Franklin tells us about his life and path up until 1791. It was published before his death and has become one of the most famous examples of an autobiography: “He felt the need of school training and set to work to educate himself. He had an untiring industry, and love of the approval of his neighbor; and he knew that more things fail through want of care than want of knowledge. His practical imagination was continually forming projects; and, fortunately for the world, his great physical strength and activity were always setting his ideas in motion.”
From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books.
About this time I met with an odd volume of the “Spectator.” It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view, I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my “Spectator” with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.
I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words “certainly,” “undoubtedly,” or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather saying, “I conceive” or “apprehend” a thing to be so and so; “it appears to me,” or “I should think it so or so,” for such and such reasons; or “I imagine it to be so;” or “it is so, if I am not mistaken.” This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us,—to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure.
So convenient a thing it is to be a “reasonable” creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
I should have mentioned before, that in the autumn of the preceding year I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the “Junto.”
I began now gradually to pay off the debt I was under for the printing house. In order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary. I dressed plainly; I was seen at no places of idle diversion; I never went out a-fishing or shooting; a book, indeed, sometimes debauched me from my work, but that was seldom, snug, and gave no scandal; and, to show that I was not above my business, I sometimes brought home the paper I purchased at the stores through the streets on a wheelbarrow. Thus, being esteemed an industrious, thriving young man, and paying duly for what I bought, the merchants who imported stationery solicited my custom; others proposed supplying me with books, and I went on swimmingly.
And now I set on foot my first project of a public nature,—that for a subscription library. I drew up the proposals, got them put into form by our great scrivener, Brockden, and, by the help of my friends in the Junto, procured fifty subscribers of forty shillings each to begin with, and ten shillings a year for fifty years, the term our company was to continue. We afterward obtained a charter, the company being increased to one hundred. This was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous.
The objections and reluctances I met with in soliciting the subscriptions made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting one’s self as the proposer of any useful project that might be supposed to raise one’s reputation in the smallest degree above that of one’s neighbors, when one has need of their assistance to accomplish that project. I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a “number of friends,” who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way my affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practiced it on such occasions, and, from my frequent successes, can heartily recommend it. The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterward be amply repaid. If it remains awhile uncertain to whom the merit belongs, some one more vain than yourself will be encouraged to claim it, and then even envy will be disposed to do you justice by plucking those assumed feathers, and restoring them to their right owner.
This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allowed myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolics of any kind; and my industry in my business continued as indefatigable as it was necessary.
It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded at length that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurred to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully expressed the extent I gave to its meaning. These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:
Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
Industry. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone through the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that view as they stand above. Temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits and the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquired and established, Silence would be more easy; and, like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time, and, having accomplished the first, proceeds to a second, so I should have, I hoped, the encouraging pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress I made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots, till in the end, by a number of courses, I should be happy in viewing a clean book, after a thirteen-weeks’ daily examination. I entered upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and continued it, with occasional intermissions, for some time. I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.
This article, therefore, cost me so much painful attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my neighbor, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel. He turned, while the smith pressed the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on, and at length would take his ax as it was, without farther grinding. “No,” said the smith, “turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by and by; as yet, it is only speckled.” “Yes,” says the man, “but I think I like a speckled ax best.” And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I employed, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that a “speckled ax” was best.
I did not, however, aim at gaining his favor by paying any servile respect to him, but, after some time, took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favor of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I returned it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favor. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” And it shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove, than to resent, return, and continue, inimical proceedings.
My business was now continually augmenting, and my circumstances growing daily easier, my newspaper having become very profitable, as being for a time almost the only one in this and the neighboring provinces. I experienced, too, the truth of the observation that “after getting the first hundred pounds it is more easy to get the second,” money itself being of a prolific nature.
When I disengaged myself as above mentioned from private business, I flattered myself that, by the sufficient though moderate fortune I had acquired, I had secured leisure during the rest of my life for philosophical studies and amusements.
Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.
The above fact I give for the sake of the following observation. It has been remarked, as an imperfection in the art of ship building, that it can never be known, till she is tried, whether a new ship will or will not be a good sailer; for that the model of a good sailing ship has been exactly followed in a new one, which has proved, on the contrary, remarkably dull. I apprehend that this may partly be occasioned by the different opinions of seamen respecting the modes of lading, rigging, and sailing of a ship. Each has his system; and the same vessel, laden by the judgment and orders of one captain, shall sail better or worse than when by the orders of another. Besides, it scarce ever happens that a ship is formed, fitted for the sea, and sailed by the same person. One man builds the hull, another rigs her, a third lades and sails her. No one of these has the advantage of knowing all the ideas and experience of the others, and therefore cannot draw just conclusions from a combination of the whole.
Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.
If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone.
What I got out of it
Some simple and beautiful anecdotes on how to improve ourselves and our thinking
World chess grand master Gary Kasparov discusses his entrance, rise, and dominance of the chess world
What makes chess such an ideal laboratory for the decision-making process? To play chess on a truly high level requires a constant stream of exact, informed decisions, made in real time and under pressure from your opponent. What’s more, it requires a synthesis of some very different virtues, all of which are necessary to good decisions: calculation, creativity, and a desire for results. If you ask a Grandmaster, an artist, and a computer scientist what makes a good chess player, you’ll get a glimpse of these different strengths in action.
Having spent a lifetime analyzing the game of chess and comparing the capacity of computers to the capacity of the human brain, I’ve often wondered, where does our success come from? The answer is synthesis, the ability to combine creativity and calculation, art and science, into a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Chess is a unique cognitive nexus, a place where art and science come together in the human mind and are then refined and improved by experience.
We can explore our own boundaries and the boundaries of our own lives. But before we go exploring, we’ll need a map. Having a personalized map of your decision-making process is essential, and this book can only roughly chart the stages of observation and analysis that go into drawing that map. The map tells you which areas of your mind are well-known to you and which are still uncharted. It reveals your strengths, weaknesses, and areas as yet untested. Most important, you must look to develop your own map. There is no advantage in trying to identify the common denominator that links you to your friends or colleagues or opponents. We must all look higher and dig deeper, move beyond the basic and universal.
We cannot pick and choose which style we would prefer for ourselves. Personal style is not generic software you can download and install. You must instead recognize what works best for you and then, through challenge and trial, develop your own method—your own map. To begin, ask yourself, What am I lacking? What are my strengths? What type of challenges do I tend to avoid and why? The method you employ to achieve success is a secret because it can be discovered only by you analyzing your own decisions. This is what my questioners should really have been asking me about instead of my trivial habits: How did I push myself? What questions did I ask myself? How did I investigate and understand my strengths and weaknesses? And how did I use what I learned to get better and further define and hone my method?
Better Decision-Making Cannot Be Taught, but It Can Be Self-Taught. Let me explain. You must become conscious of your decision-making processes, and with practice they will improve your intuitive—unconscious— performance. Developing your personal blueprint allows you to make better decisions, to have the confidence to trust your instincts, and to know that no matter the result, you will come out stronger. There, inside each of us, is our unique secret of success. It’s not enough to be talented. It’s not enough to work hard and to study late into the night. You must also become intimately aware of the methods you use to reach your decisions.
Whereas strategy is abstract and based on long-term goals, tactics are concrete and based on finding the best move right now. Tactics are conditional and opportunistic, all about threat and defense. No matter what pursuit you’re engaged in—chess, business, the military, managing a sports team—it takes both good tactics and wise strategy to be successful. As Sun Tzu wrote centuries ago, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
The lesson here is that if you play without long-term goals your decisions will become purely reactive and you’ll be playing your opponent’s game, not your own. As you jump from one new thing to the next, you will be pulled off course, caught up in what’s right in front of you instead of what you need to achieve.
The strategist starts with a goal in the distant future and works backward to the present. A Grandmaster makes the best moves because they are based on what he wants the board to look like ten or twenty moves in the future. This doesn’t require the calculation of countless twenty-move variations. He evaluates where his fortunes lie in the position and establishes objectives. Then he works out the step-by-step moves to accomplish those aims.
“The strategist’s method is to challenge the prevailing assumptions with a single question: Why?” “Why?” is the question that separates visionaries from functionaries, great strategists from mere tacticians. You must ask this question constantly if you are to understand and develop and follow your strategy.
Experience allows us to instantly apply the patterns we have successfully used in the past. Tactics involve calculations that can tax the human brain, but when you boil them down, they are actually the simplest part of chess and are almost trivial compared to strategy. Think of tactics as forced, planned responses, basically a series of “if—then” statements that would make a computer programmer feel right at home.
Every time you make a move, you must consider your opponent’s response, your answer to that response, and so on. A tactic ignites an explosive chain reaction
And yet they never believed the airplane would amount to much beyond novelty and sport. The American scientific community shared that view, and soon the USA fell way behind in the aircraft business. The Wright brothers failed to envision the potential of their creation, and it was left to others to exploit the power of flight for commercial and military purposes.
A key to developing successful strategies is to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, to know what you do well. Two strong chess players can have very different strategies in the same position and they might be equally effective—leaving aside those positions in which a single forced winning line is available. Each player has his own style, his own way of solving problems and making decisions.
So before I played Petrosian again, less than a year after the defeats described above, I spoke with Spassky, who was playing in the same tournament in Yugoslavia. He counseled me that the key was to apply pressure, but just a little, steadily. “Squeeze his balls,” he told me in an unforgettable turn of phrase. “But just squeeze one, not both!”
You must always be aware of your limitations and also of your best qualities. This knowledge allows you to both play your own game and adapt when it is required.
Instead of continuing to be frustrated in my attempts to change the character of the games, I decided my best chance was to go with the flow. Instead of making sharp moves that I thought were more in my style, I played the best solid moves available even if they led to quiet positions. Freed from the psychological difficulty of trying to force the issue in each game, I could just play chess.
Change can be essential, but it should only be made with careful consideration and just cause. Losing can persuade you to change what doesn’t need to be changed, and winning can convince you everything is fine even if you are on the brink of disaster. If you are quick to blame faulty strategy and change it all the time, you don’t really have any strategy at all. Only when the environment shifts radically should you consider a change in fundamentals. We all must walk a fine line between flexibility and consistency. Avoid change for the sake of change.
