Thinking in Bets: Making smarter decisions when you don’t have all the facts

On the long flight from Japan to the USA, I read Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets. Annie is a world champion poker player. The premise of the book is in order to make better decisions, one should “think in bets” which means to consider luck or uncertainty, don’t expect sure things and don’t mix results with decisions. My main reason for reading it was to consider Duke’s ideas when hiring teachers. As the head of school, they are most often the most important decisions I will make. Often when hiring teachers, I do not have all the facts. I think of myself as a professional manager of a professional sports team when evaluating a young player’s talent. What skills do they bring, how do they fit in with the team we already have and how will they develop in the position. Professional sports managers have performance statistics, video analysis, etc. and they still often make mistakes. When hiring teachers, we have much less information. We have 1 to 3 interviews and I try to collect as many references as possible. As I get more experience, the less stock I take in interviews. People can interview well and not be strong teachers and vice-versa. I would like to use Duke’s insight into behavioral psychology and poker to make better decisions. I learned that I could systemize how we make hiring decisions.

Poker is a game of making many decisions quickly and involves a combination of circumstances and luck. It involves multiple people, hidden information and changing conditions. The philosophical father of game theory, John von Neumann modeled his theory after a stripped down version of poker. It is the study of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers. Here are some of my takeaways from the book to help me make better decisions.

  • Our lives are too short for a good sample size, so there is not often enough data in our own experience to evaluate the quality of a decision.
  • Be comfortable with uncertainty and that outcomes are not always black and white. Instead think in percentages. Expressing confidence as less than 100% is OK, it shows you are trying to get to the truth. By saying I am 80% sure of something, you open the door for others to tell us what they know.
  • The world is structured to give us many opportunities to feel bad about our losses or bad outcomes. Separate the decision from the outcome. Even the world’s best poker players lose 40% of the time. If you did everything right in the decision or action, sometimes it just doesn’t go your way due to luck or other circumstances.
  • “Hiring an employee, like offering a bet, is not a riskless choice. Betting on the wrong person can have a huge cost as well as missing out on the right person. “
  • We have a lot of beliefs that are not true and conventional wisdom is shown to be wrong often. Always question decisions and beliefs and learn. Use experience and information to more objectively update our beliefs to more accurately represent the world.
  • Our capacity for self-deception has few boundaries. Just because someone is confident, that doesn’t mean they are right.
  • Our default mindset is to believe what we hear and see. Humans very easily believe and find it difficult to doubt.
  • The smarter you are, the better you are at constructing a narrative that supports your beliefs. Always consider your biases and blind spots or have someone on the team to play that role.
  • “Being asked if we are willing to bet money on a decision lessens bias.” Do a 1-10 scale, on how confident you believe in an outcome. This also allows us to consider a greater number of alternative causes.
  • Don’t always chalk up good outcomes to skill and bad outcomes to luck. Look for the truth.
  • A senior leadership team can be a “truth-seeking pod” helping us overcome our blind-spot bias. Good groups talk about their decision-making. The discussions are open-minded and exploratory, not confirmatory thought. DIVERSITY & DISSENT – Exposure to diverse viewpoints, improves our decision making.
  • A truth-seeking charter – 1) focus on accuracy (over confirmation) 2) accountability 3) openness to diversity of ideas
  • When a detail makes us uncomfortable or needs more clarification, that could be the most important part of a conversation. When someone leaves out a detail, that might be pushing their narrative.
  • Express dissent “Are you sure about that? – Have you considered thinking this other way? Instead of you’re wrong. An idea is to create a “devil’s advocate” for your group. This term comes from the Catholic Church deliberations of sainthood.
  • Time travel when making a decision, looking at the consequences of the decision in the future.

My main criticism of the book is Duke gives too many examples and repeats herself to give the book more length. She had many strong points, but watered them down a bit by referencing too many case studies, research and anecdotes to make her points. The book could have been shorter and more focused on her experience of poker.

State Department Orientation

I recently completed the Orientation for new directors to American assisted overseas schools in Washington DC.

The Department of State of the United States government is the equivalent agency as the foreign affairs ministry of other countries. The State Department in its role of international relations, supports K-12 schools all over the world that US government dependent children attend. The Office of Overseas Schools (OS) manages this program and recently hosted an orientation for directors new to American assisted international schools. The international schools are private and independent, but cooperate closely with the Office of Overseas Schools. There are 193 schools in 133 countries with a total enrollment of over 125,000 students and over 7,000 American teachers.

