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chess-blog

How Life Imitates Chess // Intuition // October 2016

“We know much more than we understand” — Alfred Adler



For those of us who are drawn to the practice of entrepreneurship, it is a multifaceted fascination. Something similar between an artist and the business founder is their application of intuition.


Towards the end of his book How Life Imitates Chess, Garry Kasparov works to define intuition. Drawing on his experience he then expands on the topic in a short but profound chapter. Kasparov is broadly interested in themes of mental performance and refinement of knowledge. Reading the book, it is easy to find parallels between competition in chess and practices for today’s professionals who must also train and perform in self-directed endeavors.


Kasparov frames intuition as the fruits of focused training and hard-won experience in situations with clear feedback.



Kasparov on intuition:

“…all along, this has been a program about taking action. About playing an active and focused role in our own development. Because the truth is that we can’t sit around and expect wisdom to accumulate along with grey hair. I’ve talked about the importance of learning from your mistakes, but in truth, that’s almost a passive act. At-least in comparison to actively going out in search of next experiences, which will teach you new and extraordinary things.

Learning from our mistakes is the least we should ask from ourselves. To get more, we must demand it. And go looking for it. Intuition is where it all comes together. It is the indispensable product of our experience, our knowledge, and our will to know and do more.

it’s my opinion that, contrary to popular belief, we cannot truly experience the spark of intuition in a field in which we have little practical knowledge. The first-time chess player who makes the right move based on his ‘feeling’ for a certain piece is probably experiencing luck, not intuition. But when a knowledgable player finds the best move simply present in his mind, without combing through hundreds of variations, that’s the power of intuition.

feeling insights are based upon some tangible information stored deep in our subconscious memory.





“…this is the essential element that cannot be measured by any analysis or device, and I believe is at the heart of success in all things. The power of intuition, and the ability to harness and use it like a master.”



The author is making the point that to achieve mastery we must work with our intuition as an active part of our process. That it is through trusting and leveraging our subconscious mental and emotional processing that we achieve great heights. An aspect of involving intuition is embracing the pressure of the moment of live performance, thus we cannot experience intuition disconnected from the field of play.


The author emphasizes that overcoming fear is “largely a matter of trusting intuition”.


This point of overcoming fear brings the subject of intuition fill circle for entrepreneurs. The gumption required to commit to a bold vision for how the world could be improved is far beyond what can be rationally justified. There’s something more under the surface of our thinking pulling us ahead to make our unique contribution to the world, and in doing so we bring expression to our intuition.
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How Life Imitates Chess // March 2014

A second book on chess as a model for decision making and leadership extends the lessons of Bob Rice’s book, and adds much from the perspective of a professional practitioner of the game. While there are many topics we will look at in this blog, the central act of entrepreneurship is making confident decisions with rhythm while under pressure. To lead an organization is at its heart the process of deciding. I love this book and the audio edition is nicely done and energizing to listen to.

Garry Kasparov requires no introduction in most parts of the world. He was the youngest World Chess Champion when he won that title in 1985 at the age of of 22, and held the title for an unprecedented 15 years. Considered by many to be the greatest player ever, he retired from Chess in 2000 and shifted to a career in politics to press for democracy in the Former Soviet Union. This book was written after his retirement from competitive chess.

The book opens with an argument as to why chess is a superior model for decision making for other areas of life. Chess incorporates contrasting pressures which reward very particular virtues in successful players. These pressures are the realtime competition with an opponent, the reliance on memory for patterns and the diligence of execution which is free of errors to the final move. The virtues these pressures cultivate are that of focus and memory matched with a creativity based in a spirit of fantasy, lifting off from the present circumstances and projecting ahead to novel combinations and desired end states.

It’s this combination of creativity and practice, or ‘a synthesis to combine creativity and calculation, of art and science’ which makes this book a rewarding read and relevant to the spirit of entrepreneurship here in California.

The goal of the book is to inspire readers to examine their own decision making process and to give memorable examples of the author’s experience in learning his own ‘map for decision making’ and improving it at all stages of his long career. Kasparov explains that it is in cultivating and understanding our own decision process, of our strengths and vulnerabilities, so that we learn and grow towards our fullest potential. In doing so we develop a signature style of problem solving and a confidence in our abilities as a foundation for leadership.