The problem, as many of these players discovered, is that most of their “original” concepts were rare for good reason. The virtue of innovation only rarely compensates for the vice of inadequacy.
Finally we come to the hardest part of developing and employing strategic thinking: the confidence to use it and the ability to stick to it consistently. Once you have your strategy down on paper, the real work begins. How do you stay on track, and how do you know when you have slipped away from thinking strategically? We stay on track with rigorous questioning of our results, both good and bad, and our ongoing decisions. During a game I question my moves, and after the game I question how accurate my evaluations were in the heat of battle. Were my decisions good ones? Was my strategy sound? If I won, was it due to luck or skill? When this system fails, or fails to operate quickly enough, disaster can strike.
In 2000 I met a former pupil of mine, Vladimir Kramnik, in a sixteen-game match for the world chess championship, my sixth title defense. I had won the title back in 1985, and headed into this match, I had been playing some of the best chess of my life. In other words, I was ripe for defeat. Years of success had made it difficult for me to imagine I could lose. Going into that match, I had won seven consecutive grand slam tournaments in a row and I wasn’t aware of my own weaknesses. I felt I was in great form and unbeatable. After all, hadn’t I beaten everyone else? With each success the ability to change is reduced. My longtime friend and coach, Grandmaster Yuri Dokhoian, aptly compared it to being dipped in bronze. Each victory added another coat.
Questioning yourself must become a habit, one strong enough to surmount the obstacles of overconfidence and dejection. It is a muscle that can be developed only with constant practice.
Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do. —SAVIELLY TARTAKOWER
What exactly do you do when there is nothing to do? We call these phases “positional play” because our goal is to improve our position. You must avoid creating weaknesses, find small ways to improve your pieces, and think small—but never stop thinking. One tends to get lazy in quiet positions, which is why positional masters such as Karpov and Petrosian were so deadly. They were always alert and were happy to go long stretches without any real action on the board if it meant gaining a tiny advantage, and then another. Eventually their opponents would find themselves without any good moves at all, as if they were standing on quicksand.
In life there is no such obligation to move. If you can’t find a useful plan, you can watch television, stick with business as usual, and believe that no news is good news. Human beings are brilliantly creative at finding ways to pass time in unconstructive ways. At these times, a true strategist shines by finding the means to make progress, to strengthen his position and prepare for the inevitable conflict. And conflict, we cannot forget, is inevitable.
I often refer to the need for effective development, something that is now taken for granted by any chess player beyond the rank of novice. But it took the first great American sports hero to demonstrate the importance of this fundamental concept to the world. His lesson, that you should have a solid and well-developed position before going on the attack, is applicable to every field of battle.
Morphy’s secret, and it’s unlikely he was aware of it himself, was his understanding of positional play. Instead of flying directly into an attack, as was the rule in those days, Morphy first made sure everything was ready. He understood that a winning attack should only be launched from a strong position, and that a position with no weaknesses could not be overwhelmed. Unfortunately, he left no map behind, few writings that could explain his method. Morphy was so far ahead of his time that it took another quarter century for these principles of development and attack to be rediscovered and formulated.
Trusting yourself means having faith in your strategy and in your instincts.
Studies performed by Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot have shown that elite players don’t in fact look ahead that much further than considerably weaker players while solving chess problems. They can, on occasion, but it doesn’t define their superior play. A computer may look at millions of moves per second, but lacks a deep sense of why one move is better than another; this capacity for evaluation is where computers falter and humans excel. It doesn’t matter how far ahead you see if you don’t understand what you are looking at. We have seen that precise calculation is the first key to effective decision-making. The second is the ability to evaluate both static (permanent) and fluid factors. When I contemplate my move, I don’t start out by immediately running down the decision tree for every possible move. First I consider all of the elements in the position—such as material and king safety—so I can establish a strategy and develop intermediate objectives. Only when I have these goals in mind do I select the moves to analyze.
In a complicated game this tree of analysis usually stays within a depth of four or five moves—that is, four or five moves for each player, or eight to ten total moves.
The decision tree must constantly be pruned. Move from one variation to the next, discarding the less promising moves and following up the better ones. Don’t jump to another before you’ve reached a conclusion on the move you’re analyzing; you’ll waste precious time and risk confusing yourself. You must also have a sense of when to stop. Discipline yourself to keep calculating until you have determined a path that is clearly the best, or until further analysis won’t return enough value for the time spent.
In some cases, the best move will be so obvious that it’s not necessary to work out all the details, especially if time is of the essence. This is rare, however, and it is often when we assume something is obvious and react hastily that we make a mistake. More often you should break routine by doing more analysis, not less. These are the moments when your instincts tell you that something is lurking below the surface, or that you’ve reached a critical juncture and a deeper look is required. To detect these key moments you must be sensitive to trends and patterns in your analysis. If one of the branches in your analysis starts to show surprising results, good or bad, it’s worth investing the time to find out what’s going on. Sometimes it’s hard to explain exactly what makes those bells go off in your head telling you there is more to be found. The important thing is to listen to them when they ring. One of my best games came about thanks to this sixth sense. I saw the final winning position, an incredible fifteen moves away. It was a feat of calculation, but there is no way your mind can go that far without help from your imagination.
As an aside, although it turned out well for me, my missing the best move illustrates one of the perils of becoming fixated on a distant goal. I was so entranced by my vision of the gold at the end of this rainbow that I stopped looking around as I approached it. I’d convinced myself that such a pretty finish must be scientifically correct too—a potentially dangerous delusion.
As for internal factors, it is clear to me that I would not have achieved such success at anything other than chess. The game came to me naturally, its requirements fitting my talents like a glove. My talents for memorization and calculation were blended with an aggressive streak for an ideal chess combination.
The position doesn’t have to be an exact replica to produce this benefit. If you play the Najdorf Defense your entire career, you develop a feel for what moves to make and when in response to certain ideas and plans. We automatically find parallels and apply our knowledge of analogous positions. A Grandmaster will retain tens of thousands of fragments and patterns of chess data and adds to them constantly through frequent practice. My ability to recall so many games and positions doesn’t mean I have an easier time remembering names, dates, or anything else.
De Groot illustrated this in an elegant fashion in his 1944 study of chess players. He tested players of every level, from former world champions to beginners, seeking to unlock the secrets of master chess. He gave the players a set of positions from games to memorize, then recorded how well they could reproduce them. Predictably, the stronger the player, the better he scored. The elite players scored ninety-three percent, the experts seventy-two percent, the average players just 51 percent. Thirty years later, in 1973, researchers Bill Chase and Herb Simon replicated de Groot’s experiment but added a key second set of test positions. For the second set they placed the pieces on the boards randomly, not following the rules of the game or any pattern at all. As in de Groot’s study, the stronger players scored better on the positions taken from actual games. But with the random positions, all levels of players scored approximately the same. Without being able to utilize patterns, or what psychologists call chunks, the masters didn’t display superior memory prowess. The same processes are at work in every human endeavor. Rote memorization is far less important than the ability to recognize meaningful patterns.
Most people talk about unwinding after work or school, putting the day behind them so they can relax. How much more effective would they become if, at the end of each day, they asked themselves what lessons they had taken away for tomorrow?
Fantasy isn’t something you can turn on with the flip of a switch. The key is to indulge it as often as you can to encourage the habit, to allow your unconventional side to flourish. Everyone develops his own device for prompting his muse. The goal is for it to become continuous and unconscious, so your fantasy is always active.
Before I resigned myself to the seemingly inevitable queen move, I took a deep breath and surveyed the rest of the board. As with so many fantasy moves, this one started with a mental “Wouldn’t it be nice if . . .” If you daydream a little about what you’d like to see happen, sometimes you find that it is really possible.
Too often we quickly discard apparently outlandish ideas and solutions, especially in areas where the known methods have been in place for a long time. The failure to think creatively is as much self-imposed as it is imposed by the parameters of our jobs and of our lives. “What if?” often leads to “Why not?” and at that point we must summon our courage and find out.
The more you experiment, the more successful your experiments will be. Break your routines, even to the point of changing ones you are happy with to see if you can find new and better methods.
If critics and competitors can’t match your results, they will often denigrate the way you achieve them. Fast, intuitive types are called lazy. Dedicated burners of midnight oil are called obsessed. And while it’s obviously not a bad idea to hear and consider the opinions of others, you should be suspicious when these criticisms emerge right on the heels of a success.
Few lives and few endeavors permit such devotion. But in truth it’s not the amount of time that really counts—it’s the quality of your study and how you use your time. Becoming a 24/7 fanatic who counts every minute and second isn’t going to make you a success. The keys to great preparation are self-awareness and consistency. Steady effort pays off, even if not always in an immediate, tangible way.
There was an almost mystical correlation between work and achievement, with no direct tie between them. Perhaps I was benefiting from the chess equivalent of the placebo effect. Going into battle with what I believed were lethal weapons gave me confidence even though they went largely unused and wouldn’t in some cases have been effective.
You can—and must—look for ways to experiment and to push the boundaries of your capacity in different areas.
Now, though retired from professional chess, I stick with my routine as closely as possible. This means hours of sleep, mealtimes, hours of work on different projects, and staying conscious of how these things are balanced daily and weekly. I’ve adapted my new activities into the old chess program, preserving the patterns that have kept me comfortable and productive. Where there used to be chess, there is now politics. Where before I would analyze the games of my chess opponents, I now analyze the statements of my political opponents. My afternoon nap is still sacrosanct.
This isn’t a cookbook, and I’m not offering a recipe for your success. Everyone must create his own successful combinations with the ingredients he has. There are guidelines for what works, but each person has to discover what works for him. This doesn’t happen by itself. Through practice and observation, you must take an active role in your own education.
Evaluating a position goes well beyond looking for the best move. The move is only the result, the product of an equation that must first be imagined and developed. So, determine the relevant factors, measure them, and, most critically, determine the optimal balance among them. Before you can begin your search for the keys to a position, you have to perform this basic due diligence. We can categorize these factors into three groups: material, time, and quality.
Botvinnik made it clear that the worst type of mistake was one produced due to a bad habit because it made you predictable.
Our friends, colleagues, and family usually know much more about our bad habits than we do. Hearing about these psychological tics can be as surprising as being told by your spouse that you snore. Prejudices and preferences in your decisions are unlikely to be harmful as long as you are aware of them and actively work to iron them out. Awareness can mean the difference between a harmless habit and a bias that leads to a dangerous loss of objectivity.
