, have listened to a podcast while we’re at the gym. And then we’re also you know, answering an email on the phone on the side.
Alec Torelli [15:33]
So what I try and do is I try and you have to make space for your intuition and something that’s like not It sounds like you’re kind of like wasting time when you make space to be in touch with what you know to be your true self and a little spiritual here, but you know, sometimes when, when something simple that I’ll do in I can’t do this in poker table, but in the real world, before I like to go through with something, I’ll think about it. I’ll have a conversation about it, intellectually talk about it, but then before that, make any decision or sit for five minutes with my eyes closed and just let my subconscious mind kind of like, let those thoughts come to the surface and see if I notice anything and a lot of times just those five minutes, I’ll come to certain like certain revelations about something,
Alec Torelli [16:13]
I’ll be like, wow, I couldn’t see that this was the right thing to do while I was talking about it while I was writing the cons, but because I created space to listen to myself, I came a new idea came to light, you know, so at the poker table, what I try and do a process that has helped me is when you’re okay, so so what I share with my clients is a one on one I’m doing a poker like a lesson, for example, it’s like, let’s imagine that you’re playing poker against someone. Okay? So you’re sitting where you are in your chair right now, or you’re standing where you are right now. And your opponent is the person that you see at the gym, you look at the person next to you, and that’s your opponent. So if I say what is the correct strategy against this person, you’re in the first person you’re in the driver’s seat, you know, you’re the one that’s playing the hand against that person.
Alec Torelli [17:03]
So it’s hard to understand what the correct strategy is because you’re emotional about it, you have a desire about the outcome, you want to win the pot, you want the business deal to go through, you want that 3 million to be 6 million or 60 million. So there’s all these there’s all this ego that’s clouding the way of seeing a situation objectively. Why is it easier to advise your friend about what he should do in his relationship and understand what you should do on your own? Why is it easier to tell your friend what they should do in a business deal, then not see it yourself? Because you’re not emotional? You don’t I mean, you’re not connected to the outcome you don’t care about. You care about the outcome, but you don’t care in the same way that you care in your sense because you’re not in the first person. So what’s the secret here?
Alec Torelli [17:43]
The secret is, instead of asking yourself how you should play the hand, you should say how should Alec play the hand? So it sounds kind of awkward talking to yourself in the third person, but now you’ve created space, you’ve created space to allow your ego to subside. And you’re looking over your shoulder at the poker table, watching the entity that is sitting in the chair that you’re sitting, playing the hand against someone else. So you see the difference there. The difference is that you’re sitting behind Alec, you’re sitting behind the person that is you, and you’re watching that person play the hand. So if you can create that space for yourself, when you’re making decisions and say, what should Alec do in a moment, or you’re trying and you can use this anywhere in life when you’re deciding whether or not you should exercise or whether or not you should, what you should have for dinner, how you should spend your time, it’s so much easier to analyze a situation when you’re not caught up with your emotional desires. Remember, we talked about decision making emotion is the emotion is the thing that leads to poor decision making. So if you could create that space, and see yourself in the third person, it’s easier to see a situation objectively and therefore make better decisions.
Alec just said you need to make space for thinking and what I find a lot of leaders think that go go go is the best way to get more done. But the reality of it is sometimes we need space. If you look at your calendar right now, would you see the space for you to think about the decisions in front of you to think about the strategies to think about the different things going on creating space? And that’s doesn’t mean, you know, creating space for your email creating space for you to get the things done. It’s space, maybe your best way of thinking is taking a walk, maybe your best way of thinking is going for an exercise. Maybe your best way of thinking is going for a drive, whatever works for you create the space to think back to Alec.
Gene Hammett [19:41]
I love that in so many ways. Alec, I want to go even further into this. Like, are their steps that you’ve taken to ensure that, you know, leaders can make those right decisions like give us some insight behind that because we’re under pressure right now. Where’s operative? A lot of people don’t see the opportunity yet. But there is an opportunity out there for us to meet our market where they are and make some changes. So what are the steps behind making these right decisions and tuning into that intuition with the logic?
Alec Torelli [20:16]
So I mean, one is just sort of like training this part of your body, the right training, this part of your mind training this thing. So one thing I do is like, I try and be aware, like something I mean, meditation is kind of like the exercise of your mind, right? So if you think about, like, you want to lift weights and build a strong physique, you know, if you want to build a strong mind, then you know, there’s a lot of scientific evidence by meditating. I’ve been doing that for years, and it helps for me. So that’s something I would say like, it’s a good practice to do even 10 minutes a day. And one thing I’ve noticed is that I try and instill the habit or the practice of meditation into my daily life.
Alec Torelli [20:51]
So one thing I’ll try to do is just be aware of my intentions when doing a certain activity. So sometimes you’re doing like one or two things and you can say You’re going somewhere to do this, but you have an intention to do something else. But it’s masked as the activity that you’re doing. But underneath, there’s really a, a different meaning or a different intention to what you’re doing. And what you say you’re doing is just the excuse. It’s on the surface. So I try to just be aware of this, I try and try and like to observe my thoughts. I try and observe, you know, instead of just having this movie, it’s playing. And it’s like, kind of like, I’m watching a movie, that’s my own life. I try and be, instead of just living through the movie, that’s my own life. I try and watch the movie from afar. I try and create space between, as I mentioned before, like Alec and my higher level of intelligence. I hope that makes sense. And that’s something that’s helped. And I think, I think having periods of the day where you have fewer inputs and fewer distractions, and you block out time for creating space is important because I know at least for me, personally, it’s hard to do.
