Winning Moves (#144)

Bobby Fischer is known as one of the best chess players of all time. He first learned the game at age six and went on to become the youngest player to win the U.S. Chess Championship at 14 and the youngest international grand master at the age of 15.

Fischer was an eccentric and controversial genius. It’s estimated that he had an IQ of 181.

Interestingly, Fischer was a rather predictable player. Throughout his career, he opened games with 1. e4 (King Pawn) almost exclusively, a move he referred to as “best by test.” e4, as it became known, was his trademark.

Yet, despite never surprising his opponents in the openings, he still dominated them. His extensive knowledge allowed him to outplay even the most prepared opponent.

In 1972, Fischer made it to the finals of the World Chess Championship in Iceland where he faced the defending champion, Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union.

With the two players tied heading into the sixth game, Fischer played c4 (English opening, Queen’s Gambit) a move that surprised the world – but most importantly, his opponent.

Playing a c4 opening actually favored the Russian’s style of play. However, making this move dealt a psychological blow to Spassky, putting him on the defensive. Fischer ultimately beat Spassky at his own style, winning not only the game, but the entire match. He became the first American to win the World Championship, ending 24-years of Soviet chess domination.

It was called the “game of the century.”

A few different theories exist about Fischer’s change in strategy; two offer interesting lessons.

The Long Con Strategy

The first is that Fischer had participated in a “long con,” a term that usually refers to a scheme designed to sacrifice in the short-term to pay off in the long-term. Examples include “hustling” at pool or the street performer who tries to have you guess which cup the ball is under, intentionally letting you win the first few rounds so that you up your betting and lose even more money at the end.

In Fischer’s case, this would imply that he had played the same move his entire career in anticipation of one day playing in the World Championship and he wanted to have a surprise advantage. Playing the same opening move showed his hand to the competition. But if he was confident in his ability to win, then this strategy gave him the advantage of having a play in his back pocket to be used at just the right moment. Such a strategy requires both incredible vision and patience.  With a 181 IQ, I would not put it past him.

The Gamble

The other possibility is that when it mattered most and the stakes were highest, Fischer decided in the moment to roll the dice, take a chance and go against the familiar in the pursuit of the victory.

There is no question that Bobby Fischer is a complicated character. He was a genius chess player but he also said some incredibly ugly, hateful things towards the end of his life. Despite this, his story offers wisdom on what it takes to win at the highest level.

Think about what you want most. How many moves ahead are you planning? What are you willing to sacrifice along the way to get there? When everything is on the line, are you willing to jolt yourself out of your comfort zone and go for it or stay with what got you there?

What’s your c4?


Quote of The Week

“Chess is life.”

Bobby Fischer



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Virtuous Cycle (#140)

A few weeks ago, I had some philosophical debates with a few people who were reviewing the close-to-final draft of my second book. I was seeking their input as I tried to determine whether the material I had written on resilience belonged in the section on building one’s physical capacity or emotional capacity.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg argument. Resilience surely has both physical and emotional components. However, the consensus was that we first need to do something that we perceive as surpassing our physical limits to gain emotional resilience.

It’s that physical capacity building experience that allows us to build our emotional capacity; it’s a virtuous cycle between mind and body.

Less than a week later, I got to put this theory to the test. As part of a fundraiser I, along with a group of 50 fellow road bikers from our industry, attempted a 180-mile bike ride from London to Paris within 24 hours. Running on just two to three hours of sleep, it was the greatest endurance challenge I have taken on by far.

Even more surprising is that many of the other riders had just started biking a few months prior.

From what I observed, no one’s legs gave out or stopped working. However, as soon as someone had a visible moment of “breaking” psychologically (which were few and far between), their body responded to their thoughts and you could see the immediate drop in performance.

Many of those moments came not from difficult terrain, but from times when people let themselves get dehydrated or did not eat enough on a break. It affected how they “felt,” which then impacted what they believed they could do, thus demonstrating the strong mind-body connection.

From my personal experience, believing I could climb a hill was less helpful than just keeping my feet moving through the pain and showing myself that I could. The culmination of those experiences now has me questioning some of the other self-imposed limits in my life and things I believed I cannot do.

