Normal Is Not Their Standard


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At our last edition of the Spectacular Speaking series in Warsaw we had some special guests. Peter Vitezy and Mark Mulrainey from Actionlab Consulting based in Budapest. The Actionlab guys have developed several completely different training formats for international companies. They started off with using poker to improve one’s decision-making skills in business. Today they offer a couple of more formats with intriguing names like Business Lies or Attraction Sales.

One thing I learned about them in Warsaw – Normal is not their standard!

I wanted to know more about their approach, so I asked Peter a couple of questions.

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Peter, how did you come up with the idea of using poker for business trainings on decision-making?

It was 9 years ago when I read an article saying, On-line poker: tons of money without hard work. I was the marketing director of DHL Express at those times, but I thought it was something worth checking out. Soon, I found out that there was a guy called Gabor among my friends who had already been playing. I told another friend about the idea, Marcell. He is now my partner at Actionlab.

We learnt a lot from Gabor, read tons of books and started to play regularly. We shared both winnings and losses. We spent a lot of time together developing our game. We analyzed a lot and found out that the common decision-based analytic language we developed works for non-poker related decisions, as well. We realized the reason: poker is a decision-making game in which we make calls on scarce resources with incomplete information in a competing environment. Sounds familiar?

We had to show what we learnt to the rest of the World. So we spent our weekends with developing the program that started out as a hobby. More than that – it was a true love. Named: Decisionlab.

I played with you guys in Warsaw. I loved the analogies. What would be a tangible result of these poker sessions?

We use poker both as a mirror and an analogy. It is a special approach. That’s why I was extremely happy to find Mark Mulrainey to be our partner in Poland. My first impression was that I liked the way he was playing the game. How one plays poker is a mirror of one’s decision-making skills. For example, your wishful thinking may come back in the form of chasing dead hands, investing in situations despite the fact that you have just slight chances to win. It’s like giving out loss-making offers in the hope of a juicy future business without reasonable facts to support your estimation for the future business.

We facilitate the development of individual and group decision-making. We sensibilize people to the topic through poker and provide them with customized decision-making processes and communication norms. They start out playing a game and end up in changing the outcomes of board meetings.

After the program a major media company organized a full day off site meeting to make a decision about an important M&A issue. They started at 9 am and finished at 10.30 am with the new approach in hands. They had to find some new tasks for themselves for the rest of the day.

You guys certainly do things different from other training providers. In your sales programs you even use lessons learned and strategies from pick up artists…

Yeah, there’s something like this… Generali is one of our major customers. After the Sales Director participated in our Decisionlab we had a follow up meeting. He said he was looking for something that would make the customers like his sales personnel more than his competitors. He offered two blank training slots for whatever we’d come up with. It was a huge possibility; so we sat down and brainstormed. We had to dig deep.

Finally, we came up with the idea of training businesses the methodologies of PUAs (pick up artist). Hunting down a new customer is very close to hunting down a new date. Entering an office for the first time or approaching someone at the bar. Very similar, many shared issues. Attraction is not a choice. The way people react to us is much more about our operation than our personality. You know this pretty much, Florian. There are certain behavioral patterns that simply work. In the Attraction sales training, for example, we teach how passionate storytelling can make all the difference between winning or losing a contract.

Where do you find your inspiration to be more creative than others?

Feels good that you say that. On the other side, I don’t think we are really creative. We are just willing to show our true motivations, thoughts and dilemmas to others through the things we love to do. I think we are just more eager to use our own ways. In the beginning, people thought we were nuts for using poker. We persisted and created the whole concept. Because we love doing what we do…

Do you have any plans to launch more “crazy” training formats in the future?

Actually, there is one in the final stage of the development process. It is a real “bad ass” called the Survival Nego. We create situations where you have to negotiate for your life. We give you a systematic approach to facing really tough problems. Just think about how difficult it is sometimes to represent your interests when the stakes are high, and you feel powerless. Like selling a flat when you really need the money. We will give you the Ultimate Negotiation Survival Kit.

Cool, I hope we can cooperate at some point in the future…

What a question?! It was great to see your motivation and energy to help people grow in Warsaw. Your approach to charisma and public speaking is a great complement to our development programs.

For example: You can make the best decision in a M&A project. If you are not capable of getting the buy-in of your audience, it’s useless. Logos is not enough. Here we go together!

Thank you, Peter! I’m sure we’ll join forces some day in some project. And one thing is certain – it will not be normal!

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