Put another way, it’s through acquiring patterns which are polished by experience that we nurture our intuition and develop ‘style’ as a decision maker. The process of examining our method is the content for the chapters which follow, which is nicely summarized in these quotes by the author;

“You must become conscious of your decision making processes, and in time they will improve your intuitive (unconscious) performance”

“Better decision making cannot be taught, but it can be self taught.” - - Garry Kasparov
threemoves-blog

Strong Squares // January 2014

The intention of this blog is to delve into select books which have informed my perspective of entrepreneurship. Before moving on from Bob Rice’s book there is one more key lesson the book does an excellent job of highlighting, using the framework of chess to convey concepts relevant to those brave souls leading new ventures.

Strong Squares is the title of the seventh chapter, and refers to the chess strategy of prioritizing territory on the board in order to establish a safe foundation from which other tactics can be leveraged. Applied to business, Mr Rice draws a parallel to marketing and defining a valuable and specific niche for your product and service to focus on.

The key insight is that for your business a ‘strong square’ is not defined by a single product or trend in technology, but rather by the identification of a customer set united by the value they see in what you offer. It’s a matter of empathy with your customer’s intention, and by focusing on enriching what they value, evolving products which have a natural connection with customers.

An easy example of this done ‘through the ass’ (as Russians might say) is how Sony and Samsung simply pump out products when new features are possible without any regard to whether the features add up to a cohesive purpose for the product in the lives of users.

This is especially unfortunate with regards to Sony, whose My First Sony products were sheer magic in my youth. These products are a perfect example of a ‘strong square’ approach to consumer electronics because they clearly identified kids as the users for fun, tight and robust (and beautifully colorful) modern designs for recorders, tape players and other media gadgets through the 1980’s.

 

By following a ‘strong square’ approach, the payoff is not only that your business will enjoy an alignment between marketing, messaging and the benefit of your products in the near-term, but moreover you will be able to innovate confidently along lines you know to be valuable to an audience you increasingly understand.
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Three Moves Ahead // October 2011

This blog is written for people who are interested in developing the mindset and skills needed to build a new venture.

In understanding new things, it is useful to find appropriate metaphors which can impart large chunks of functional information, and extend a level of comfort into the unknown topic.

The best metaphor for the discipline of entrepreneurship is the classic game of chess.

Perhaps my most recommended book on business is Bob Rice’s Three Moves Ahead, which makes the chess analogy the frame through which a seasoned lawyer, CEO and Angel Investor shares lessons and practices from a strong career in business.

To begin, entrepreneurship is infinitely complex because in starting something new there are no existing parameters to respect, and no inherited inertia to contend with. It’s an open space where the leader must blend creativity, pragmatism and pace in order build first faith in a strategy, and then momentum behind a new structure for business.

At the core of both business and chess is the practice of framing reality and making decisions. In his book, Rice devotes many chapters to helping would-be entrepreneurs develop a process for structuring the concepts which support a new business.

While there are different strategies for the launch of a business, all rest on a clear understanding of the formula which differentiates the venture from the competition. Typically this is called ‘the business model’ - but to think of it as a set of attributes which are tested against performance in the market is more fluid and realistic for the early phases of a business.

Especially in the case where a business seeks to create unique market space, Rice’s second point holds the key - in that strategy is a balance of directed and emergent factors, organized by a clear theme. The clarity of this theme is the result of deep reflection on the intention of the venture. The goal is to be able to discern between opportunities and distractions as unforeseen scenarios present themselves, so that as the business builds it remains organized in its operations, and understood by all.

Do not move ahead until you have a unique, clear and compelling concept. You cannot reformulate the root of a business once launched, and it’s the quality of this thinking that will attract the people you need to execute your vision. Entrepreneurship is foremost about strategy and authorship, expressed by purposeful action, lead by the rhythm of a decisive leader who understands all components in play.
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Virtue // October 2011

I wanted to derive one more entry from the excellent book The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. The aim of the ten chapters of the book is to zero in on the core of our lived experience, which is a blend of conscious and subconscious reasoning, to best align our behavior with principals which balance the individual within the larger world.