If you are looking to take on a challenge that seems far out of your comfort zone and beyond the limits of your capacity, here is a simple three-part formula for success.

  1. Say Yes: When I heard about this opportunity, I signed up quickly without giving it much thought. It wasn’t until the week before that I really read the details of what I had gotten myself in to. Had I done this at the outset, I might have made a different choice. This was a similar experience to a few weeks ago when my daughter and I swam across a lake on a whim. I underestimated the distance and she ended up swimming her first mile with relative ease. Had we both thought about it more and had known the real distance, we might not have even tried.
  1. Do the Work: For almost any major challenge, there is a pre-determined practice routine that will dramatically increase your likelihood of success. It could be a physical training schedule or practicing a speech on stage ten times before you deliver it. Dreaming big is great, but you still have to do the work one step at a time.
  1. Commit to Finish: Once you do commit, don’t give yourself any mental wiggle room to escape. Mindset is critical. One rider who had never really biked before was last into the first break station and looked like she would never make another 50 miles, much less 150. When I talked to her after the finish, she shared that quitting was never an option for her.

The mind quits before the body. However, what’s been proven time and again is that the body’s successive accomplishments help the mind develop its emotional resistance and capacity.


Quote of The Week

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

 Winston Churchill



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Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122)

Two weeks ago, I completed one of my five-year goals. It wasn’t a race, financial achievement or a book; it was a service trip with my family.

Inspired by a similar trip that The Points Guy and his team took, we headed Puerto Rico over the kids’ spring break and donated our time to help the community recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

We split our four days working at two food banks and two children’s hospitals. As part of his Mitzvah project, my son was also able to raise $2,000 to purchase gifts for each of the children we visited as well as diapers and water for the hospitals.

On this incredibly rewarding trip, we each gained far more than we gave, especially in terms of stepping outside of our comfort zones and appreciation for the roles community and relationships play in our lives.

Expanding Our Comfort Zones

On our second day in PR, we volunteered for World Central Kitchen (WCK) a wonderful organization started by chef José Andrés. Since the storm, WCK has served more meals than the U.S. government. We cut, prepped and cooked food for hours alongside volunteer and paid chefs, despite the entire island losing power a short time into our work. No one blinked an eye, we just kept going.

While there, we were offered the opportunity to join a dedicated community organizer named Lola to deliver the food we just cooked.  With the power still out and no GPS, we followed our liaison, Griselle (Ñaña), to Lola’s house. When we arrived, Ñaña explained we were heading into some “rough” neighborhoods and put a sticker on our rental car to identify us as part of WCF. She explained that Lola would take us to the places she knew the food was needed, we’d follow them in our car and serve it out of the back of her hatchback. When we asked if where we were going was “safe,” she replied that most people knew and respected Lola, but there were a few places we should not get out right away and to follow her lead.

At this moment, my wife and I looked at each other with a bit of fear in our eyes. We were going to be following Ñaña’s car in our bright blue Jeep rental car without any way to know where we were if we got lost. On top of that, we were already in areas that made us feel uncomfortable. Honestly, we thought about turning back. Then we realized that this is where the rubber met the road.

That next hour was by far the most impactful of our trip. We weaved through some of the poorest neighborhoods I’d ever seen, even before the devastating effects of the storm. Most of the houses still standing had blue tarps for roofs and were open to the elements; power lines were down everywhere.

At the first stop, we tentatively got out to help and I locked the car for the first and last time. After a few stops, my kids were leading the way. They connected with the men, women and children coming to the car for a hot meal served by Lola. On several occasions, we heard and saw people thank god after they received their food, which was heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time.

Seeing everyone so thankful and respectful shifted our comfort zones and perspectives. Nowhere was this more evident than during our ride back to the hotel; we now felt comfortable in areas that just a few hours earlier had made us very nervous.

Community & Relationships Matter

Study after study has shown that money doesn’t make us happier or live longer. The one thing that has proven to do both is having quality relationships in our lives.

Community runs deep in Puerto Rico. As my kids delivered toys to the children in the hospital, we noticed how many of them were surrounded by multi-generational families. Most of the successful initiatives in Puerto Rico have been driven by the community or had significant community components, such as WCK.

Additionally, the majority of the community leaders and organizers we encountered were women, something that was not lost on my daughter. These women led not by positions of authority, but through earned respect and deference. Lola was an amazing example.