Alec Torelli [21:57]
I’m like, I usually live in first gear. Or 50 I don’t have anything in between. So I have to consciously make an effort to say okay, now is the time where I’m taking 10 minutes you know, before this interview, I’m taking five minutes just to like not to have any inputs, I’m not checking instead of checking social media, I’m doing this and so what I’ve tried to do is just replace, allow more time for you know, the thoughts unwind in my subconscious to come out to the surface, and just creating small intermittent blocks throughout the day to allow that to happen. I’m talking like really small blocks because I’m busy too, I’m always in fifth gear. So five minutes feels like 50. So even if it’s instead of just, for example, you know, checking social media, when you have three extra minutes in between one meeting or another, it just sitting down and close your eyes and breathing or like even if you’re at the grocery store line. So checking my phone at the grocery store line, I just follow my breath going in and out to stay present for a second. Just training your mind to always be in here and now is the way that you are intuitive. Right? Think about it.
Alec Torelli [22:54]
What you’re doing when you’re intuitive is you’re silencing the chatter in your head. You’re silencing your logical mind, you’re silencing the noise and you’re listening to yourself, however, you want to describe that and you need to be present to do that you can’t be distracted can’t input on social media, you can’t be thinking about all these other things, you can’t be living in the, in the, in the future or dwelling in the past, you have to be here and now. And so the best decisions I make at the poker table are the times where I make these great calls because I just know the guy’s bluffing or make these amazing folds. Because I know the guy, you know, has a super-strong hand and I do that when I’m focused. I do it when I’m present and aware. And so I try and take that into my life as well. And hopefully, I make a lot of I mean, I do make a lot of mistakes all the time, but I try and always strive for that. Those make those high-level decisions when it matters.
Gene Hammett [23:44]
Alec, I want to go into a very specific term I’ve heard as it relates to poker and see how that relates to us making decisions in the business world. And this is the concept of don’t play the cards play the man. Very common thing, I don’t know where I first heard it. But it’s almost an every, you know, the mantra of poker that I’ve ever heard. I think I heard it on Harvey Specter if you ever watched the show suits?
Alec Torelli [24:14]
Gene Hammett [24:16]
So how does that relate to what we’re doing? I think there is a correlation between this logic and intuition because logic is a representation of the cards. And intuition is a representation of what you’re feeling from the man you’re playing. I could be wrong in this, but how do those relate to each other?
Alec Torelli [24:35]
So there’s a great quote by Phil Hellmuth is one of the most famous poker players of all time. He says, you know, most people think poker is a game of cards, playing with people, but it’s a game of people played cards. So the cards are kind of like the superficial way of maneuvering around the psychology of the people. And I think business the business world is the same way. And I think, you know, you think about it’s about data and numbers and all these things, but it’s a game of people. If you’re thinking about the business game or the game of the market, it’s a game of psychology, right?
Alec Torelli [25:08]
The markets, I’m thinking about working in a situation now where the markets are imploding. Everybody’s worried about the stock market. And whenever it’s, it’s a game of psychology to a large extent, right? What do the people think is going to happen? Right? Are the people in a state of panic and they’re selling or like think about this, this pandemic, people buying toilet people? It’s like alike, life is a game of people. And so I think understanding people and how they behave and you know, how they behave in different circumstances and under pressure is a great teacher and poke is great for that. And if you want to get better at people playing poker is great.
Alec Torelli [25:43]
Like exercise to do because you get to see how people perform under pressure. are they capable of, you know, putting a lot of money in the pot with a weak hand and bluffing? Are they not capable of doing that? How are they going to react? So I think it’s a great teacher to help to see these connections play out over time, and I think The people element really can’t be understated. And whether it’s in negotiating or managing a team or whatever it’s all about people in your business about your productivity, or whatever it is, you know, being a great leader, it’s about motivating those people to perform their best to making them be inspired things like, you know, you see things like Simon Sinek start with why when you have a team of people that are very motivated and compelled towards a mission or purpose bigger than themselves, they produce great work and great content and it’s inspiring team element to be around and so that’s all based on the people and how they’re feeling and their psychological state at any given time.
Gene Hammett [26:39]
Love it. Alec, thanks for being here on the podcast sharing with you, us your insight and experience from the poker world. How that trend translates into the leadership world. And appreciate it.
Alec Torelli [26:49]
Yeah. Honor to be here. Thank you.
Gene Hammett [26:52]
Great interview, Alex get so much knowledge about how do you become a better decision-maker and how do you create the space inside your leadership to step back, remove emotion. How do you use logic and intuition? Hopefully, you took notes there. I was scribbling down all of the details there because I think there are some new elements behind this that if you want to be a better leader, make those critical decisions. This is a framework that you can use. I love being able to share this information with you and help you as a leader grow. I love to be able to help you through the defining moments of your leadership. If you want to grow as a leader, if you want your team to grow as a leader, I love to talk to you. I love for you to reach out to me and see if something I could do could help you or the team through these defining moments of your leadership, your road, just go to firstname.lastname@example.org and send me an email. I’d love to get to know you and see how I can help you. As always, leave the courage well see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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