From Sebastian: I was really honored and thrilled when Jason Shen offered to write a guest post here at SebastianMarshall.com - he's an incredibly bright guy with broad knowledge and skillset, writes well and clearly, and is an all-around good guy. So I'm really excited to be able to bring you a guest post by him - I imagine you'll want to read more by him afterwards, and you can reach him at his website - www.jasonshen.com.
Here's Jason -
I read Sebastian's blog because I'm interested in winning and he writes honest, insightful and sometimes provocative stuff about victory. Recently, I've been thinking about ways to win that are less commonly employed - one, because it's interesting and two, because I think there is a lot we can learn from unorthodox methods that work.
That's what this blog post is about: strategies that are nontraditional, that are beyond "do your best and learn from your mistakes" type advice, yet are undeniably ways that help you win.You might find them strange, but that's ok because winning isn't normal.
Some people find the pursuit of winning distasteful or even silly. Others get juiced by the idea of winning, of kicking ass and taking names, of being the best. I have a feeling that many of you SebatianMarshall.com readers fall into the second category. This post is for you.
If your primary focus is on winning and you don't care that much about the field of victory, then take the time to find something where there are few competitors to beat. If you're in business, perhaps this is a new venture that focuses on stuff others overlook or have written off - something advocated in the book Blue Ocean Strategy.
When parents ask me how they can get their kids into a good school like Stanford, I'm inclined to tell them - quit the piano lessons and soccer practice and have them enroll in archery or kazoo. Better yet, have them invent their own game/sport/instrument and instantly become the best in the world at that thing. Elite universities want people who are the stars/standouts in their field.
Less competition = much greater chance of winning. So look around you - what's everyone doing that you might do less of? What is everyone ignoring that you could dominate?
There's doing some advance prep and there's extreme preparation. The latter - doing everything in your power to:
I've scored extremely high on my SATs (1580/1600) which puts me in the 99.9 percentile. Now you may argue that the test isn't a good indicator of academic ability, (which I would agree with), but still - I busted my butt to get a good score and did ridiculous amounts of prep.
The summer before my junior year, I knocked out 10 practice SAT tests. I didn't just go fill out the answers - I would go back and check every single answer and every time I made a mistake, I would make sure never to make that mistake again. I read a separate book called SAT: 1600 that gave even more advanced tips on how to analyze the test questions and accurately guess the right answer when you weren't sure. By the time I got test day, I was able to finish every section with 10+ mins to spare and went back and double checked all my answers.
I've used this level of preparation to earn 98 and 92 percentile scores on the GMAT and the MCAT - it's a lot of work, but that's what it takes to win.
You play someone in a game of chess. You lose. What do you say?
"Come on - let's do best out of three."
You've just changed the game to increase your chances of winning. Because before, the assumption was that one game of chess would determine who was the winner. But now, you have an opportunity to come back and win the "full game".
If you're observant, you'll see that people who are devilish debators will switch up on the topic on you without you even noticing. All of a sudden you're defending yourself against an argument which has nothing to do with your original discussion. They changed the game under your nose and now you're losing.
If the rules favor incumbents - figure out how to reframe the situation. Introduce new variables, make the goals different, leverage some resource that is typically ignored. If you can change the game to favor your side - you can win.
In a war of attrition, you win by simply being able to take more losses. You just keep taking hits and keep getting beat down, but you win through sheer force of will. If someone is fighting you and you just keep getting up every time they knock you down, they will get tired and therein lies an opportunity to win.
Beth Anne Waters got her GED, then her college degree, then her law degree, then passed the bar and found biological evidence to exonerate her brother from a crime he didn't commit - all while raising two kids. It took her 18 years. They made a movie about it - but the story is real
Incredible - I mean who does that? Any reasonable person would have given up a long time ago. But if you simply decide you are not willing to lose and will do whatever it takes to win, your chances of success go up dramatically.
If you can't beat them, join them, the old saying goes. And why not? Felix Dennis wrote a great book on becoming wealthy and talks at one point about how his publishing company was faced with a huge competitor who was coming in to the market to wipe him out. He banded together with another publishing firm of roughly the same size, dug in and battled it out against the new entrant.
After many years and millions of dollars spent, they finally drove off the big competitor. But is Felix proud of that moment? Maybe a little, but mainly he curses himself for trying to fight. He says if he had been smart, he would have switched over to partner with the competitor and thus easily swept the market and earned lots more money. Perhaps not the response you expected, but then again his book *was* called How To Get Rich.
There will be times when it's obvious that your team or your strategy is going to have a hard time winning. If you're ok with ditching your team and jumping ship (not something I necessarily condone) then you might be able to land on the side of victory.
The last unorthodox strategy I've got for you for winning is to mercilessly exploit weaknesses. Like any strategy, this advice can be used for good or malevolent purposes - I hope you choose the former.