We did not take many pictures in the communities we visited as it did not feel right, but we were glad to learn that one of the volunteers working with us at WCK was also a reporter and documented our entire day with WCK for Esquire magazine.

There’s more to share from our trip, which I’ll continue next week. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the Esquire article. I think you’ll be as moved by the incredible work that these people, communities and organization are doing as my family and I were.

Quote of the Week

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The post Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Travel Rewards (#106)

As I mentioned in last week’s note, I am just returning from an extend trip in Australia with my family. This trip reminded me of the many personal and business benefits of travel. In fact, many founders of well-known companies, including Warby Parker and TOMS shoes, have credited travel as the inspiration behind the launch of their companies.

Acceleration Partners recently created a new travel-focused benefit for our employees which requires staying unplugged from work for at least five days. That means no responding to Slack messages, work emails, phone calls, etc. The goal is for them to be truly immersed in their experience. We also recently helped make a few employee’s travel dreams a reality.

I decided to keep track of the benefits I was experiencing from this trip and three major themes emerged from doing so.

  1. Challenges Comfort Zones

Although most of us know that getting out of our comfort zone is important, many of us struggle to do it regularly. When you travel, you’re pushed out of your comfort zone by default because you’re removed from your regular routine. As such, it becomes easier to try new things which, ultimately, leads to gaining new perspectives.

For example, despite her fears, my daughter scuba dived for the first time at the Great Barrier Reef as she did not want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She loved it and now, we’re talking about getting certified together.

Similarly, I always said I would never drive on the other side of the road as I thought I would get too overwhelmed and make a critical mistake. Then, at the last minute, we decided to rent a car while in Australia. I was very nervous and cautious at first, but then really enjoyed the experience.

  1. Turns Off Our Autopilot

Ever drive home and have no idea how you got there? Related to the one above, when your routine is altered by travelling, it takes you off autopilot; the use of your conscious mind is called upon so much more.

On this trip, even walking on the right side of the sidewalk wasn’t taken for granted. I couldn’t get from point A to point B without keeping my head up. The same was true for crosswalks and driving. This awareness led to more observation of what was around me and more presence in each activity, something I realized I need to get better at in my daily life.

  1. Questions Our Assumptions

When you have a routine of doing something in a certain way, it’s easy to not question whether there is a better or different way to do it. Many deep-rooted assumptions are tested when travelling.

For example, when I tried to tip several people on this trip, they seemed offended or even refused. My friend from Australia explained to me that service employees are generally compensated fairly; many feel that they should simply do their jobs well without the need to be tipped.  Also, many casual restaurants were set up so that after you ordered your food and beverage at the bar and found a table, it was brought to you. Not only was this efficient, the bill was already paid when you wanted to leave, which was ideal for a family with tired kids.

That model of prepayment has led me to think about some new business ideas and how it could be applied to our existing business. When you see things being done successfully in ways that differ from what you’re accustomed to, it can make you question the status quo and think about both new problems to be solved and new solution to existing problems.

As you kick of 2018, I’d encourage you to make a plan to change your scene or your routine, whether that is through travel, taking a Bucket List trip, or simply changing what you do each day so you can see the world in a different light. Pick a different stop for breakfast/lunch or change how you walk or drive to work. When you do this, you will get off autopilot. At the very least, you’ll experience something new.

Quote of the Week

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Mark Twain

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No Right Time (#105)

There is simply no perfect time in life to do the things you want to do. Whether that’s starting a new career, launching a new product, getting married, having a kid or taking that trip you always wanted to go on.

My wife and I made 2017 the time to do the latter and our family just returned from an amazing 3-week mini sabbatical in Australia. It was a trip I had wanted to take for years but the timing was never “right.” So, we just decided to do it anyway. In the end, the timing was perfect as I needed the break to recharge for 2018 after a brutal travel schedule this fall and to finish my next book.

In many ways, I decided to live 2017 as if it was the last year of my life. That choice led to an incredibly fulfilling year that included publishing my first book , taking an epic trip to the Super Bowl  with my son and father-in-law and going on two Bucket List family vacations.

I plan to continue this mindset in 2018 without apology or explanation.