Put that bad piece, that underperforming asset, to good use or get rid of it and your overall position will improve.
Successfully exploiting your advantages leads to greater advantages, eventually great enough to win a decisive amount of material. This is where the alchemy comes in, the transformation of one type of advantage into another. With accurate play we can turn material into time and back again, or invest both for a high return in quality.
When measuring imbalances, you should consider the elements of your operation not just in relation to your rivals’, but also in relation to one another. In chess we talk about having harmony in our position. Are your pieces working together? Is your material developed in accordance with your strategic goals? The difficulty of achieving successful coordination increases with the number of assets.
Physics also tells us that “ordered systems lose less energy than chaotic systems.” In chess terms, when our pieces work together, they can turn one advantage into another without losing quality. A position or a company or a military unit that is disorganized can be torn apart by attempting a transformation. Trying to achieve the objective can leave them so depleted that they are quickly wiped out. This happens most frequently— in chess and in life—when positions or circumstances are already tenuous.
A player in a difficult position tends to make mistakes due to the psychological pressure that comes with knowing he’s in trouble. But another key dynamic is also at work: an inferior position is less able to withstand the loss of energy required by an attempt at change. This is why a company that is in financial trouble should never gamble on a risky venture.
In competitive play, though, that theory rarely holds up. Long before a player becomes a master, he realizes that rote memorization, however prodigious, is useless without understanding. At some point, he’ll reach the end of his memory’s rope and be without a premade fix in a position he doesn’t really understand. Without knowing why all the moves were made, he’ll have little idea of how to continue when play inevitably advances beyond the moves he was able to store in his memory.
All the study and preparation in the world can’t show you what it’s really going to be like in the wild. Observing typical plans in action, mistakes and accidents included, is vastly superior to ivory-tower planning.
Intuition and instinct form the bedrock of our decision-making, especially the rapid-fire decisions that make up our daily lives.
This mentality requires us to overcome the desire to release the tension. Many bad decisions come from wanting to just get the process over to escape the pressure of having to make the decision. This is the worst type of haste, an unforced error. Resist it! If there is no benefit to making the decision at the moment and no penalty in delaying it, use that time to improve your evaluation, to gather more information, and to examine other options. As Margaret Thatcher put it, “I’ve learned one thing in politics. You don’t make a decision until you have to.”
Success Is the Enemy of Future Success
Question the status quo at all times, especially when things are going well. When something goes wrong, you naturally want to do it better the next time, but you must train yourself to want to do it better even when things go right. Failing to do this leads to stagnation and eventual breakdown. For me, it led to a crushing defeat.
It can feel a bit paradoxical to muster up the confidence that we are the best but still compete as if we were outsiders and underdogs. But that’s what it takes.
Perhaps you should create your own “happiness index,” which can be as simple as a mental or actual list of things that motivate you and give you pleasure and satisfaction.
Every person has to find the right balance between confidence and correction, but my rule of thumb is, lose as often as you can take it.
I believe that winning requires a constant and strong psychology not just at the board but in every aspect of your life.
I always knew something was wrong if I wasn’t on edge before a game. Nervous energy is the ammunition we take into any mental battle. If you don’t have enough of it, your concentration will fade. If you have a surplus, the results can be explosive.
In the real world, the moment you believe you are entitled to something is exactly when you are ripe to lose it to someone who is fighting harder.
Bronstein was the most creative player of his generation, and he seemed to have all the ingredients necessary to bring down the world champion. But having set his sights on reaching the final, he found it impossible to raise them to winning the match itself.
Weak human + machine + superior process was greater than a strong computer and, remarkably, greater than a strong human + machine with an inferior process.
A manager might say they built an effective team from a group of individuals with disparate skill sets. An army commander would recognize that a well-coordinated force will almost always triumph over a numerically superior enemy who lacks organization. A company with an efficient management structure, or assembly line, will often have better margins than a larger, less agile competitor. Process is critical, especially since its benefits multiply with each cycle.
Engaging with the weakest points in our game and drilling down so we really understand them is the best and fastest way to improve. Working to become a universal player—someone who can defend as well as attack and is at home in any type of position—may not always have an obvious immediate benefit, especially if you are in a specialized field. But in my experience working toward a universal style creates a rising tide that lifts all boats. Gaining experience in one area improves our overall abilities in unexpected, often inexplicable ways.
It sounds strange to say that being a better artist might make me a stronger chess player or that listening to classical music can make you a more effective manager. And yet this is exactly the sort of thing that Feynman had in mind when he said that being a drummer made him a better physicist. When we regularly challenge ourselves with something new—even something not obviously related to our immediate goals—we build cognitive and emotional “muscles” that make us more effective in every way. If we can overcome our fear of speaking in public, or of submitting a poem to a magazine, or learning a new language, confidence will flow into every area of our lives. Don’t get so caught up in “what I do” that you stop being a curious human being. Your greatest strength is the ability to absorb and synthesize patterns, methods, and information. Intentionally inhibiting that ability by focusing too narrowly is not only a crime, but one with few rewards.
Agatha Christie said of intuition, “You can’t ignore it and you can’t explain it.” But
This is the essential element that cannot be measured by any analysis or device, and I believe it’s at the heart of success in all things: the power of intuition and the ability to harness and use it like a master.
The biggest problem I see among people who want to excel in chess—and in business and in life in general—is not trusting these instincts enough. Too often they rely on having all the information, which then forces them to a conclusion. This effectively reduces them to the role of a microprocessor and guarantees that their intuition will remain dormant.
The truest tests of skill and intuition come when everything looks quiet and we aren’t sure what to do, or if we should do anything at all.
crisis really means a turning point, a critical moment when the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain. It also implies a point of no return. This signifies both danger and opportunity, so Kennedy’s speech was accurate where it mattered.
Apart from its merit as an indicator of good or poor form, the ability to detect these crisis points is a gauge of overall strength in a chess player—and in a decision-maker. The greatest players are distinguished by their ability to recognize crucial factors that are both specific and general.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do in a pressure situation is to allow the tension to persist. The temptation is to make a decision, any decision, even if it is an inferior choice.
One of the constant themes of this book has been how essential it is to continually challenge ourselves. The only way to develop is to venture into the unknown, to take risks, and to learn new things. We must force ourselves out of our comfort zone and trust our ability to adapt and thrive.
What we make of the future is defined by how well we understand and make use of our past. Our past creates a map not only of where we have come from, but of where we are going; on it are marked the things we have valued, and the places we have found success or failure.
I thank Stanley Druckenmiller for his counsel as well as his steady support of chess education in the United States via the Kasparov Chess Foundation,
What I got out of it
Beautiful book on strategy, tactics, mastery, learning. A multi-disciplinary thinker whose insights on chess can help in any endeavor
In this book you will discover the fundamental relationship between oxygen and the body. Improving fitness depends on enhancing the release of oxygen to your muscles, organs, and tissues. Increased oxygenation is not only healthy
The biggest obstacle to your health and fitness is a rarely identified problem: chronic overbreathing
What determines how much of this oxygen your body can use is actually the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood.
The purpose of breathing is to get rid of the excess carbon dioxide, and not to get rid of as much as possible.
I urge you to follow the instructions carefully and measure your BOLT (Body Oxygen Level Test) correctly—by holding your breath only until the first distinct urge to breathe is felt.
In short, the lower the BOLT score, the greater the breathing volume, and the greater your breathing volume, the more breathlessness you will experience during exercise.
Take a normal breath in through your nose and allow a normal breath out through your nose.
Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
Time the number of seconds until you feel the first definite desire to breathe, or the first stresses of your body urging you to breathe. These sensations may include the need to swallow or a constriction of the airways. You may also feel the first involuntary contractions of your breathing muscles in your abdomen or throat as the body gives the message to resume breathing. (Note that BOLT is not a measurement of how long you can hold your breath but simply the time it takes for your body to react to a lack of air.)
Release your nose, stop the timer, and breathe in through your nose. Your inhalation at the end of the breath hold should be calm.
Resume normal breathing.
A common starting BOLT score for an individual who exercises regularly at a moderate intensity will be approximately 20 seconds. If your BOLT score is below 20 seconds, depending on genetic predisposition, you will probably find you experience a blocked nose, coughing, wheezing, disrupted sleep, snoring, fatigue, and excessive breathlessness during physical exercise. Each time that your BOLT score increases by 5 seconds, you will feel better, with more energy and reduced breathlessness during physical exercise. The aim of the Oxygen Advantage program is to increase your BOLT score to 40 seconds, and this can be realistically achieved. Your goal is to maintain a morning BOLT score of 40 seconds for a period of 6 months.
When you undergo the Oxygen Advantage program, you may experience a body detoxification. The extent of the detoxification will depend on your BOLT score and state of health. In general, the higher your BOLT score and the healthier you are, the less likely you will experience a detoxification.
The most important change is to get rid of processed foods in your diet.
The production of nitric oxide in the nasal sinuses can be increased by simply humming.
Nose Unblocking Exercise
Take a small, silent breath in through your nose and a small, silent breath out through your nose.
Pinch your nose with your fingers to hold your breath.
Walk as many paces as possible with your breath held. Try to build up a medium to strong air shortage, without overdoing it.
When you resume breathing, do so only through your nose. Try to calm your breathing immediately.
After resuming your breathing, your first breath will probably be bigger than normal. Make sure that you calm your breathing as soon as possible by suppressing your second and third breaths.
You should be able to recover normal breathing within 2 or 3 breaths. If your breathing is erratic or heavier than usual, you have held your breath for too long.
Wait 1 or 2 minutes before repeating the breath hold.
In order to prepare yourself for the longer breath holds, go easy for the first few repetitions, increasing your paces each time.
Repeat for a total of 6 breath holds, creating a fairly strong need for air.
When you are able to walk a total of 80 paces with the breath held, your nose will remain decongested.
The key to improving the quality of my sleep was incredibly simple: All I had to do was to learn to keep my mouth closed during sleep. Because we are unaware of how we breathe at night, the only sure way to ensure nasal breathing is to wear light paper tape across the lips to prevent the mouth from falling open. The tape that I have found most suitable, as it is simple to use, hypoallergenic, and light, is 3M Micropore tape, which can be bought from most drugstores.
