Columbus, OH — Malcolm Gladwell stated in his bestselling novel Outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in a given field, subject or hobby. That’s a lot of time to put into something only to look around and realize you’re now in the company of other experts. So how do you differentiate yourself from a club of knowledgeable, talented individuals?
Chess is played by around 800 million people worldwide, with about 1,500 holding the distinction of the Grandmaster title. Though that is just 0.3% of the total chess playing population, once you’ve joined this elite and exclusive group of players, how do you continue to win and ultimately take home a World Championship? That is the question Magnus Carlsen asked himself. The 28-year-old from Norway is the second-youngest person ever to achieve the title of Grandmaster, doing so at the age of 12. While this is a feat in and of itself, he didn’t stop there. He went on to win four World Championships, the most recent in 2018.
So how did he manage to continually best the most accomplished 1,500 chess players? He understands the game, but he also recognizes that his opponents have a lot of knowledge and experience they are also bringing to the table. To over-simplify, he tries to leave Opening Theory as early as possible in a match. By leaving Opening Theory he forces his opponents to start thinking on their own and improvise, rather than depending on tried-and-true methods. This allows him to apply his own strengths and control the board, while also creating more room for his opponents to miss something or commit an error. In a game that takes great skill, knowledge, and concentration, Carlsen disrupts his opponent’s ability to play to their strengths to tip the scale in his favor. He is confident in his own abilities and continues to apply them, while a seed of doubt grows in the mind of the person on the opposite side of the table.
Unfortunately this tactic doesn’t always apply practically. What if your opponent isn’t a person, but a machine that lacks the flaws, vulnerabilities, and the ability to make mistakes? Sometimes it just takes knowing the system in place that will help you achieve your goal. In the case of James Holzhauer, this meant learning the game of Jeopardy! and mastering his read of the game. On top of knowing every twist and turn in the gaming system, Holzhauer played with an aggressive strategy that allowed him to maximize his earnings at a blistering rate. Due to his background as a gambler, he was comfortable putting a lot of money on the line in riskier circumstances. The current record holder for Jeopardy! winnings took nearly twice as long to make the same amount that James racked up during his 32-game winning-streak.
Business as Unusual
Abandoning a tried-and-true approach to disrupt the rhythm of your opponents or playing by all the rules that everyone knows, but better, each has advantages depending on the situation. These two approaches can teach us a lot about what do when we face hurdles in business. Keep faith in the 10,000-plus hours you and your team have put in and lean in; don’t hesitate. You may find that your ideas, no matter how counter-intuitive or risky, reap the biggest rewards. James and Magnus have both experienced losses, they have both come up short, and they have both had to adapt, but that doesn’t mean they started to doubt their own strengths. Instead they found a new way to apply them, confidently relying on their past experiences to propel them forward.