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E. Maurice Andrews was the first to arrive. I was arranging the chairs around the table for the evening's card game when I looked out the dining room window and saw a long black limousine pulling up in front of the house.
Maury didn't get out right away, which gave me a chance to take one last quick review of the business executive's background. As the chief executive officer of a giant multinational computer manufacturer, he was accustomed to seeing his name on the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Who's Who, and the invitation list for White House state dinners. I wouldn't call it slumming, but he certainly was traveling outside of his usual circles by attending a series of card games with a high school teacher, a farmer, a hospital information systems manager, the founder of a struggling landscape design firm, an independent insurance agent, and the owner of a small food products distributorship.
Maury was there because he was a desperate man. Social cachet, or the lack of it, were of no importance. His company and his career were in deep trouble. Maury had heard about my unusual card games from a fellow CEO who had attended the month before. The two men belonged to the same country club, and while they worked in different industries, they shared many of the same problems. They often commiserated and exchanged business horror stories on the golf course.
"I don't have time for cards," he gruffly told his friend (who gave me a full report the next day). "I barely have time for golf. I've got a corporation that's sinking like a stone and you're talking about cards."
"Forget about pokerand bridge, Maury," the other CEO advised as they arrived back at the clubhouse after eighteen holes, one of the few chances Maury had had to unwind for several weeks. "Dan uses cards as a metaphor, a teaching tool. Think of it this way. Imagine yourself sitting down to a high-stakes poker game. The other players play every night and are all very good. You, on the other hand, have never played the game. You're in deep trouble! That is, unless you get to provide the deck of cards. And, you get to define the rules of the game. You now have the ability to turn their advantage into a disadvantage and put yourself beyond the competition. Using his card metaphor, Dan will teach you how to use the new tools of technology to change the rules of the game. You'll learn more about how to turn rapid change into a competitive advantage in a few nights at Dan's place than in two months of high-level seminars."
I had been warned that Maury Andrews could be cantankerous. But his admirers said most of it was a product of stress and anxiety generated by his company's recent poor performance. For decades one of the industry leaders, a textbook example of excellence, it was hemorrhaging badly. The bottom line was showing a loss for the first time in history. The work force had been reduced by 15,000 people, and another round of downsizing was likely if business didn't start reviving soon.
Yes, Maury was a little tense when he knocked on my front door.
"Come on in," I said. "You get the prize for being first." I introduced myself and showed him into the dining room. One of the things I liked about Maury was that he was very direct. He immediately told me that he was skeptical about whether he would derive any benefit from "fooling around with a bunch of cards," as he put it.
"Okay, Maury, to heck with the cards. Before the others get here let's talk about the effects of fuzzy logic technology on your company."
The CEO gave me a blank look. He glanced around the room. "Nice house, Dan," Maury said, as if he hadn't heard my comment about fuzzy logic.
I offered him a chair. "We've got a couple of minutes. Are you offering your customers neural network capabilities?"
Maury sat back and crossed his legs. "We make and sell mainframe computers; that's our bread and butter. Fuzzy logic and neural networks are specialized technologies that a few of our customers might be using. My engineers and R&D people keep up with topics like this, while my focus is leading the company. I didn't go to engineering school, I went to business school."
"I know, Maury," I said. "Harvard MBA, class of 1964. My point is that simply by mentioning things like fuzzy logic and neural networks, I provoked in you a classic case of executive technophobia--'I didn't go to engineering school, I have my engineers and R&D people deal with topics like that.'"
"Well, I didn't go to engineering school and I do have my technical staff evaluate emerging technology."
"You don't have to be an engineer to play the game," I said. "The cards you will be using tonight will give you a short course in the kinds of technology that are in the process--and I mean right this minute--of changing the way you and your competition will do business.
"Let's face it, your technical people were aware of parallel processing computers in the mid-eighties, weren't they?" Maury nodded yes. "Yet you, the leader of the company, were so focused on the success of your mainframe systems that you didn't pursue this new technology, while other smaller start-up companies did and in the last few years have been using this technology to steal your biggest customers."
"You've made a good point, but cards . . . ?" he started to interject.
"The cards demystify the technology. Almost everybody knows how to play cards. It's no big deal. There are winners and losers, strategies, techniques, skills, planning."
"Yeah, but fuzzy logic and neural networks are pretty damned complex. When my researchers begin to explain the principles, it gets boring fast," Maury said, checking the dial of his wristwatch.
"You would get bored fast if they tried to explain the scientific principles of that baby over there." I pointed to the telephone on the table in the hallway. "You use that device dozens of times a day and have only the vaguest notion of the exact physics of how it works. Why? Because you don't need to know the physics of a telephone to use it. You only have to know that it exists and then creatively apply it to what you are trying to do. By turning the new technologies into a deck of cards, I'm making them user-friendly--as familiar and nonthreatening as . . . a telephone."
At that moment Doug Stedman arrived. He is a high school science teacher. In short order all the others were also sitting around my table, and the game was ready to begin
I put two decks of cards on the table. "I'm going to deal to Maury from this one," I said, pointing to the deck that had a green filigree design on the back of the cards. "The rest of you will get cards from this other red deck." I snapped the edges of the cards as I shuffled the deck.
I gave Maury one card facedown and then dealt the others a card each from the red deck, also facedown. I repeated the process, but this time the cards were faceup. Maury had a queen showing. Everyone else had cards of minor denomination and no face cards showing.
"Time to bet," I said. "One-dollar minimum, and whatever Maury bets--he goes first under the rules of stud poker, since he has the most valuable card showing--the bets double with each round." The group nodded in unison. "Also, in my games nobody drops out or checks." I saw Lonnie Weineck gulp. Check is a poker term that essentially means staying in the game without putting a bet in the pot. My rules meant that the players were totally dependent on the cards without any possibility of limiting their loses before the end of the hand.
Maury put two chips worth one dollar each in the middle of the table. The other players followed suit. I dealt out another round of cards faceup using the two decks. This time, Maury drew a king. Again, the others received minor cards.
After glancing at his hole card, Maury's eyes twinkled and he tossed out four chips. "I don't think I'm going to enjoy this game," Tanya Conte said as she matched Maury's bet. She had inherited her family's dairy farm three years before, and cash had always been in short supply.
When I had dealt out all five cards, with a betting interval after each round, it was obvious that Maury was about to clobber the rest of the table. He had an ace, a queen, a king, and a ten showing. They were all of the same suit.
The others didn't even come close to winning combinations. The pot was worth about two hundred dollars. Maury turned over his hole card, the one that was facedown, and it was a jack, and another spade like the rest of his cards. He had a royal flush, the highest hand possible.
Maury chuckled as he collected his chips. "And to think I almost didn't come tonight," he said with glee.
"I hope this is going to be an early evening," Tanya said. "I've got to be up early to do the milking."
"Me too. Got an early appointment," Samantha Brewer chimed in. She was the youngest player and seemed slightly intimidated.
"Don't be in such a hurry. Your luck might change," I said. But their luck didn't change. In the next hand Maury won again with a straight flush.