True health and inner peace occurs when breathing is quiet, effortless, soft, through the nose, abdominal, rhythmic, and gently paused on the exhale.
Oxygen Advantage Warm-Up
Begin walking at a pace that is comfortable for you.
During your warm-up, try to breathe regularly and calmly through your nose, using your diaphragm to maintain a gentle and relaxed breathing technique.
Feel your abdomen gently moving outward as you inhale and gently moving inward as you exhale.
As you walk, allow a feeling of relaxation to spread throughout your body. Silently encourage the area around your chest and abdomen to relax (you will find that any tension can be released by silently telling that area of the body to relax). Feel your body relax and become soft. Body relaxation during physical exercise helps to ensure steady, calm, and regular breathing.
After 1 minute or so of walking at a fairly good pace, exhale normally through your nose and pinch your nose with your fingers to hold the breath. (If you are in a public place, you might prefer to hold the breath without holding your nose.)
While holding your breath, walk for 10 to 30 paces, or until you feel a moderate need to breathe. When you feel this hunger for air, let go of your nose and resume breathing through your nose.
Continue walking for 10 minutes, performing a breath hold every minute or so.
You can check whether you are pushing yourself too hard during physical exercise by exhaling normally and holding your breath for 5 seconds. When you resume breathing through the nose, your breathing should remain controlled. If you find that you lose control of your breathing, you are pushing yourself too hard.
Following physical exercise, cool down by walking for 3 to 5 minutes, performing the following small breath holds:
Exhale as normal through the nose.
Pinch your nose with your fingers to hold the breath for 2 to 5 seconds.
Breathe normally through the nose for 10 seconds.
Repeat the first 3 steps throughout your cooldown.
Resume regular breathing.
Follow these steps to track your progress using your BOLT score:
Measure your BOLT score before training.
Perform your physical exercise.
Measure your BOLT score one hour after you finish training.
If your BOLT score is higher after exercise than before, your breathing is efficient during exercise.
If your BOLT score is lower after exercise than before, your breathing is inefficient during exercise. In this situation, it is safer to slow down and ensure your breathing remains controlled throughout exercise.
It seems clear, therefore, that high-intensity training offers several positive benefits to athletes, including:
Improved anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems, allowing for greater endurance, strength, speed, and power
Faster VO2 kinetics, allowing the blood to carry more oxygen to the muscles
Increased tolerance to high-intensity exercise
Decreased recovery time from less than maximum exercise
Reduced lactic acid buildup
Improved oxygenation of active muscles, allowing you to exercise harder and longer
In essence, holding the breath until a medium to strong need for air mobilizes the diaphragm, provides it with a workout and helps to strengthen it.
In a similar way that breath holding delays the onset of fatigue during sports, countless studies have shown that taking the alkaline agent bicarbonate of soda reduces acidity in the blood to improve endurance. Who would have thought that a cooking ingredient found in almost every kitchen cupboard in the Western world could also improve sports performance? Not only that, but it is a very helpful tool to reduce your breathing volume and increase your BOLT score. ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda or bread soda) 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
You should be able to recover your breathing within 2 to 3 breaths following a breath hold.
Similar to any intense physical exercise, it is important to practice at least two hours after eating. Just as it is not advisable to go for a jog directly after eating, it is also best to practice breathing exercises on an empty stomach.
Walk and hold: After a minute of continuous walking, gently exhale and pinch your nose to hold your breath. If you feel uncomfortable pinching your nose while walking in public, you can simply hold your breath without holding your nose. Continue to walk while holding your breath until you feel a medium to strong air shortage. Release your nose, inhale through it, and minimize your breathing by taking very short breaths for about 15 seconds. Then allow your breathing to return to normal.
Continue walking for 30 seconds and repeat: Continue walking for around 30 seconds while breathing through your nose, then gently exhale and pinch your nose with your fingers. Walk while holding the breath until you feel a medium to strong hunger for air. Release your nose and minimize your breathing by taking short breaths in and out through your nose for about 15 seconds. Then allow your breathing to revert to normal.
Repeat breath holds 8 to 10 times: While continuing to walk, perform a breath hold every minute or so in order to create a medium to strong need for air. Minimize your breathing for 15 seconds following each breath hold. Repeat for a total of 8 to 10 breath holds during your walk.
Breath holding can also be incorporated into a jog, run, or bike ride. While you may not be able to hold your breath for as many paces during a jog as you can during a walk, the quality of the exercise will be better because of the greater accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood.
Run and hold: Ten to fifteen minutes into your run, when your body has warmed up and is sweating, gently exhale and hold your breath until you experience a medium to strong air shortage. The length of the breath hold may range from 10 to 40 paces and will depend on your running speed and BOLT score.
Break for 1 minute and repeat: Following the breath hold, continue to jog or run with nasal breathing for about 1 minute, until your breathing has partially recovered.
Repeat breath holds 8 to 10 times: Repeat the breath hold 8 to 10 times during your run, followed each time by a minute of nasal breathing. The breath holds should be challenging but should also allow breathing to recover to normal within a couple of breaths.
A still mind can be attained through having a high BOLT score, using meditation, and developing awareness of the mind—nothing else.
We are conditioned to believe that in order to be productive and successful we must be constantly doing something. This belief, which forms the basis of modern society, is quite insane. We are not human doings; we are human beings.
My life was completely transformed by three simple techniques: breathing lightly, merging with my inner body, and bringing my attention into the present moment.
To reduce and eventually eliminate breathing through the mouth at night, follow these guidelines:
Avoid eating within the 2 hours before sleep, as the process of digestion increases breathing.
Keep your bedroom cool and airy (but not cold). A hot and stuffy room will only serve to increase breathing.
Sleep on your front or left side; sleeping on your back is by far the worst position, as there is no restriction to your breathing.
Ensure that your mouth is closed while you try to get to sleep (you can wear 1-inch Micropore tape across the lips as described in chapter 3 to help ensure this).
A most important practice to discourage heavy breathing at night is to Breathe Light to Breathe Right for 15 to 20 minutes before going to sleep. This exercise is especially good for calming the mind and helping you to experience deep sleep during the nights leading up to competition.
Along with beet juice, essential nitric oxide–producing, heart-protecting food sources to include in your diet include fish, green vegetables, dark chocolate, red wine (a glass per day—not the bottle!), pomegranate juice, green or black tea, and oatmeal. Food sources to be limited in your diet include the usual culprits of meat and processed foods. Along with eating the right foods, supplementing your diet with the amino acid L-arginine has been proven to increase nitric oxide production, although results vary depending on age and genetics. These simple changes to your diet, in addition to simply breathing lightly through your nose, may provide the key to lifelong cardiovascular health.
Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT) summary exercises
Nose Unblocking Exercise
Breathe Light to Breathe Right
Breathe Light to Breathe Right—Jogging, Running, or Any Other Activity
The only way to know you are reducing your breathing volume is feeling as if you would like to take in a bigger breath.
The most common mistake is to deliberately tense the muscles of the chest or abdomen to restrict breathing movements.
What I got out of it
Some good remidnres about the importance of breathing correctly and improving your oxygen:carbon dioxide levels. Some actionable and concrete steps you can take to improve and train yourself. See also Wim Hof
The story about traders on Wall Street, how the body and mind react to stressful moments, and how the mind does it so quickly that we aren’t consciously aware of it. It is the biology of stress and risk that the author will analyze and explain
When there is a bull market or potentially a bubble, there are excess profits and this tends to lead to excessive risk taking, overconfidence, and general mania for those who are benefiting from it.
Some fascinating questions have been raised whether the increased use of anti-depressants and other drugs could have been so widely and regularly used in the early 2000’s that it changed the brains and risk-aversion tendencies of the traders who used them, exacerbating the dot com bubble
Women were relatively unaffected during the dot com boom and the author argues it is because of their lower levels of testosterone which leads to lower risk taking and more independent thinking when everyone else around them is losing it
Mistakes are made when we artificially separate and silo systems which are truly united. This happens in economics when we assume a perfectly rational human and, in this case, the author argues that the mind and body should be considered one – what happens in the mind affects the body and what happens in the body affects the mind
The feelings we experience during stress comes about because our body is changing, preparing itself for physical movement
There is a hypothesis that when fuel is running low our bodies and minds function by a last in first out methodology meaning that the things that evolve last such a self-control are the first to go when food is scarce
Importantly, novelty, uncertainty, and situations which are out of our control can have as big of an effect on our bodies and minds as real danger does
Goes deeply into the effects that cortisol and testosterone have on the body. Too little and we’re lethargic but too much leaves to overly risky behavior. Have to find the happy medium, flow
The best traders, like the best athletes, are able to toggle between high stress moments and deep relaxation. The more amateur are in a consistent level of stress, never able to relax. The different physiological changes is also manifested in higher HRV in the higher level traders and athletes
Physical exercise, especially very intense and short spurts and cold exposure, can help us train our physical and emotional toughness
What I got out of it
Some decently fun stories about finance, risk taking, intuition. I’d recommend Sapolsky’s Why Zebra’s Get Ulcers if you’re interested in this
The Courage to Be Disliked follows a conversation between a young man and a philosopher as they discuss the tenets of Alfred Adler’s theories. This book presents simple and straightforward answers to the philsophical question: how can one be happy?
Past doesn’t matter
None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.
PHILOSOPHER: If we focus only on past causes and try to explain things solely through cause and effect, we end up with “determinism.” Because what this says is that our present and our future have already been decided by past occurrences, and are unalterable. Am I wrong? YOUTH: So you’re saying that the past doesn’t matter? PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that is the standpoint of Adlerian psychology.
Trauma doesn’t exist
YOUTH: Wait a minute! Are you denying the existence of trauma altogether? PHILOSOPHER: Yes, I am. Adamantly. YOUTH: What! Aren’t you, or I guess I should say Adler, an authority on psychology? PHILOSOPHER: In Adlerian psychology, trauma is definitively denied. This was a very new and revolutionary point. Certainly, the Freudian view of trauma is fascinating. Freud’s idea is that a person’s psychic wounds (traumas) cause his or her present unhappiness. When you treat a person’s life as a vast narrative, there is an easily understandable causality and sense of dramatic development that creates strong impressions and is extremely attractive. But Adler, in denial of the trauma argument, states the following: “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—but instead we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.” We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.
