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Maria Konnikova

Better decisions and clearer thinking start with the most basic building block: your own mind.

Contributing Writer for The New Yorker | New York Times Bestselling Author

Contact Maria For Booking
Maria Konnikova | Contributing Writer for The New Yorker | New York Times Bestselling Author

New Yorker science writer who rocketed to poker stardom, Maria Konnikova is a brilliant decoder of why we make decisions—and how we can make better ones. And with a PhD in the psychology of risk perception plus a major poker title under her belt, Konnikova is walking proof of successful decision-making in action. Author of The New York Times-bestselling books The Confidence Game and Mastermind, Konnikova’s talks offer a fascinating lesson in how our performance at work can be improved by a deeper understanding of logical choices.

“One of the truly gifted social science writers of our time.”

— Adam Grant

“Poker is one of the best environments for highlighting how often emotion gets in the way of logical decision-making, and how often we don’t look at risk objectively,” says Maria Konnikova. “We don’t actually sit there calculating probabilities, and instead, we react.” Her interest in the of decision-making microcosm of poker inspired Konnikova’s forthcoming third book, The Biggest Bluff. Dropping headfirst into the world of high-stakes poker, Konnikova went from journalistic observer to star player, first winning the cutthroat PCA Tournament in 2018 (a story that made headlines) and then continuing to rise swiftly through the ranks to win more than $260,000 in other pro tournaments. In exciting talks—including a recent keynote at the World Economic Forum at Davos—Konnikova discusses more than poker, using it as a lens to investigate how luck, biases, and snap decisions can shape our lives. She also shares tactics for performing well under pressure—against seemingly unbeatable odds—and playing the hands we’re dealt to the best of our ability.

  

Her second book, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time, is a compelling investigation into the minds, motives, and methods of con artists. At its root, Konnikova says, mastering the “con” is about listening to people to understand what makes them tick. “A lot of the same skills that make a good con artist also make a good leader, a good business person, a good lawyer, a good writer.” In her breakout debut, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Konnikova explored the famous detective’s signature methods of observation, logical deduction, and mindfulness, showing us how to apply his techniques in everyday situations. Drawing on the intrigue and wisdom of her books, Konnikova translates insights from the frontiers of the mind into imminently fascinating, perspective-changing talks. With brilliant clarity, she brings modern life into focus, helping even the brightest, sharpest minds snap awake to make better decisions.

 

“Maria Konnikova is an engaging and insightful guide to this fascinating material, which will help you master your own mind.”

— Steven Pinker

Konnikova previously wrote the weekly “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American as well as the “Artful Choice” blog for Big Think. Her writing has appeared in The AtlanticThe New York Times, The Paris Review, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American MIND, and Scientific American, among others. A former producer on the Charlie Rose show on PBS, and host of the longform storytelling podcast The Grift, she received her PhD in Psychology from Columbia.

 

Speech Topics

Psychology
The Biggest Bluff What Poker Can Teach Us About Ourselves (and Others)
Maria Konnikova’s journalistic deep-dive into the world of high-stakes poker took her somewhere she didn’t expect: under the tutelage of Erik Seidel, one of the greatest players in the game, Konnikova went from novice to pro player in less than a year, becoming a poker star in her own right. This dazzling talk follows Konnikova’s immersion in the world of poker, as an observer, and then as a big-winning player. But this isn’t a talk about poker. As Konnikova charismatically explains, it is an exploration of the role chance plays in our lives, and how we can learn to play our best game even in the face of mounting odds. How do the skills learned at the poker table translate to the skills required to live a better, more thoughtful and, ultimately, successful life? As a psychologist, Konnikova took her study out of the theoretical and brought it into one of the highest-stake contexts she could find. In this invigorating, eye-opening talk, Konnikova won’t teach you how to win at poker—rather, she brilliantly questions what role luck plays in our lives, and what it truly means to take control of our own destinies.
Psychology
Confidence Games Why We Fall for Them...Every Time

Would you know if you were being conned?

Join New York Times bestselling author Maria Konnikova as she explores and explains the psychological principles that make swindling us so easy. From suspicious-looking emails to seductively-structured investment programs, tricksters and grifters use everything at their disposal to persuade us to part with our money. In a world in which the internet makes it easier than ever to access information and adopt new identities, even the savviest of individuals can be tricked. Could you be?

In this entertaining and insightful talk, Konnikova will tell the fascinating stories about some of the most seductive imposters in history, taking us into the world of the con to examine not only why we believe in confidence artists, but how our sense of truth can be manipulated by those around us.

 
Psychology
How We Can Learn to Become More Resilient

Personal resilience is often a key factor in overcoming obstacles. But what is it? How do some people succeed, and even excel, despite incredibly difficult circumstances? Can this ability change over time? And, most importantly, can it be learned?
 
In this talk, Maria Konnikova explores the psychological underpinnings of the quality that allows some people to flourish even in the face of adversity—hurdles like socioeconomic stress, turbulent upbringings, and traumatic events. She shows how, in certain individuals, adversity can actually enable adaptability, and unpacks the internal (dispositional) and external (environmental) elements that make these individuals successful. She then takes audiences through the steps of applying these qualities of resilience to different contexts, from educational settings to home and to the workplace. Ultimately, much of resilience is about having a certain mindset—and cultivating the right cognitive skills to strengthen it can mean the crucial difference between succumbing to, and surmounting, life’s greatest challenges.

 
Creativity
How to Be Bored The Value of Boredom in the Age of Distraction

Modern technology has opened the door to infinite possibilities—but it’s also given us endless opportunities for distraction. We check our phones compulsively, spend uncounted hours online, and find less and less time to attend to what matters most. But when these distractions are gone, we’re suddenly plunged into anxiety. Why is being alone with our thoughts so uncomfortable? Why do we flee moments of silence and downtime? And is it possible to channel feelings of boredom into something more productive?

In this keynote, Maria Konnikova explores how boredom is actually rooted in distraction—or, more precisely, a conflict of attention. She then explains how staying attentive to tasks and obligations isn’t entirely dependent upon external forces: by strengthening our inner focus, we can work to control, direct, and even alleviate boredom. If we can recapture our ability to thrive without distraction—to work, or focus, in contemplation—we can recharge our energy, engage in fruitful, abstract thinking, and marry disparate ideas in ways we never thought possible. In fact, the state we call ‘boredom’ may actually be the lifeblood of inspiration, deep thinking, and creativity. Join Konnikova in this decidedly non-boring talk on the uncommon value of boredom—and how, once we learn how to be bored, we can find ourselves again.

 
Psychology
How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
No fictional character is more renowned for his powers of thought and observation than Sherlock Holmes. But is his extraordinary intellect merely a gift of fiction, or can we learn to cultivate these abilities ourselves, to improve our lives at work and at home? We can, says psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova, and in this talk, she shows us how. Beginning with the “brain attic”—Holmes’s metaphor for how we store information and organize knowledge—Konnikova unpacks the mental strategies that lead to clearer thinking and deeper insights. Drawing on neuroscience and psychology, she explores Holmes’s unique methods of ever-present mindfulness, astute observation, and logical deduction. In doing so, she teaches how anyone, with some self-awareness and a little practice, can employ these same methods to sharpen their perceptions, solve difficult problems, and enhance our creative powers.