As Duncan Palamourdas writes on the PokerStars Blog today, poker can, like many things, be boiled down to one simple premise. And doing so is necessary (but not sufficient) for success… in many fields, including poker.
But where did this theory originate? And what other examples can we draw on?
The classic example is the word “dog”.
Everyone likely has a different mental image of what this word means, but the truth of the matter is that we likely agree on certain characteristics that permeate all these images. These include but are not limited to: four legs, barking, moving tails, voracious appetite, a certain cuteness etc. This idealistic abstraction of an otherwise highly varied concept is what is now known as a Platonic Form.
We may now take it for granted, but Plato revolutionized the way we think, or more accurately, the way we understand thinking and transfer information between individuals. This is why, when we often describe a concept in a few words, we may also begin with something among the lines of: The basic idea of X is […] or end with something like: […] and that’s the main idea behind X.
What makes this remarkable is that coming up with the concept of the “idea” is an idea in itself. Essentially, Plato had the idea of the idea, or the first meta-idea. In essence, he was able to abstractify the concept of abstraction itself which is very impressive, especially once we take into account that there was no word for it at the time!
Digging a big deeper, we start to realize that a certain simplicity of the core essence of an otherwise complicated subject matter seems to be a necessary (although not sufficient) condition of success.
We already saw that Plato’s big idea was the invention of the idea itself, but he was not alone.
His teacher Socrates based almost his entire philosophy on the grounds of a certain “innate ignorance” (something that I would call meta-humility) which allowed him to constantly probe with deeper and deeper questions to eventually expose the gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the world.
Plato’s student Aristotle, on the other hand, was always keen on identifying patterns by sampling the environment around him, an approach that earned him the title of the grandfather of the scientific method.
The point is that, nuance aside, the lifetime achievements of these great men can be meaningfully summarized in basically one sentence.
It does not end there. Leonardo Da Vinci was driven by a remarkable curiosity about the mechanics of the physical world, as well as an unquenched thirst for worldly beauty, both of which were evident in his artistic work.
An innovator of extraordinary caliber, Da Vinci was able to infuse engineering into his artwork, producing a nearly animated representation of reality in ways that had never been done before.
Isaac Newton based a lot of his work on simple principles such as: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction (his 3rd law of motion) or the idea that both time and space can be similarly continuously divisible, something which resolved Zeno’s paradox of motion and led to the invention of calculus.
Albert Einstein had the simple and yet incredibly profound idea that gravity is not a force but rather a distortion (“curvature”) of the fabric of space-time, which was based on the even more astonishing idea that neither space nor time are uniform and their properties change depending on the matter/energy interacting with them as well as the conditions of the observer.
Charles Darwin, formed his entire theory of evolution on the elementary principles of common ancestry and natural selection, namely the fact that nature favors adaptation.
Pablo Picasso was famous for his reductive approach where he would paint the same painting over and over, each time removing non-essential attributes. It was as if he was trying to paint Plato’s idealistic Forms.
The list is endless and we need to get to poker, but the reader may indulge me with a few more examples from our modern society.
If we look at some of the world’s most successful CEOs we will notice a similar pattern.
Take for example Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) or Jensen Huang (Nvidia).
We can list some of their basic ideas in less than a paragraph.
Invest and hold for decades in things you understand.
Build a platform, where all software can be created, instead of wasting time on individual software.
Customers are always the number #1 priority.
Energy efficiency and space exploration are paramount.
We should focus on software that builds software (aka. artificial intelligence), thus effectively automating the process of automation itself!
Of course, it would be disingenuous to say that the visions above are all that these men ever employed in their careers, or that they never had poor or controversial ideas. It would also be equally misleading to assert that all simple ideas are worthwhile.
Let’s not forget that some of the biggest atrocities humanity has participated in such as genocides, slavery and nearly every form of war (holy, civil, colonial etc) are all based in elementary, yet terrible, ideas.
This is why simplicity is a necessary yet not sufficient condition for success.
You can follow Duncan on twitter @AskTheMathDr