“People are not driven by past causes but move toward goals that they themselves set”
The first step to change is knowing.
The important thing is not what one is born with but what use one makes of that equipment.
Unhappiness Is Something You Choose for Yourself
Yes, you can. People can change at any time, regardless of the environments they are in. You are unable to change only because you are making the decision not
Adlerian psychology is a psychology of courage. Your unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just lack courage. One might say you are lacking in the courage to be happy.
Adler’s teleology tells us, “No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.” That you, living in the here and now, are the one who determines your own life.
All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems
The feeling of inferiority is a kind of launch pad? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. One tries to get rid of one’s feeling of inferiority and keep moving forward. One’s never satisfied with one’s present situation—even if it’s just a single step, one wants to make progress. One wants to be happier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of this kind of feeling of inferiority. There are, however, people who lose the courage to take a single step forward, who cannot accept the fact that the situation can be changed by making realistic efforts.
The condition of having a feeling of inferiority is a condition of feeling some sort of lack in oneself in the present situation. So then, the question is— YOUTH: How do you fill in the part that’s missing, right? PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. How to compensate for the part that is lacking. The healthiest way is to try to compensate through striving and growth.
You’re saying that boasting is an inverted feeling of inferiority? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. If one really has confidence in oneself, one doesn’t feel the need to boast. It’s because one’s feeling of inferiority is strong that one boasts. One feels the need to flaunt one’s superiority all the more. There’s the fear that if one doesn’t do that, not a single person will accept one “the way I am.” This is a full-blown superiority complex.
Adler himself pointed out, “In our culture weakness can be quite strong and powerful.” YOUTH: So weakness is powerful? PHILOSOPHER: Adler says, “In fact, if we were to ask ourselves who is the strongest person in our culture, the logical answer would be, the baby. The baby rules and cannot be dominated.” The baby rules over the adults with his weakness. And it is because of this weakness that no one can control him.
20. YOUTH: So life is not a competition? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. It’s enough to just keep moving in a forward direction, without competing with anyone. And, of course, there is no need to compare oneself with others.
A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.
Human beings are all equal, but not the same.
Does that mean you dropped out of competition? That you somehow accepted defeat? PHILOSOPHER: No. I withdrew from places that are preoccupied with winning and losing. When one is trying to be oneself, competition will inevitably get in the way.
There are probably a lot of people who feel mystified by seeing a child who cuts his wrists, and they think, Why would he do such a thing? But try to think how the people around the child—the parents, for instance—will feel as a result of the behavior of wrist cutting. If you do, the goal behind the behavior should come into view of its own accord.
Once the interpersonal relationship reaches the revenge stage, it is almost impossible for either party to find a solution. To prevent this from happening, when one is challenged to a power struggle, one must never allow oneself to be taken in.
So when you’re hung up on winning and losing, you lose the ability to make the right choices? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. It clouds your judgment, and all you can see is imminent victory or defeat. Then you turn down the wrong path. It’s only when we take away the lenses of competition and winning and losing that we can begin to correct and change ourselves.
In Adlerian psychology, clear objectives are laid out for human behavior and psychology. YOUTH: What sort of objectives? PHILOSOPHER: First, there are two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. Then, the two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors are the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades.
Work that can be completed without the cooperation of other people is in principle unfeasible.
There’s no value at all in the number of friends or acquaintances you have. And this is a subject that connects with the task of love, but what we should be thinking about is the distance and depth of the relationship.
If you change, those around you will change too. They will have no choice but to change.
You are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations, and neither am I. It is not necessary to satisfy other people’s expectations. When one seeks recognition from others, and concerns oneself only with how one is judged by others, in the end, one is living other people’s lives.
One does not intrude on other people’s tasks. That’s all. In general, all interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own tasks intruded on. Carrying out the separation of tasks is enough to change one’s interpersonal relationships dramatically. There is a simple way to tell whose task it is. Think, Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about by the choice that is made?
You are the only one who can change yourself.
One can build them. The separation of tasks is not the objective for interpersonal relationships. Rather, it is the gateway. YOUTH: The gateway? PHILOSOPHER: For instance, when reading a book, if one brings one’s face too close to it, one cannot see anything. In the same way, forming good interpersonal relationships requires a certain degree of distance. When the distance gets too small and people become stuck together, it becomes impossible to even speak to each other. But the distance must not be too great, either. Parents who scold their children too much become mentally very distant.
As I have stated repeatedly, in Adlerian psychology, we think that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. In other words, we seek release from interpersonal relationships. We seek to be free from interpersonal relationships. However, it is absolutely impossible to live all alone in the universe. In light of what we have discussed until now, the conclusion we reach regarding “What is freedom?” should be clear. YOUTH: What is it? PHILOSOPHER: In short, that “freedom is being disliked by other people.” It’s that you are disliked by someone. It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles. YOUTH: But, but . . . PHILOSOPHER: It is certainly distressful to be disliked. If possible, one would like to live without being disliked by anyone. One wants to satisfy one’s desire for recognition. But conducting oneself in such a way as to not be disliked by anyone is an extremely unfree way of living, and is also impossible. There is a cost incurred when one wants to exercise one’s freedom. And the cost of freedom in interpersonal relationships is that one is disliked by other people. The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.
If other people are our comrades, and we live surrounded by them, we should be able to find in that life our own place of “refuge.” Moreover, in doing so, we should begin to have the desire to share with our comrades, to contribute to the community. This sense of others as comrades, this awareness of “having one’s own refuge,” is called “community feeling.” When Adler refers to community, he goes beyond the household, school, workplace, and local society, and treats it as all-inclusive, covering not only nations and all of humanity but also the entire axis of time from the past to the future—and he includes plants and animals and even inanimate objects.
It is necessary to make the switch from “attachment to self” to “concern for others.”
People who hold the belief that they are the center of the world always end up losing their comrades before long.
Physical punishment is out of the question, of course, and rebuking is not accepted, either. One must not praise, and one must not rebuke. That is the standpoint of Adlerian psychology. In other words, the mother who praises the child by saying things like “You’re such a good helper!” or “Good job!” or “Well, aren’t you something!” is unconsciously creating a hierarchical relationship and seeing the child as beneath her. You must simply encourage
As you may recall from our discussion on the separation of tasks, I brought up the subject of intervention. This is the act of intruding on other people’s tasks. So why does a person intervene? Here, too, in the background, vertical relationships are at play. It is precisely because one perceives interpersonal relations as vertical, and sees the other party as beneath one, that one intervenes. Through intervention, one tries to lead the other party in the desired direction. One has convinced oneself that one is right and that the other party is wrong. Of course, the intervention here is manipulation, pure and simple. Parents commanding a child to study is a typical example of this. They might be acting out of the best of intentions from their points of view, but when it comes down to it, the parents are intruding and attempting to manipulate the child to go in their desired direction. YOUTH: If one can build horizontal relationships, will that intervention disappear? PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it will. Concretely speaking, instead of commanding from above that the child must study, one acts on him in such a way that he can gain the confidence to take care of his own studies and face his tasks on his own.
Being praised is what leads people to form the belief that they have no ability. YOUTH: What did you say? PHILOSOPHER: Shall I repeat myself? The more one is praised by another person, the more one forms the belief that one has no ability. Please do your best to remember this. You convey words of gratitude, saying thank you to this partner who has helped you with your work. You might express straightforward delight: “I’m glad.” Or you could convey your thanks by saying, “That was a big help.” This is an approach to encouragement that is based on horizontal relationships. YOUTH: That’s all? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. The most important thing is to not judge other people. “Judgment” is a word that comes out of vertical relationships. If one is building horizontal relationships, there will be words of more straightforward gratitude and respect and joy. YOUTH:
This is a point that will connect to our subsequent discussion as well—in Adlerian psychology, a great deal of emphasis is given to “contribution.” YOUTH: Why is that? PHILOSOPHER: Well, what does a person have to do to get courage? In Adler’s view, “It is only when a person is able to feel that he has worth that he can possess courage.”
So the issue that arises at this point is how on earth can one become able to feel one has worth? YOUTH: Yes, that’s it exactly! I need you to explain that very clearly, please. PHILOSOPHER: It’s quite simple. It is when one is able to feel “I am beneficial to the community” that one can have a true sense of one’s worth. This is the answer that would be offered in Adlerian psychology.
I should start? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. Without regard to whether other people are cooperative or not.
This is a very important point. Does one build vertical relationships, or does one build horizontal relationships? This is an issue of lifestyle, and human beings are not so clever as to be able to have different lifestyles available whenever the need arises. In other words, deciding that one is “equal to this person” or “in a hierarchical relationship with that person” does not work. YOUTH: Do you mean that one has to choose one or the other—vertical relationships or horizontal relationships? PHILOSOPHER: Absolutely, yes.
Excessive Self-Consciousness Stifles the Self
There is no need to go out of one’s way to be positive and affirm oneself. It’s not self-affirmation that we are concerned with, but self-acceptance. YOUTH: Not self-affirmation, but self-acceptance? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. There is a clear difference. Self-affirmation is making suggestions to oneself, such as “I can do it” or “I am strong,” even when something is simply beyond one’s ability. It is a notion that can bring about a superiority complex, and may even be termed a way of living in which one lies to oneself. With self-acceptance, on the other hand, if one cannot do something, one is simply accepting “one’s incapable self” as is and moving forward so that one can do whatever one can. It is not a way of lying to oneself.
This is also the case with the separation of tasks—one ascertains the things one can change and the things one cannot change. One cannot change what one is born with. But one can, under one’s own power, go about changing what use one makes of that equipment. So in that case, one simply has to focus on what one can change, rather than on what one cannot. This is what I call self-acceptance.
The basis of interpersonal relations is founded not on trust but on confidence. YOUTH: And “confidence” in this case is . . . ? PHILOSOPHER: It is doing without any set conditions whatsoever when believing in others. Even if one does not have sufficient objective grounds for trusting someone, one believes. One believes unconditionally without concerning oneself with such things as security. That is confidence.
