« iOS Shared BarButtonItems   iOS Semi-Transparent Modal Views »

21 Feb 2014

Action Trees 

TL;DR Version

With a new business venture, remain open to changes and cognizant of opportunities, but don’t avoid planning ahead thoroughly. (You should still work towards a business plan of sorts.)

Not-Long-Enough; Tell Me More Version

This post is about decision-making and the many paths that can emerge from complicated scenarios. But rather than “Decision Trees,” I decided to name this post Action Trees because decisions are useless unless you actually follow through and act on them. Anyway, on with it…

I’m a big fan of poker. In a past life, I was completely obsessed with it. In my experience, good poker players have one of the following qualities, or, if they’re really good, both:

  1. The ability to build and retain massive Action Trees in their heads.
  2. The ability to build entirely new Branches at a moment’s notice if an unexpected event occurs.

Let me give a simplistic example of each.

Let’s say you’re at the final table of a poker tournament. There are five players remaining, with a significant pay jump between 5th and 3rd places.

  • One player (Player A) has a medium-sized stack (of chips) and is a very loose player, which means that he often chases hands that he shouldn’t.
  • Another player (Player B) is a good player but has a very low stack.
  • Your stack is somewhere between these players’.
  • Most players at the table, including Player B, have only seen you show down good hands, and therefore respect when you make a bet. Player A, however, doesn’t follow this line of thinking.

In this scenario, you might build an Action Tree in your head that looks something like…

In programming terms, you have pre-loaded your brain with several if…else statements. You can imagine how much brain power would be needed to construct this type of structure, not to mention retaining it. Fast, on-the-fly, strategic thinking is not necessary because you have a quick-lookup cache, if you will, ready to be accessed. Chess players in particular are masters of this type of thinking.

To picture the (extreme) example of the the second quality, consider an Action Tree that simply looks like this:

The top of the tree is well-defined in terms of the possibile outcomes, but the action steps and further layers of the tree are undetermined. If you are this type of player and an unexpected event occurs, you would rely on your past experience, quick thinking and ingenuity to determine, in-the-moment, the appropriate action step and build a new Branch of possibilities.

In my (short) experience as a first-time entrepreneur, I’ve come to realize that it’s really best to strive for both qualities. Even if the business plan is dead, people still expect you to have well thought-out plans about every aspect of your business, even far into the mysterious future, and rightfully so.

Personally, I gravitate towards the second way of thinking in most aspects of life. My natural reasoning is that it’s inefficient to tackle a problem… until it’s a problem, or until it’s clear that it will be a real problem soon.

That said, with my startup, I definitely see the value in the exercise of constructing a massive Action Tree, under the following conditions:

  1. It actually contains somewhat accurate / realistic predictions of possible events.
  2. The construction process doesn’t majorly prevent Getting Things Done.
  3. Once constructed, adherence to the Action Tree doesn’t stifle your ingenuity or blind you to new possibilities.

Simply put, with the combination of both qualities, you’re just trying to avoid:

  1. Missing an opportunity for a new revenue source / a pivot / etc.
  2. Being caught dumbfounded without a plan when suddenly you’re ready to sell / your demand grows / revenue dips / etc.

comments powered by Disqus