In this frame, the eighth chapter of the book addresses the concept of virtue. Haidt explains that virtue is not purity, and it is not the suppression of our wants at all. Rather it is an extension of wisdom tracing back to the Ancient Greeks which teaches that the development of character and the application of ones strengths to the benefit of others yields deep and lasting happiness.


Hereʼs why;


Earlier in the book, it is shown that there are two types of joy; pleasures and gratifications. Pleasures are things which you experience, often sensory luxuries such as nice meals or extra sleep. These produce great joy in the moment, but do not provide lasting elevated emotions, and as the mind becomes accustomed to them they fade into banality.


Even traveling on a private jet, for those for whom it is commonplace, is subject to this ʻadaptation principalʼ.


This is in contrast to what Haidt calles ʻgratificationsʼ. It is from the process of stretching our skills and meeting reality with raised performance that we have a ʻpeak experienceʼ, resulting in gratification. Examples could include anything from delivering a speech to taking a masterful photograph to preparing a meal - or anything where skill developed over time is performed with feedback in the moment.


When earned skill is converted to gratification, it offers us many benefits such as a job well-done, a sense of identity which is earned and admiration from those who witness it. These benefits endure in the mind and build with time, in ways simple pleasures cannot.


By seeing this additional dimension of satisfaction we can more clearly appreciate virtue in the same sense as Ben Franklin, who held.. “A richer notion of virtues as a garden of excellences that a person cultivates to become more effective and appealing to others.”


For entrepreneurs, discovering and developing ones virtues is central to the project of wrangling the good will of others to build a new business. Indeed, when done in the spirit of the ancients, it produces both lasting effects and felt happiness.


happiness-blog

The Value of Adversity // September, 2011

When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.


- Meng Tzu


One constant of entrepreneurship is adversity, for both the business entity and the individuals involved. Does adversity serve a purpose, or is it merely dead resistance? In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, a chapter dedicated to the "value of adversity" illuminates some very positive outcomes from difficult challenges, provided the right mix of individual characteristics and external factors.


The determining factor in whether an individual benefits from setbacks is their natural level of optimism, which allows them to find meaning and lessons within challenges. By converting struggles into stories, and contextualizing the lessons learned within a larger personal narrative, an individual makes progress from the loss of our strongest attachments.


Therefore, the individual must still be flexible in the development of their personal narrative in order to derive the benefit from adversity. Most of us establish our personal narrative between the late teen years and the end of our twenties, making this the ideal period for deep adversity.


Think of how massive fires allowed whole cities to reexamine assumptions and bloom into more cohesive modern metropolises, as was the case with Chicago and London. Likewise, this inner coherence comes to individuals who overcome great hardship and assimilate its lessons into a "vitalizing life-myth".


Haidt continues by explaining that this progress comes in three main areas; revealing resilience, testing relationships and clarifying life values.


Discovering one's true strength is an obvious enough benefit. Building on this, I feel that it's from this resilience that we can confidently take risks - the more resilience, the greater the risks, and the greater the potential rewards.


When reeling from a major downfall we have a chance to glimpse the true nature of the characters in our lives. Who rises to the occasion? Who turns away either from loss of interest, or loss of potential gain? Those who remain true though a battle with cancer or a divorce or a DUI or bankruptcy could be considered our "bankable" friends, our dearest assets. (removing disingenuous people from your life not only strengthens your team, but also frees up a lot of time)


Finally, adversity clarifies one's values for living. If you were to die tomorrow, would you keep doing what you are doing today?


In sum, Haidt shares that people need adversity, setbacks and even trauma to reach the highest levels of strength, fulfillment and personal development.


You can find his talk on TED.com and I strongly recommend The Happiness Hypothesis as a deposit towards one's own wisdom.


Leading this blog series with the topic adversity is a nod to the tremendous people who continued to believe in me through the rough path that lead to the formulation of Currency. I'm grateful and humbled, and proud of what's to come.


Adam Mefford

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