Well, I see what you’re getting at—the main objective, which is to build deep relationships. But still, being taken advantage of is scary, and that’s the reality, isn’t it? PHILOSOPHER: If it is a shallow relationship, when it falls apart the pain will be slight. And the joy that relationship brings each day will also be slight. It is precisely because one can gain the courage to enter into deeper relationships by having confidence in others that the joy of one’s interpersonal relations can grow, and one’s joy in life can grow, too.
To take it a step farther, one may say that people who think of others as enemies have not attained self-acceptance and do not have enough confidence in others.
Contribution to others does not connote self-sacrifice. Adler goes so far as to warn that those who sacrifice their own lives for others are people who have conformed to society too much. And please do not forget: We are truly aware of our own worth only when we feel that our existence and behavior are beneficial to the community, that is to say, when one feels “I am of use to someone.” Do you remember this? In other words, contribution to others, rather than being about getting rid of the “I” and being of service to someone, is actually something one does in order to be truly aware of the worth of the “I.” YOUTH: Contributing to others is for oneself? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. There is no need to sacrifice the self.
Acceptance: accepting one’s irreplaceable “this me” just as it is. Confidence in others: to place unconditional confidence at the base of one’s interpersonal relations rather than seeding doubt.
For the sake of convenience, up to this point I have discussed self-acceptance, confidence in others, and contribution to others, in that order. However, these three are linked as an indispensable whole, in a sort of circular structure. It is because one accepts oneself just as one is—one self-accepts—that one can have “confidence in others” without the fear of being taken advantage of. And it is because one can place unconditional confidence in others, and feel that people are one’s comrades, that one can engage in “contribution to others.” Further, it is because one contributes to others that one can have the deep awareness that “I am of use to someone” and accept oneself just as one is. One can self-accept.
They probably try to justify that by saying, “It’s busy at work, so I don’t have enough time to think about my family.” But this is a life-lie. They are simply trying to avoid their other responsibilities by using work as an excuse. One ought to concern oneself with everything, from household chores and child-rearing to one’s friendships and hobbies and so on. Adler does not recognize ways of living in which certain aspects are unusually dominant.
On such occasions, those who can accept themselves only on the level of acts are severely damaged. YOUTH: You mean those people whose lifestyle is all about work? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. People whose lives lack harmony.
Does one accept oneself on the level of acts, or on the level of being? This is truly a question that relates to the courage to be happy.
For a human being, the greatest unhappiness is not being able to like oneself. Adler came up with an extremely simple answer to address this reality. Namely, that the feeling of “I am beneficial to the community” or “I am of use to someone” is the only thing that can give one a true awareness that one has worth.
Happiness is the feeling of contribution.
If one really has a feeling of contribution, one will no longer have any need for recognition from others. Because one will already have the real awareness that “I am of use to someone,” without needing to go out of one’s way to be acknowledged by others. In other words, a person who is obsessed with the desire for recognition does not have any community feeling yet, and has not managed to engage in self-acceptance, confidence in others, or contribution to others.
What Adlerian psychology emphasizes at this juncture are the words “the courage to be normal.” YOUTH: The courage to be normal? PHILOSOPHER: Why is it necessary to be special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self. And it is precisely for this reason that when being especially good becomes a lost cause, one makes the huge leap to being especially bad—the opposite extreme. But is being normal, being ordinary, really such a bad thing? Is it something inferior? Or, in truth, isn’t everybody normal? It is necessary to think this through to its logical conclusion.
This conception, which treats life as a kind of story, is an idea that links with Freudian etiology (the attributing of causes), and is a way of thinking that makes the greater part of life into something that is “en route.” YOUTH: Well, what is your image of life? PHILOSOPHER: Do not treat it as a line. Think of life as a series of dots. If you look through a magnifying glass at a solid line drawn with chalk, you will discover that what you thought was a line is actually a series of small dots. Seemingly linear existence is actually a series of dots; in other words, life is a series of moments.
If life were a line, then life planning would be possible. But our lives are only a series of dots. A well-planned life is not something to be treated as necessary or unnecessary, as it is impossible.
You should be on a journey the moment you step outside your home, and all the moments on the way to your destination should be a journey. Of course, there might be circumstances that prevent you from making it to the pyramid, but that does not mean you didn’t go on a journey. This is “energeial life.”
The greatest life-lie of all is to not live here and now. It is to look at the past and the future, cast a dim light on one’s entire life, and believe that one has been able to see something.
And Adler, having stated that “life in general has no meaning,” then continues, “Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual.”
No matter what moments you are living, or if there are people who dislike you, as long as you do not lose sight of the guiding star of “I contribute to others,” you will not lose your way, and you can do whatever you like. Whether you’re disliked or not, you pay it no mind and live free.
Philosophy refers not to “wisdom” itself but to “love of wisdom,” and it is the very process of learning what one does not know and arriving at wisdom that is important. Whether or not one attains wisdom in the end is not an issue.
What I got out of it
I think the narrative format is really helpful to make some concepts very concrete and memorable – all problems are interpersonal problems; you can be happy today; you are the only one who can change you; happiness is contribution; past doesn’t matter; trauma isn’t real – we are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give to them; separation of tasks; courage comes from the confidence that you can contribute, that you are worthy; only encouragement and not praise
This book examines Great Groups systematically in the hope of finding out how their collective magic is made.
Focused on seven epic teams that have had enduring impact. They are:
The Walt Disney studio, which invented the animated feature film in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Great Groups at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)
Apple, which first made computers easy to use and accessible to nonexperts
The 1992 Clinton campaign, which put the first Democrat in the White House since Jimmy Carter
The elite corps of aeronautical engineers and fabricators who built radically new planes at Lockheed’s top-secret Skunk Works
The influential arts school and experimental community known as Black Mountain College
The Manhattan Project.
Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.
Great Groups have some odd things in common. For example, they tend to do their brilliant work in spartan, even shabby, surroundings.
Efficiency is, in fact, not a word much used by the groups in this book. Driven by a belief in their mission, unconcerned by working hours or working conditions, these groups aim to make a difference, not to make money. Could efficiency, productivity, and the desire for immediate pay-offs occasionally be road blocks on the way to greatness?
The more I learned, the more I realized that the usual way of looking at groups and leadership, as separate phenomena, was no longer adequate. The most exciting groups—the ones, like those chronicled in this book, that shook the world—resulted from a mutually respectful marriage between an able leader and an assemblage of extraordinary people. Groups become great only when everyone in them, leaders and members alike, is free to do his or her absolute best.
Great Groups are inevitably forged by people unafraid of hiring people better than themselves. Such recruiters look for two things: excellence and the ability to work with others.
But probably the most important thing that young members bring to a Great Group is their often delusional confidence. Time forces people, however brilliant, to taste their own mortality. In short, experience tends to make people more realistic, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Virtually every Great Group defines itself in terms of an enemy. Sometimes the enemy is real, as the Axis powers were for the Manhattan Project. But, more often, the chief function of the enemy is to solidify and define the group itself, showing it what it is by mocking what it is not.
Life in Great Groups is different from much of real life. It’s better. Bambi veteran Jules Engel recalls that the great Disney animators couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to get back to their drawing boards. Fermi and the other geniuses of the Manhattan Project continued to work on the Gadget even when hiking in the mountains on their Sundays off. It wasn’t simply that the work was fascinating and vitally important. The process itself was exciting, even joyous.
Something happens in these groups that doesn’t happen in ordinary ones, even very good ones. Some alchemy takes place that results, not only in a computer revolution or a new art form, but in a qualitative change in the participants. If only for the duration of the project, people in Great Groups seem to become better than themselves. They are able to see more, achieve more, and have a far better time doing it than they can working alone.
The leaders who can do so must first of all command unusual respect. Such a leader has to be someone a greatly gifted person thinks is worth listening to, since genius almost always has other options. Such a leader must be someone who inspires trust, and deserves it. And though civility is not always the emblematic characteristic of Great Groups, it should be a trait of anyone who hopes to lead one.
“I explained my views to the orchestra. I did not impose them. The right response, if forced, is not the same as the right response when it comes out of conviction.”
Who succeeds in forming and leading a Great Group? He or she is almost always a pragmatic dreamer. They are people who get things done, but they are people with immortal longings. Often, they are scientifically minded people with poetry in their souls, people like Oppenheimer, who turned to the Bhagavad Gita to express his ambivalence about the atom and its uses. They are always people with an original vision. A dream is at the heart of every Great Group. It is always a dream of greatness, not simply an ambition to succeed. The dream is the engine that drives the group, the vision that inspires the team to work as if the fate of civilization rested on getting its revolutionary new computer out the door.
The way an environment is structured can have an enormous imp
act on creativity, for good or for ill. The atmosphere most conducive to creativity is one in which individuals have a sense of autonomy and yet are focused on the collective goal. Constraint (perceived as well as real) is a major killer of creativity, Amabile has found. Freedom or autonomy is its major enhancer.
Many Great Groups have a dual administration. They have a visionary leader, and they have someone who protects them from the outside world, the “suits.”
The zeal with which people in Great Groups work is directly related to how effectively the leader articulates the vision that unites them.
The best leaders understand very basic truths about human beings. They know that we long for meaning.
Jack Welch once said of his role at General Electric, “Look, I only have three things to do. I have to choose the right people, allocate the right number of dollars, and transmit ideas from one division to another with the speed of light.”
Luciano De Crescenzos observation that “we are all angels with only one wing, we can only fly while embracing each other” is just as true for the leader as for any of the others.
The ability to plan for what has not yet happened, for a future that has only been imagined, is one of the hallmarks of leadership of a Great Group,
Americans don’t like people claiming credit for other people’s work. It violates their sense of fair play. And so Walt Disney was more or less forced to come up with a satisfactory explanation of exactly what he did at the company that bore his name. The Disney version of the truth, the one that the studio would turn to again and again, was the bee story. It appeared, for instance, in “The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney,” an article on the Disney empire that ran in National Geographic in August 1963: You know, I was stumped one day when a little boy asked, “Do you draw Mickey Mouse?” I had to admit I do not draw any more. “Then you think up all the jokes and ideas?” “No,” I said, “I don’t do that.” Finally, he looked at me and said, “Mr. Disney, just what do you do?” “Well,” I said, “sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area of the studio to another and gather pollen and sort of stimulate everybody.” I guess that’s the job I do. I certainly don’t consider myself a businessman, and I never did believe I was worth anything as an artist.
Greatness starts with superb people.