OS helps Department-assisted schools in several main areas.

  1. Regional and Global Education Associations Due to isolation of international schools in their local markets, regional associations overcome this by facilitating sharing best practices, resources, etc. Tashkent International School belongs to the Central & Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) and are members of the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE). These are a valuable network for its members schools.
  2. Security The Department has granted over $116 million dollars since the Soft Target Security Initiative began 20 years ago.
  3. Child Protection The International Task Force on Child Protection started in 2015, sets standards and trains faculty in international schools. The OS worked with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) to create resources schools can use in their Education Portal.
  4. Training Programs This includes board members, college counselors and teachers.
  5. School Initiatives They have a lot of projects like AERO standards, Presidential awards, etc.

My big takeaways from the workshops were as follows:

  1. The Regional Education Officer (REO), Regional Security Officer (RSO) and Regional Medical Officer (RMO) are strong problem-solvers and a lifeline in times of crisis or need.
  2. Consider an executive or life coach to help me develop as a leader. AAIE has a good mentor program.
  3. I will prioritize child protection and emergency plans upon my arrival to make sure the policies and practices are in order.

I would like to thank everyone at the State Department and the Office of Overseas Schools for the orientation!

Sayonara SOIS

“Two Schools Together”

This is my fifth Sayonara party and last. I am one of the departing educators. Instead of a speech, I decided to go out with a song. The schools are unique with two schools learning together. I wanted to celebrate that with my colleague and friend, the cocho sensei of Senri International School, Ito sensei. Thanks to Mayumi for her beautiful voice and willingness to take a chance with something different and to David Algie for the guitar playing.

It is a traditional at the Senri & Osaka International Schools of Kwansei Gakuin to honor the departing teachers on the Friday of the penultimate week of the school year. We hold a catered party in the courtyard and there are farewell speeches, thank yous, etc. It is a really nice way to end the academic year.

Graduation 2019

It is such a privilege to be part of high school graduation ceremonies. The pride, joy and sometimes sadness are some of the gamut of emotions from both parents and students that participate in this milestone. It is an emotional rush for all of the faculty and staff to see off the graduates in style.

The OIS graduation ceremony is distinct in many ways. Every graduate gets to make a short speech to thank the people in their lives that helped them through school. It is traditional at OIS that the grade 11 students and parents plan and cater the pre-ceremony reception and photographs and cater the post-graduation party in the courtyard. They get “paid back” the following year when it is their turn to graduate. I also love seeing the SIS students and underclassmen attending the reception. There are always plenty of tears, hugs and laughter!

It pains me a bit however as the head of school, often my relationships with the students are not as close as the faculty. Being a former teacher, that is the aspect of education I miss the most is my close interaction with students in the classroom. As the head of school, I try my best to connect with all the students, teachers and parents and I do get a strong sense of satisfaction helping out in different ways.

I would like to congratulate the OIS Class of 2019!

Association of International Schools in Asia (AISA) Annual Meeting

AISA Heads and ADs Welcome KIS-Jeju!

Athletic directors and heads of school of AISA met at the International School of Busan (ISB), Korea this weekend. We meet annually to review the school year and plan for the future. AISA is our high school international athletics and activities conference. The big AISA news is we welcomed a sixth member school, the Korea International School – Jeju! The 986-student boarding and day school is located on Jeju Island, a 1-hour flight off the south coast of Korea. Jeju is known at the “Hawaii of Korea” and they bring something different to our conference. We are looking forward to their world-class facilities and unique island experience for our student-athletes. We also discussed the safety of our students traveling to and from and during our events. A cornerstone of AISA’s commitment to intercultural understanding is the homestay program. We want to keep it safe for our students. Better child protection practices are always our focus.

A nice first impression for prospective parents to ISB
The school store helps school spirit and promotes the brand.

I always pick up ideas and the conversations I have with other heads of schools is invaluable to our school. I am posting the photos from the ISB school tour. My major takeaways were the school branding ISB has undertaken this year. I had a nice conversation with the manager of the school store and got some good contacts. Their board room, admissions office, school merchandise is exactly what SOIS and my future school, Tashkent International School could use. I also learned about the consultant, Control Risks (website). They have a lot of resources on their website and help international schools evaluate risk in their programs. They are working with schools in the region analyzing their homestay programs.