Performance guru, Tim Ferriss, popularized the concept of the “deferred life plan,” in his book, The Four-Hour Work Week. As he explains it, the deferred life plan is when people put off what they really want to do for what is expected of them. They tend to think that “later” or “when they retire” is when they will really start enjoying life.

In reality, none of us know how much time we have left on this earth. As we heard all too often in tragic stories from last year, the problem with deferring life plans is that there’s a chance our time will be up well before we think it will be.

This week, a lot of people are making new year’s “resolutions,” many of which are unlikely to last through the month or quarter. Personally, I don’t believe in resolutions. That said, I do think the beginning of the year is a great time to recalibrate and recommit.

2018 is as good a time as any to make the things happen in your life that you have been putting off. Here are some ideas to make it your best year yet:

  • Skip the resolutions. After you’ve gained clarity on your core values, establish long-term and short-term goals. The Whole Life Dashboard is a great tool to help you in this process.
  • Stop making the excuse of “it’s not a good time” to yourself and others. The perfect time will never come.
  • Say yes to great opportunities that come your way. And if it’s not a “hell yes,” then say no to it.
  • If it’s important to you, make it happen. If it’s not, give it up.
  • Pick something that’s been on your long-term goal list and commit to getting it done in 2018 – even if you don’t know the “how.”
  • Create accountability for your goals through a buddy, a journal (self-accountability) or by making your goals public. For the first time ever, I’m doing this with my team.

Despite what people might tell you or what you might believe, 2018 is a great time to get a new job/new career that you will love, take a risk outside your comfort zone, visit that Bucket List place, have a kid, face a fear, take a risk, or whatever else you might have been deferring for the “right time.”

Quote of The Week

“Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.”

George Herbert

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Playing it Safe (#96)

Last week, I wrote about how having the freedom to fail is an integral part of growth and how many parents are failing this test. In response to last week’s post, a friend sent me an article titled, “The Fragile Generation.” The author opens with an anecdote of a teen boy who was chopping some wood to make a fort with his friends. An onlooker notified the police who arrived at the scene and “took the tools for safekeeping to be returned to the boy’s parents.”

The author writes, “We told a generation of kids that they can never be too safe—and they believed us.”

This need to be “safe” has evolved part and parcel with the explosion of the internet and social media.  Many of the things that have a very low probability of bringing us harm are sensationalized online and in the news; because we see it happening on the internet and how horrible it is, we start to question our safety. For example, the leading cause of death in the US is an unhealthy diet, not any of the things we read about in the news. Yet … we aren’t blocking the doors to McDonalds.

Our inclination to seek “safety” removes a degree of risk-taking in our lives that is necessary for getting us out of our comfort zone, such as travelling to new places, trying new foods and interacting with people of different background and beliefs.

Our physical need for safety has also evolved into an emotional need. This comes at a very high price.

One emotional cost is that more and more people today are delaying – or altogether missing – adult milestones; landmarks that come with a certain degree of risk, such as buying a home/living on their own, getting married or having kids.

If we try to ensure that we, or those we love, will never get physically or emotionally hurt, it’s unlikely that we’ll lead fulfilling, prosperous lives.

This is a big problem; one that is not easily solved. That being said, I believe one area where we can all start to be more growth-minded and a little less safe is in our communication and feedback. Often, we don’t say what we really mean. It’s either safer not to or it helps us (or the recipient) maintain the status quo.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across around feedback is from Kim Scott’s new book, Radical CandorBe a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Radical Candor, she argues, should be the default form of both personal and professional feedback.

One of the quadrants in the Radical Candor graph that gets less attention, but is often our automatic form of commutation, is “Ruinous Empathy.” This is when you care about the other person and their perspective, but you don’t tell them what they really need to hear, which is likely to be a tough message and/or the truth as you will see in this sample video.

According to Scott, Ruinous Empathy comes from our desire to try and control other people’s feelings, something we should not and cannot do. While it may come from a good place, it is also a misplaced, misguided effort. It’s about being safe.

This week, let’s encourage open and vulnerable communication. We may get our knees skinned – we maybe even get rejected outright — but at least we’re living authentically, growing and working toward empowering ourselves and others.

Quote of the Week

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

John A. Shedd

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