They see connections. Often they have specialized skills, combined with broad interests and multiple frames of reference. They tend to be deep generalists, not narrow specialists. They are not so immersed in one discipline that they can’t see solutions in another. They are problem solvers before they are computer scientists or animators. They can no more stop looking for new relationships and new, better ways of doing things than they can stop breathing. And they have the tenacity so important in accomplishing anything of value.
Great Groups and great leaders create each other.
Disney, John Andrew Rice, and Steve Jobs not only headed Great Groups, they found their own greatness in them. As Howard Gardner points out, Oppenheimer showed no great administrative ability before or after the Manhattan Project. And yet when the world needed him, he was able to rally inner resources that probably surprised even himself. Inevitably, the leader of a Great Group has to invent a leadership style that suits it. The standard models, especially the command-and-control style, simply won’t work.
Every Great Group has a strong leader.
This is one of the paradoxes of creative collaboration. Great Groups are made up of people with rare gifts working together as equals. Yet, in virtually every one there is one person who acts as maestro, organizing the genius of the others. He or she is a pragmatic dreamer, a person with an original but attainable vision. Ironically, the leader is able to realize his or her dream only if the others are free to do exceptional work. Typically, the leader is the one who recruits the others, by making the vision so palpable and seductive that they see it, too, and eagerly sign up.
Leaders of Great Groups inevitably have exquisite taste. They are not creators in the same sense that the others are. Rather, they are curators, whose job is not to make, but to choose. The ability to recognize excellence in others and their work may be the defining talent of leaders of Great Groups.
The respect issue is a critical one. Great Groups are voluntary associations. People are in them, not for money, not even for glory, but because they love the work, they love the project. Everyone must have complete faith in the leader’s instincts and integrity vis-a-vis the work.
The leaders of Great Groups love talent and know where to find it.
The broader and more diverse the network, the greater the potential for a Great Group. The richer the mix of people, the more likely that new connections will be made, new ideas will emerge.
Being part of a group of superb people has a profound impact on every member. Participants know that inclusion is a mark of their own excellence. Everyone in such a group becomes engaged in the best kind of competition—a desire to perform as well as or better than one’s colleagues, to warrant the esteem of people for whom one has the highest respect. People in Great Groups are always stretching because of the giants around them. For members of such groups, the real competition is with themselves, an ongoing test of just how good they are and how completely they can use their gifts.
Great Groups are full of talented people who can work together.
Certain tasks can only be performed collaboratively, and it is madness to recruit people, however gifted, who are incapable of working side by side toward a common goal.
Although the ability to work together is a prerequisite for membership in a Great Group, being an amiable person, or even a pleasant one, isn’t. Great Groups are probably more tolerant of personal idiosyncrasies than are ordinary ones, if only because the members are so intensely focused on the work itself. That all-important task acts as a social lubricant, minimizing frictions. Sharing information and advancing the work are the only real social obligations.
Great Groups think they are on a mission from God.
Their clear, collective purpose makes everything they do seem meaningful and valuable. A powerful enough vision can transform what would otherwise be loss and drudgery into sacrifice.
The army had recruited talented engineers and others from all over the United States for special duty on the project. They were assigned to work on the primitive computers of the period, doing energy calculations and other tedious jobs. But the army, obsessed with security, refused to tell them anything specific about the project. They didn’t know that they were building a weapon that could end the war or even what their calculations meant. They were simply expected to do the work, which they did—slowly and not very well. Feynman, who supervised the technicians, prevailed on his superiors to tell the recruits what they were doing and why. Permission was granted to lift the veil of secrecy, and Oppenheimer gave them a special lecture on the nature of the project and their own contribution. ’’Complete transformation,” Feynman recalled. “They began to invent ways of doing it better. They improved the scheme. They worked at night. They didn’t need supervising in the night; they didn’t need anything. They understood everything; they invented several of the programs that we used.” Ever the scientist, Feynman calculated that the work was done “nearly ten times as fast” after it had meaning.
Leaders of Great Groups understand the power of rhetoric. They recruit people for crusades, not jobs.
Every Great Group is an island—but an island with a bridge to the mainland.
Great Groups become their own worlds. They also tend to be physically removed from the world around them.
People who are trying to change the world need to be isolated from it, free from its distractions, but still able to tap its resources.
Participants in Great Groups create a culture of their own—with distinctive customs, dress, jokes, even a private language. They find their own names for the things that are important to them, a language that both binds them together and keeps nonmembers out. Such groups tend to treasure their secrets.
Great groups see themselves as winning underdogs.
Great Groups always have an enemy.
When there is no enemy, you have to make one up.
Competition with an outsider seems to boost creativity. “Win-lose” competition within the group reduces it.
People in Great Groups have blinders on.
In Great Groups, you don’t find people who are distracted by peripheral concerns, including such perfectly laudable ones as professional advancement and the quality of their private lives. Ivy League colleges are full of well-rounded people. Great Groups aren’t. Great Groups are full of indefatigable people who are struggling to turn a vision into a machine and whose lawns and goldfish have died of neglect. Such people don’t stay up nights wondering if they are spending enough time with the children. For the duration, participants have only one passion—the task at hand. People in Great Groups fall in love with the project.
But Great Groups often have a dark side. Members frequently make a Faustian bargain, trading the quiet pleasures of normal life for the thrill of discovery Their families often pay the price. For some group members, the frenzied labor of the project is their drug of choice, a way to evade other responsibilities or to deaden loss or pain.
Great Groups are optimistic, not realistic.
As Seligman explained to Fortune magazine, the people most likely to succeed are those who combine “reasonable talent with the ability to keep going in the face of defeat.”
Alan Kay once observed, “The way to do good science is to be incredibly critical without being depressed.” Great Groups don’t lose hope in the face of complexity. The difficulty of the task adds to their joy.
In Great Groups the right person has the right job.
Too many companies believe people are interchangeable. Truly gifted people never are. They have unique talents. Such people cannot be forced into roles they are not suited for, nor should they be. Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do.
Many projects never transcend mediocrity because their leaders suffer from the Hollywood syndrome. This is the arrogant and misguided belief that power is more important than talent. It is the too common view that everyone should be so grateful for a role in a picture or any other job that he or she should be willing to do whatever is asked, even if it’s dull or demeaning
The leaders of Great Groups give them what they need and free them from the rest.
Successful groups reflect the leader’s profound, not necessarily conscious, understanding of what brilliant people want. Most of all, they want a worthy challenge, a task that allows them to explore the whole continent of their talent. They want colleagues who stimulate and challenge them and whom they can admire. What they don’t want are trivial duties and obligations. Successful leaders strip the workplace of nonessentials.
All Great Groups share information effectively. Many of the leaders we have looked at were brilliant at ensuring that all members of the group had the information they needed. Bob Taylors weekly meeting at PARC was a simple, efficient mechanism for sharing data and ideas.
Great Groups also tend to be places without dress codes, set hours, or other arbitrary regulations. The freedom to work when you are moved to, wearing what you want, is one that everyone treasures. The casual dress so typical of people in extraordinary groups may be symbolic as well, a sign that they are unconventional thinkers, engaged in something revolutionary.
One thing Great Groups do need is protection. Great Groups do things that haven’t been done before. Most corporations and other traditional organizations say they want innovation, but they reflexively shun the untried. Most would rather repeat a past success than gamble on a new idea. Because Great Groups break new ground, they are more susceptible than others to being misunderstood, resented, even feared. Successful leaders find ways to insulate their people from bureaucratic meddling.
One vital function of the leaders of Great Groups is to keep the stress in check. Innovative places are exhilarating, but they are also incubators for massive coronar-ies. Sundays off helped at Los Alamos and the Skunk Works.
Civility is the preferred social climate for creative collaboration. In an era of downsizing and underemployment, many workplaces have become angry, anguished, poisonous places where managers are abusive and employees subvert each other. Such an environment isn’t just morally offensive. It is a bad place to do good work.
Genuine camaraderie, based on shooting the moon together, is the ideal climate of a Great Group. When less attractive emotions come to the fore, they have to be dealt with before they threaten the project. Taylor’s model for resolving conflicts, which encourages colleagues to understand each other’s positions, even if they disagree, is an especially useful one.
Members of Great Groups also need relative autonomy, a sine qua non of creativity. No Great Group was ever micromanaged.
Great Groups ship.
Great Groups don’t just talk about things (although they often do that at considerable length). They make things—amazing, original things, such as a plane that a bat can’t find.
Great work is its own reward.
The payoff is not money, or even glory. Again and again, members of Great Groups say they would have done the work for nothing. The reward is the creative process itself. Problem solving douses the human brain with chemicals that make us feel good.
There is a lesson here that could transform our anguished workplaces overnight. People ache to do good work. Given a task they believe in and a chance to do it well, they will work tirelessly for no more reward than the one they give themselves. People who have been in Great Groups never forget them, although most groups do not last very long. Our suspicion is that such collaborations have a certain half-life, that, if only because of their intensity, they cannot be sustained indefinitely. Since creative collaboration is done by intellectual explorers, it is net surprising that most Great Groups are temporary. They ship, and soon end.
What I got out of it
A concrete and very helpful synthesis of what traits great groups exhibit. The appendix has the 15 key lessons which is worth reading and re-reading
Kidder brings the computer revolution to life by studying life inside Data General
IBM set up two main divisions, each one representing the other’s main competition.
Herb Richman, who had helped to found Data General, said, “We did everything well.” Obviously, they did not manage every side of their business better than everyone else, but these young men (all equipped with large egos, as one who was around them at this time remarked) somehow managed to realize that they had to attend with equal care to all sides of their operation—to the selling of their machine as well as to its design, for instance. That may seem an elementary rule for making money in a business, but it is one that is easier to state than to obey. Some notion of how shrewd they could be is perhaps revealed in the fact that they never tried to hoard a majority of the stock, but used it instead as a tool for growth. Many young entrepreneurs, confusing ownership with control, can’t bring themselves to do this.