The soccer field and secondary school wing

The city government of Busan built the International School of Busan and allows the ISB to use it rent-free. They have to maintain it, but the idea is for the school to support international business in this port city. The school is located in the northern part of Busan, a growing area with a huge amusement park and resort under construction. There is also a world-class science museum nearby.

The major challenge for ISB is enrollment in a relatively small city. They are largely dependent on the international shipping economy to provide international families. In many ways, the enrollment of all international schools are impacted by economic trends, but in smaller cities, the swings can be more drastic.

I would like to thank ISB Head of School Kevin Baker and AD Craig Wilson for hosting us!

PD with Dr. Rob Evans

Dr. Evans and I in Hiroshima, April 17, 2019

Dr. Robert Evans is a therapist and psychologist that besides his private practice seeing patients in the Boston area, also serves as a consultant for schools. He is a former high school teacher and has worked with over 1700 schools in the USA and around the world. His expertise is organizational dynamics, relationships, both professional and personal and managing change in schools. He recently has been concerned about the huge change in the non-school lives of children. He also helps educators talk candidly about the work they do and when in disagreement, “stop talking about each other, and start talking to each other.”

Dr. Evans’s ideas have had a big impact on my leadership. His books shaped my early leadership of school and along with his professional partner, Dr. Michael Thompson, who specializes in the education of boys, also influenced me as a father. There are few education consultants that resonate with me like Dr. Evans. It was such a meaningful day to reconnect with his ideas and meet him personally!

The Japan Council of International Schools (JCIS) invited Dr. Evans to spend the day with the heads of school last month during our annual spring meeting. I uploaded my notes to Scribd and I will post them at a later date. My major takeaways immediately follow:

  • I am in strategic planning phases in two schools. Dr. Evans remarked after hearing how each of us got into education and international schools, that how much of our time as leaders is spent on things that cannot be planned. He called good school leaders, “gifted improvisers”
  • Overwhelmingly, school heads face dilemmas, not problems. Dilemmas are things that cannot be fixed, and there are no fixed solutions. Being a parent is one big dilemma.
  • Despite the plethora of schools looking to business management books for ideas on how to lead schools, Dr. Evans doesn’t feel they have much to teach school leaders. He also feels good school leaders do a lot of managing, not just leading and this is necessary for a well-run school.
  • Humans grow up with unresolved issues with their parents and routinely transfer these unresolved issues onto leaders, including heads of school. In times of crisis, heads of school become important symbols just by being there. He refers to school heads as “the priest in the secular parish”.
  • “Japan makes Switzerland look like Italy. “
  • “As you get older, you get more like yourself.”
  • The biggest part of conferences is not what you learn, but sharing and connecting with others in a similar position.
  • Dr. Evans has a strong definition of educators and sees educators like people who choose a vocation. We take the vows of poverty, duty, obedience, etc. and generally, educators avoid open conflict with other adults. People who choose to stay in the classroom are different from other adults, especially business people. The school head needs to have both mindsets.
  • Many teachers are not the ideal collaborators, they are individual artisans, sheltered from adult inspection more than most professions.
  • Teachers talk too much about curriculum and not enough about pedagogy. “No content can survive how it is taught.”
  • Shared commitment to appropriate candor in the service of growth and helping our students”
  • When faced with teacher or leader that is not cutting it, what do you do. Go through this protocol. 1) What would you like to say to this person? Imagine saying it straight. 2) Frame it like a parent with an intro statement, “I’m worried about… “I’m concerned about… “I’m puzzled that…”. 3) Say it and let it sit so they have to reply to it.” 4) then give options, move to another position, etc. 5) Educators feel obligated to answer the question, use “oh” – don’t try to persuade, Are you happy? Things are not going well, if you are wondering about replacing someone, do it and don’t wait.
  • Don’t try to sell someone to change, use pressure and support.
  • Interpersonal skill is more important than technical skill.
  • School faculties are not “families” because people are paid, but often, heads are in a parental role.
  • For teachers battling addiction, nothing better than a firm limit.
  • The strongest organizations are not hammering on weaknesses, but building on strengths.
  • Organizational culture eats strategy. You are the school’s enshriner of culture and remember what really matters to you will matter to others – culture cannot be separated from the head of school.
  • Schools actually play a minority influence on children, because for an 18 year old at graduation, 10% of her life from birth to this moment is away from school. Not an unimportant influence and schools do save some people and made their lives much better.
  • Applicant pools for school leaders are dropping and a good head has guaranteed lifetime employment.