Interview with Caspar Berry
What is your message?
Over the 8 years that I have been speaking, I have discovered a deeper and deeper “message” behind what I am really saying. When I first started, I spoke as a former professional poker player and I used poker as my unique metaphor to talk about the risks that people took in their personal and professional lives. My key message was simply “take more risks”!
After a few years, however, it became clear to me that what I was really talking about were the decisions that we took every day: some very risky, some less so. My provocation to audiences became a question: “are the decisions that you are making really the best decisions to get you where it is you want to get to?”
After more time, it emerged that behind this question was the fact that ALL decisions are actually investment decisions – allocations of scarce resources (money, time, energy, reputation) – under conditions of uncertainty. Considered in this way, we are all – whether we think so or not – investors trying desperately to maximise the returns on our investments of scarce and precious resources.
This realisation – made in association with my many audiences – related directly back to my first message: the need to take risk. Why should we take risk? Not for its own sake but because risky opportunities are often those which maximise the returns on our investments if only we have the courage to take them.
This message relates through the gamut of personal and business decisions and has implications for leadership, strategy, adaptation, innovation, dealing with change and judgement.
How are your keynotes unique?
As is probably clear from the answer above, what I try and do is to use the principles of economics to answer very real questions that confront us everyday. What makes me keynotes unique therefore is that while I come to similar to answers to other speakers but what I try and do is show WHY those often well-worn conclusions are true. This gives the overall messages much more impact and intellectual weight than when delivered as conclusions in themselves.
What I also do that makes me different is use both right and left brain arguments and reasoning. Stories are a really important and necessary part of the speaker’s armoury but I place just as much emphasis on logic and reason for some audiences – particularly those who feel quite storied-out these days!
Unlike many speakers I do NOT prescribe answers to these challenges. Decision making will always be a very personal matter for the individual or the team concerned. What I try and do is provoke with a question and give them the tools to answer that question in order to achieve their personal and professional objectives.
In short I would say that I make people think more than the average speaker. And hopefully laugh much more than the average… But it’s hard to be objective about yourself!
Can you briefly explain the importance of taking risks?
I find it difficult to describe anything briefly! That’s why I became a speaker. But here is what I teach in a nutshell:
The human being is a goal oriented mechanism. So is business. Sometimes those goals and objectives are set consciously and deliberately, officially and collaboratively. Examples of such goals might be to lose 5 kgs or increase turnover by 10%. Sometimes, however, our goals and objectives are set subconsciously and unofficially or implicitly within our processes and procedures. These goals might include eating out at least once a week, keeping a red light off our feedback card, avoiding difficult or new situations.
The key is that often the goals that we set subconsciously are at odds with those that we set consciously. It is often the case that, in order to achieve that goals and objectives that we say we want to achieve it may be necessary to do things that are challenging, dangerous, different or risky. It MAY mean failing more often in the short term or investing more than we have ever done before in order to achieve success – which isn’t even guaranteed whatever lengths we go to!
We all have things that we say we want. But there are lots of things we “want” that we don’t actually do much to get. The truth is that the only wants that matter are those that we’re prepared to pay the necessary price in order to achieve.
The reality of business is that – as in poker – there are a lot of people who would really like to have what you have and win the business that you win. In the long run at a poker table, the cards break even. So what makes the difference between one player and another? What gives one person, team or company the edge? It must ultimately be doing something different: different from the pack and different from the past. That usually involves taking a risk… and begs the question “how much do you want it and what are you prepared to give/invest/do in order to achieve it?”
Risk taking is usually doing the difficult thing, doing the new thing, stepping outside of the comfort zone, doing the thing more likely to fail but which – if done repeatedly and often enough – will make the difference that makes the difference. It is NOT something to do for the sake of it or even the thrill (unless thrill seeking is one of your desired outcomes). It is something that has often defined who you are right now and which will continue to define you if your goals are to stand out and adapt to a rapidly changing world.
What type of audience benefits most from your keynotes?
This is a really good question which is always difficult for a speaker to answer because of course:
- he wants to say “everyone” and
- not being a member of my audience it’s reasonably difficult to say.
With these limitations I have learnt that the best kind of audience for me is one that is inquisitive. I will make them laugh and give them a good time but ultimately I am concerned with pushing an audience to think: think about themselves and their business. If they don’t enjoy that then they probably won’t enjoy my presentation.
This tends to mean that my best audience is relatively senior and driven because they’re accepting responsibility for their life and their company – though this needn’t be the case obviously. It is just as likely to be really junior people in a company that promotes responsibility and autonomy.
I have a problem with junior operatives in a company where they are constrained by process and procedure. They may enjoy my presentation but they will tend to come out and say that they wish their boss has seen it. This is always a shame.
I therefore work well with senior people that like to think (I have worked with the boards of some of the biggest companies in the world) and also audiences where there are numerous tiers from the company who are mingling and talking. In fact these very mixed sessions work the best as I give that group of people a very calibrated language to discuss risk and achieve some really breakthrough conversations that often reveal more similarities in their desires than they previously imagined.
How has your career in poker influenced your keynotes?
In simple terms I would not be speaking now were it not for my experience playing poker professionally. Playing poker taught me an enormous amount about the ways that people react to uncertainty (largely irrationally and with superstition) and it laid the basis for the body of knowledge that I now teach.
However I think it’s important to realise that what I now speak about has very little to do with poker per se. If I was banned from ever using the word again I wouldn’t be too disappointed. It’s a fascinating world but what interests me is what it inspired me to go away and learn and what I now teach to businesses around the world. What I teach extends wayyyyy beyond the confines of the poker table.
If (and when) a client says they want a speech without any poker references, that is a pleasure for me. But of course, poker will always provide a great metaphor for the decision making and risk taking process and I will always be happy to use it and reference it for the rest of my career.
What is the most amazing experience you have had as a speaker?
That was undoubtedly a speech I delivered in Las Vegas for 3,000 people. It was like my life had somehow come full circle – speaking to so many people in one of the main conference rooms at Caesar’s Palace is something that I never would have dreamed I would be doing as a poker player all those years ago. But it felt so natural and got such a great response… I look forward to the day when that is a much more normal occurrence.