In many ways, the game of poker is very symbolic of business and life, and there is one major skill that separates a merely good poker player from a great poker player. A good player will know not to play a game where they might be at a disadvantage; however, a great player will know not to play in a game even when they are evenly matched. They will only play when they have an advantage: perhaps the other players are not as skilled, or they are tired, or perhaps they’ve had too much to drink. If there is no advantage, the best outcome is breaking even. Great players on only play to win, so they either find a way to create an advantage or look for a better opportunity. Their pride does not cloud their judgment – they are honest with themselves about their ability, while weaker players delude themselves into believing that they are better then they are.
In business, many of us often place ourselves in situations where we have no discernible advantage when competing for an opportunity. When looking for a new job, have you ever just submitted your resume to a bunch of openings posted on a career website? You’re probably competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of equally skilled and educated candidates for one of a handful interview spots. It’s very difficult to stand out based on skills or education when you’re competing against so many people. You’re never going to be twice as smart or educated or skilled as the other qualified applicants. And if anyone can apply for this position, what exactly is your advantage?
The same thing applies if you’re an entrepreneur who is competing against hundreds of other pitches for a limited amount of VC funding, or an author submitting your first book to a publisher. You may think that your idea is unique and innovative, but nine times out of ten, somebody else has probably already thought of something similar or even better. If anyone can submit their proposal – such as in a business plan competition or to a publisher’s website – you will often find yourself with no discernible advantage. If you are constantly putting yourself in situations where you don’t have a clear advantage, it becomes very difficult to get ahead. You waste time and energy in contests where the best outcome is breaking even; over time, you lose confidence and become discouraged.
One of the best ways to create an advantage for yourself in business is through networking. Most people don’t bother to network because it’s too time consuming or difficult; others do it incorrectly, thus sabotaging their chances before they even enter the competition. Both outcomes create an advantage for the savvy job applicant or entrepreneur. Building relationships in advance gives you the opportunity to create and shape your story way before your resume or proposal ever comes across the decision-maker’s desk. Your story is what makes you unique; it provides the context in which your skills and accomplishments should be viewed. It elevates your pitch from the sea of other resumes and proposals, which in contrast are just facts and figures on paper. It allows you to go on the offensive instead of reacting defensively to the whims of others. It also helps you uncover hidden opportunities, which in itself become an advantage. Don’t waste time playing to break even – either create an advantage, or focus your efforts on better opportunity.
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