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Outliers Pt. 2, Automony, Complexity and Connection, Oh My!

Two posts ago, I discussed one aspect of Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers that related fairly well to poker, the concept of the 10,000 Hour Rule. The 10,000 Hour Rule stated that in order to become a world-class expert in just about anything, a person needed to practice for 10,000 hours. For poker players, that means roughly 4.8 years until you reach world-class status, provided that you play 40 hours per week. Good luck with that one.

Today, in Part 2, we will look at the elements of a task that encourage success, stated quite succinctly as Autonomy, Complexity and a Connection between Effort and Reward.

Gladwell's Outliers examines success stories in a variety of fields to analyze what exactly has to happen for exceptional success. In one chapter, he looks at the success of Jewish immigrants.

Allow me a moment to proclaim my pride in my Jewish heritage. I don't follow any of the religious tennants, but I do appreciate the emphasis on hard work, ambition, and family that are a cornerstones to American Jewish culture. It amazed me, then, that Gladwell was able to explain just how American Jewish immigrants were perfectly situated to succeed upon their entry into the US. Some of those factors were mere luck, things that are not relevant to this discussion. But other aspects were an outgrowth of things we can hardly expect.

In Europe, Jews were not allowed to own property. Hence, they tended to cluster in cities in ghettos before ghettos got all ghetto-fabulous. Living in cities, the Jews tended to work in city trades. Instead of being farmers, they were garment workers or had other trades. Those trades, meanwhile, were perfectly situated to teach ambition. Why? Because of the big three: Autonomy, Complexity, and the Connection between Effort and Reward.

Garment makers were not working in large factories or sweatshops. Rather, these were people who usually worked for themselves; i.e., Autonomy. The job was also mentally engaging; i.e., Complexity. And finally, you earned as much as you produced; a Connection between Effort and Reward.

When the Jews came as immigrants to NYC, they were better situated than some of the other ethniticies who came from agricultrual backgrounds because they already had the skills necessary to make money in a city environment. These entrepenuers' children saw the benefits of hard work. If their parent made one garment, the parent only sold one garment. That next generation generally followed in their parents' footsteps, but seemingly without fail, the very next generation all entered professional jobs, like doctors, lawyers, etc. They had saw from their parents and grandparents that effort equals reward, and that complex, autonomous careers facilitated that paradigm.

So, what of poker players? Quite simply, poker is attractive because of the first two elements of the Big Three.

I, for one, appreciate poker as a game where you have to answer to no one but yourself. It is not a team sport. There are no bosses, generally speaking. That autonomy speaks to me as it does most poker players.

The complexity of the game is also a crucial element to its appeal. It may only take a day to learn the rules, but the game takes a lifetime (er, or 10,000 hours) to master. Compare this to many videogames, for instance. For you gamers out there, I'm sure you've had the experience where you love a game, eventually beat it, and then never play it again. Once a game or task is mastered, it can lose its meaning. Not so with poker though. The complex game is always changing (and has various permutations). Hence, complexity is key to poker's greatness as well.

But finally, we have the Connection between Effort and Reward. This is the one that can make or break a casual poker player who wants to become more serious. Unlike garment making, there is no guarantee that if you do everything right, you will benefit from your hard least in the short term. For players who get too wrapped up in short term results, poker can become like torture. Those players eventually drop out. Wouldn't you? For players with a more long term outlook, hopefully the connection between Effort and Reward is a bit more tangible. Even though you may have played a hand perfectly and lost, if you are able to realize that in 80% of the times you have that situation, you will win, then Effort and Reward remain connected. On the other hand, if you can't see the long term, then you will be doomed to feel that your efforts are not rewarded, rendering the hard work of poker meaningless. As Gladwell says, "Hard work is a prison sentence only ifg it does not have meaning."

On a related note, online bonuses create a direct connection to effort and reward. Since new players generally get these bonuses, they make perfect sense. They don't just give the players some money back, but actually make a clear mathematical connection between effort (playing) and reward (bonus).

I've got one more brief Outliers post in me, probably coming in the next couple of days.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 6:03 PM,


At 12:09 AM, Blogger lucko said...

My buddy is jewish but he is a lazy stoner. He's good at poker, can you explain how the jewish faith made it so?

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Yes, Lucko. Here we go:

Jews were not allowed to own land, so they moved to the cities. There, they took on trades as sike entrepeneurs that had a direct connection between effort and reward. When they came to the new world, they were uniquely able to thrive in the cities, working on their own predominately in their chosen trades. Their children learned the value of automony, complexity and a connection between effort and reward. They followed in their parents' footsteps. Their children also learned the same lesson but moved on to professional careers because the autonomy of their parents' professions was demolished by the growth of corporations that handled things like clothes production. A generation or two later, the children of the professionals began to see how the professional worlds of medicine and lawyering were also destroying autonomy and effort/reward by the creation of huge law firms, HMOs, and the like. These disenfranchised generations learned a new lesson: that the professional jobs were a trap, the same way as some of the other jobs were. Rejecting that lifestyle, some chose to be poker players, where they are 100% autonomous, have a complex gig, and benefit directly from their hard work, instead of benefiting their corporation, firm, or health insurance companies.


For what its worth though, its all about the situations faced by people, not the religion. I don't want to sound like I'm saying Jewish = successful, because while that is true, most people would consider it to be prejudiced.

At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Ken P said...

Jews have absolutely horrid design abilities. (see this blog)

Now that I've used up my cheap shot...

You missed clannish. That isn't an exclusive attribute. Almost all immigrant groups were. In our area immigrant Micks were told to stand on the steps of Old Saint Pats when they got to Chicago and they'd have a job next day. Greeks didn't arrive as cooks but Greek restaurants are a fixture that trained and then sponsored fellow Greeks new enterprise. Jews that did arrive from Europe were more successful than their brothers, true; but had a benevolent society (like many others) that helped out the Russian Jews that came from farms.

If you want to talk Outliers then any 1st generation nationality qualifies and is noticed because of accent, dress, whatever. Their kids were 'merican and indistinguishable. Our ghettos were economic and multi-nationa. But, there weren't laws to keep one there. Maybe this country is the real outlier.

Well, I guess I get to close with:
Fresh out of law school, Jordan was interviewing for a job and was asked if paying back his tuition would be a problem.
No, I paid that back after my first case, replied the lawyer.
Really? said the interviewer, impressed. What case was that?
Uh, actually? My father sued me for it and won.


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