Several years ago, when it was still legal to do so, I used to play a lot of online poker. I was still in college and made enough that I didn’t have to work a “real” job. There were a few good lessons, the most important one being how to have an emotional detachment from money. And by applying these lessons to my consulting business, I’ve learned that by thinking less about money, I’ve been able to make more of it.

The Root of All Evil

Of course we all have an intrinsic, subconscious attachment to money. However, this is exactly what makes us the irrational consumer that spits in the face of the prototypical homo economicus that many believe drive our society. As long you maintain an emotional bond with money and wealth, the decisions you make regarding it will be emotional ones instead of rational ones. Which is the way we work by default.

Lesson 1: It’s not Your Money

In poker, there are several betting rounds. In each round, players place money into the pot, a pile of chips in the center of the table. When a winner of a hand is decided, they take all of the money in the center.

When someone thinks or knows they are a favorite to win the pot, but then fate throws them a curveball and you end up losing on the last card, this is called a bad beat. This tends to anger and upset players greatly, often causing them to go “on tilt”, meaning that now they aren’t thinking clearly and are more likely to make bad plays in the future. Why are these kinds of hands so upsetting to us? It’s because we assume that the money in the pot is already ours.

It’s important to remember that money in the pot belongs to no one. You never “have a lot of money in the pot.” You have none. The minute you place a bet in poker, that money is lost. But once we think we are a lock to win, we subconsciously decide that the money in the middle is now ours.

You hear similar things in sales. “Damn! I lost a big sale!” A sale is never yours to lose. You can’t lose something that wasn’t yours to begin with.


Lesson 2: Results Don’t Matter

Early in my poker playing, bad beats like the one described above would send me into a frenzy. Later on, I learned to actually be happy in these types of situations. The reason being is that if I got my money in when I was a 95% favorite, then I made a good decision. That’s called having an edge. Having an edge is how you win this game.

You can’t judge yourself based on short term results, but you can judge yourself on your system of playing. Being goals oriented in poker and in business are just paths to disappointment. As Scott Adams puts it “Goals are for losers.” Instead of saying to yourself “I’m going to land this particular client” which is a decision that is influenced by several factors outside of your control, instead say to yourself “I am going to improve my sales process” and “I am going to provide more value to clients”

If you work in a creative industry, this is important for another reason: Money can make us less creative.


Lesson 3: This is all a Game

When I say that money is not a priority to me, people think that I must be cheap. That is not the case. I understand what kind of value I can provide for businesses, that there is supply and demand, and that I have a market rate. Charging anything less would be lunacy. While some people have emotional or ethical issues when it comes to their rates, but as long as you are being open, honest, and fair with your clients, there is no reason to not charge a fair rate. It’s no more unethical than stealing bases in baseball or bluffing in poker.

So instead of thinking of where that money is going, I am simply treating client negotiations like a game theory problem. Once you see negotiations as a riddle where the answer is a mutually beneficial arrangement for you and the client, All the fear and anxiety about money goes away. Now you are thinking rationally, analytically, and not emotionally.

Most of your competition won’t. We are irrational by default. But by letting your love of wealth go, you can have a more effective, less stressful way to run your business. And that gives you an edge. Having an edge is how you win this game.