When they chose their lawyer, who would deal with the financial community for them, they insisted that he invest some of his own money in their company. “We don’t want you running away if we get in trouble. We want you there protecting your own money,”
Richman also remembered that before they entered into negotiations over their second public offering of stock, after the company had been making money for a while and the stock they’d already issued had done very well indeed, their lawyer insisted that each of the founders sell some of their holdings in the company and each “take down a million bucks.” This so that they could negotiate without the dread of losing everything (“Having to go back to your father’s gas station,” Richman called that nightmare). As for the name of the theory behind selling enough stock to become millionaires, Richman told me, “I don’t know how you put it in the vernacular. We called it the Fuck You Theory.”
“DEC owned 85 percent of the business and there was no strong number two. We had to distinguish ourselves from DEC,” Kluchman remembered. “DEC was known as a bland entity. Data General was gonna be unbland, aggressive, hustling, offering you more for your money…. We spread the idea that Data General’s salesmen were more aggressive than DEC’s, and they were, because ours worked on commissions and theirs worked on salaries. But I exaggerated the aggressiveness.” According to Kluchman, DEC actually gave them some help in setting up “the Hertz-Avis thing.” DEC’s management, he said, ordered their salesmen to warn their customers against Data General. “It was great! Because their customers hadn’t heard about us.”
Where did the risks lie? Where could a company go badly wrong? In many cases, a small and daily growing computer company did not fall on hard times because people suddenly stopped wanting to buy its products. On the contrary, a company was more likely to asphyxiate on its own success. Demand for its products would be soaring, and the owners would be drawing up optimistic five-year plans, when all of a sudden something would go wrong with their system of production.
You did not have to be the first company to produce the new kind of machine; sometimes, in fact, it was better not to be the first. But you had to produce yours before the new market really opened up and customers had made other marriages. For once they are lost, both old and prospective customers are often gone for good.
Some of the engineers closest to West suspected that if he weren’t given a crisis to deal with once in a while, he would create one. To them he seemed so confident and happy in an emergency.
By the mid-1960s, a trend that would become increasingly pronounced was already apparent: while the expense of building a computer’s hardware was steadily declining, the cost of creating both user and system software was rising. In an extremely bold stroke, IBM took advantage of the trend. They announced, in the mid-sixties, all at one time, an entire family of new computers—the famous 360 line. In the commerce of computers, no single event has had wider significance, except for the invention of the transistor. Part of the 360’s importance lay in the fact that all the machines in the family were software compatible.
Software compatibility is a marvelous thing. That was the essential lesson West took away from his long talks with his friend in Marketing. You didn’t want to make a machine that wasn’t compatible, not if you could avoid it. Old customers would feel that since they’d need to buy and create all new software anyway, they might as well look at what other companies had to offer, they’d be likely to undertake the dreaded “market survey.” And an incompatible machine would not make it easy for new customers to buy both 16-bit Eclipses and the new machine.
Kludge is perhaps the most disdainful term in the computer engineer’s vocabulary: it conjures up visions of a machine with wires hanging out of it, of things fastened together with adhesive tape.
West had a saying: “The game around here is getting a machine out the door with your name on it.”
Cray was a legend in computers, and in the movie Cray said that he liked to hire inexperienced engineers right out of school, because they do not usually know what’s supposed to be impossible. West liked that idea. He also realized, of course, that new graduates command smaller salaries than experienced engineers. Moreover, using novices might be another way in which to disguise his team’s real intentions. Who would believe that a bunch of completely inexperienced engineers could produce a major CPU to rival North Carolina’s?
West invented the term, not the practice—was “signing up.” By signing up for the project you agreed to do whatever was necessary for success. You agreed to forsake, if necessary, family, hobbies, and friends—if you had any of these left (and you might not if you had signed up too many times before). From a manager’s point of view, the practical virtues of the ritual were manifold. Labor was no longer coerced. Labor volunteered. When you signed up you in effect declared, “I want to do this job and I’ll give it my heart and soul.”
How do such moments occur? “Hey,” Wallach said, “no one knows how that works.” He remembered that during the time when he was working on the Navy computer for Raytheon—the one that got built and then scrapped—he was at a wedding and the solution to a different sort of problem popped into his mind. He wrote it down quickly on the cover of a matchbook. “I will be constantly chugging away in my mind,” he explained, “making an exhaustive search of my data bank.”
Much of the engineering of computers takes place in silence, while engineers pace in hallways or sit alone and gaze at blank pages. Alsing favored the porch and staring out at trees. When writing code, he said, he often felt that he was playing an intense game of chess with a worthy opponent. He went on: “Writing microcode is like nothing else in my life. For days there’s nothing coming out. The empty yellow pad sits there in front of me, reminding me of my inadequacy. Finally, it starts to come. I feel good. That feeds it, and finally I get into a mental state where I’m a microcode-writing machine. It’s like being in Adventure. Adventure’s a completely bogus world, but when you’re there, you’re there. “You have to understand the problem thoroughly and you have to have thought of all the myriad ways in which you can put your microverbs together. You have a hundred L-shaped blocks to build a building. You take all the pieces, put them together, pull them apart, put them together. After a while, you’re like a kid on a jungle gym. There are all these constructs in your mind and you can swing from one to the other with ease.
“West’s not a technical genius. He’s perfect for making it all work. He’s gotta move forward. He doesn’t put off the tough problem, the way I do. He’s fearless, he’s a great politician, he’s arbitrary, sometimes he’s ruthless.”
“One never explicitly plays by these rules.” And West remarked that there was no telling which rules might be real, because only de Castro made the rules that counted, and de Castro was once quoted as saying, “Well, I guess the only good strategy is one that no one else understands.”
Not Everything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing Well.
there’s no such thing as a perfect design. Most experienced computer engineers I talked to agreed that absorbing this simple lesson constitutes the first step in learning how to get machines out the door. Often, they said, it is the most talented engineers who have the hardest time learning when to stop striving for perfection. West was the voice from the cave, supplying that information: “Okay. It’s right. Ship it.”
In fact, the team designed the computer in something like six months, and may have set a record for speed. The task was quite complex.
That fall West had put a new term in his vocabulary. It was trust. “Trust is risk, and risk avoidance is the name of the game in business,” West said once, in praise of trust. He would bind his team with mutual trust, he had decided. When a person signed up to do a job for him, he would in turn trust that person to accomplish it; he wouldn’t break it down into little pieces and make the task small, easy and dull.
“With Tom, it’s the last two percent that counts. What I now call ‘the ability to ship product’—to get it out the door.”
Rasala liked a contentious atmosphere, a vigorous, virile give-and-take among himself and his crew. “Smart, opinionated and nonsensitive, that’s a Hardy Boy,” he declared. Above all, Rasala wanted around him engineers who took an interest in the entire computer, not just in the parts that they had designed.
Firth had just begun to study programming, but the error was “just obvious” to him. Remembering this incident years later, Firth said that the engineer had probably been “programming by rote. He wanted to make his program look like programs he’d seen before, and that clearly wasn’t gonna work.” Firth always tried to avoid such an approach. “I like to work around ‘why,’ ” he told me. “I prefer not to know the established limits and what other people think, when I start a project.”
He also said: “No one ever pats anybody on the back around here. If de Castro ever patted me on the back, I’d probably quit.”
The clerk had some trouble figuring what the beer we bought ought to cost, and as we left, West said, out of her earshot, “Ummmmh, one of the problems with machines like that. You end up making people so dumb they can’t figure out how many six-packs are in a case of beer.”
West didn’t seem to like many of the fruits of the age of the transistor. Of machines he had helped to build, he said, “If you start getting interested in the last one, then you’re dead.” But there was more to it. “The old things, I can’t bear to look at them. They’re clumsy. I can’t believe we were that dumb.” He spoke about the rapidity with which computers became obsolete. “You spend all this time designing one machine and it’s only a hot box for two years, and it has all the useful life of a washing machine.” He said, “I’ve seen too many machines.” One winter night, at his home, while he was stirring up the logs in his fireplace, he muttered, “Computers are irrelevant.”
“It doesn’t matter how hard you work on something,” says Holberger. “What counts is finishing and having it work.”
“I get quite a lot of work done in the morning while taking a shower,” says Veres. “Showers are kinda boring things, all things considered.” Now in the shower, before leaving for work, he conceives a new approach.
“The way West was with us, it provided a one-level separation—someone far enough away to lay blame on.”
At one point, Jim Guyer said: “We didn’t get our commitment to this project from de Castro or Carman or West. We got it from within ourselves. Nobody told us we had to put extra effort into the project.” Ken Holberger burst out laughing. Guyer raised his voice. “We got it from within ourselves to put extra effort in the project.” Laughing hard, Holberger managed to blurt out, “Their idea was piped into our minds!” “The company didn’t ask for this machine,” cried Guyer. “We gave it to them. We created that design.” Others raised their voices. Quietly, Rasala said, “West created that design.”
Engineers are supposed to stand among the privileged members of industrial enterprises, but several studies suggest that a fairly large percentage of engineers in America are not content with their jobs. Among the reasons cited are the nature of the jobs themselves and the restrictive ways in which they are managed. Among the terms used to describe their malaise are declining technical challenge; misutilization; limited freedom of action; tight control of working patterns.
“He set up the opportunity and he didn’t stand in anyone’s way. He wasn’t out there patting people on the back. But I’ve been in the world too long and known too many bosses who won’t allow you the opportunity. He never put one restriction on me. Tom allowed me to take a role where I could make things happen. What does a secretary do? She types, answers the phone, and doesn’t put herself out too much. He let me go out and see what I could get done. You see, he allowed me to be more than a secretary there.
West never passed up an opportunity to add flavor to the project. He helped to transform a dispute among engineers into a virtual War of the Roses. He created, as Rasala put it, a seemingly endless series of “brushfires,” and got his staff charged up about putting them out. He was always finding romance and excitement in the seemingly ordinary. He welcomed a journalist to observe his team; and how it did delight him when one of the so-called kids remarked to me, “What we’re doing must be important, if there’s a writer covering it.”
West sits in his office and declares, “The only way I can do this machine is in this crazy environment, where I can basically do it any way that I want.”
Steve Wallach gave the speech he had once dreaded, describing Eagle’s architecture to a jury of peers, at a meeting of a society of computer professionals, and when he was done, they got up and applauded—“the ultimate reward,” he said.
What I got out of it
Really insightful read on a company and time I didn’t know much about. West seems to have been an amazing leader, someone who was able to inspire his team to do amazing things quickly, ship them out the door, and make his idea their idea – the keystone for any leader