My dad really enjoys playing tennis and one thing he tells me a lot is that he wins by letting the other player make the mistake. He focuses on keeping the ball in play and trying to throw his opponent off guard whenever he can. I looked up some articles on tennis strategy and here you have it:
"the first great rule in general tactics: keep the ball in play and give your opponent another shot at it, rather than risk an error by taking an unnecessary chance."
Interesting right? I'm all about being aggressive and going after the win, but sometimes, the best thing to do is to stay cool, play it safe and then work hard to make the other person lose. And that starts with identifying their not-so-strong parts:
"The first thought that you should have, when you step on to a court for a match, is "What are my opponent's weaknesses? Where will he miss most?"
That's a pretty hardcore approach but a powerful one indeed. In fact, the article seems to suggest that your opponents greatest weakness (outside of his physical skills) is his mental focus.
"Nothing is so disconcerting or upsetting to a player as to miss. A magnificent shot, which beats him completely, doesn't cause him much mental anguish because, if he is a sportsman, he will admire it and then not worry about it any more. On the other hand, each time he sees an important shot of his own sail out of court or into the net, a player becomes more nervous and less likely to win a match." (Match Play Tactics - Exploiting Your Opponent's Weaknesses)
I love that idea. If you perform well, your opponent won't get thrown off - it's the shots he messes up that really screws with his head. Tennis is a mental game and like all good mental games, the key is to get inside your competitors' heads and break them down.
So there you have it - some uncommon and unorthodox strategies for winning. I hope you get some value and some victory out of them. If you want more of where that came from - you should check out my site where I write about startups, media and general ass-kicking.
Nice work Pedro!
>> “the task is to create the tallest structure, not the most beautiful or coolest, do you trust me?
Exactly! Focus on the rules that matter, not the assumptions that people have about how the game *should* be done.
You're right Sean.
One thing that's really dangerous in business is to try to "win" in every possible interaction (manager vs employee, company vs customer, company vs partners). More and more, corporations that succeed are ones that add a great deal of value to all their stakeholders.
I would add a 7th strategy:
Learn the rules and the goal and exploit them.
Let tell you a quick and simple story:
I was attending to some weekend course about teamwork, one of those activities that are made to let all the team members know each other and so on, anyways, we were faced with a "challenge" of creating the tallest structure with just straws and standard pins, the rule was just one, the structure has resist one minute without falling, we had like 5 minutes to build the structure, we were five people, we spent the first minute discussing a design, then we started to build the thing, when four minutes had passed it was clear that we will not succeed, since all the teams were in the same area and we were able to see what others teams were doing, as you can imagine, all the teams were trying to copy or take ideas from other teams, our structure was at that moment like 3 foot tall and the tallest structure was like 4 1/2 feet tall, our structure was not very stable to I tell the team something like: "the task is to create the tallest structure, not the most beautiful or coolest, do you trust me?", they did, and they followed my instructions, we quickly changed all the base and we finished creating something like an inverted champagne flute(without the base of course) with a very tall "antenna", we won the challenge by far, our structure was not only stable but tall(more than 7 foot).
I have applied that principle, in many other situations and it works great, of course, some times people don't like it but its completely legal.
I think more business challenges revolve around reaching a negotiated solution with employees, partners, and customers. When we say we "won" the business it means that we have reached an agreement with a customer as much as "winning a victory" over competitors. The examples cited: gaining admission to an exclusive college, scoring high on an exam, winning a game of chess, winning an athletic competition, winning a game of tennis are all zero sum games. Few business interactions, or interactions in life for that matter, are zero sum (you must lose so I can win or your loss is my gain). I blogged about this in "Killer Instinct Can Blind You To the Value of Parnters" at http://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2010/03/30/killer-instinct-can-blind-you-to-the-value-of-partners/
> For both skills and credentialing, college is way overrated for the majority of people. I think we’ll see a decline in it over the next 20 years, once our generation starts raising our kids and we don’t have a “college or bust” attitude.
So true! Either that, or colleges have to change big time - that'll be a fun industry to watch over the next 10-20 years when they start realizing they're in a pinch...
Ha, indeed! What a weird world we'd live in, though, if everyone went straight for niche things to be the best in the world at. The world would be like one big circus, or something :)
Thanks so much Koichi!
It's funny how parents (and people in general) will ask for advice but then won't take advice they don't like. That's the whole point - if everyone thought it was a good idea, it wouldn't be so good.
I worked in a neurology lab in college and it's true - you can either tackle "hot" fields where there is a lot of research being done (cancer) and claw to get attention and funding or you could focus on more obscure ailments and dominate. There are certainly drawbacks - fewer resources available, less media interest - but there is often a lot of low hanging fruit that you can easily capture.
Thanks for sharing!
I was getting absolutely destroyed in this game of Chess. The opponent played a crazy reckless attacking style, but my mind wasn't running fast enough to keep up with the pace of the game.
You can see he has two queens and a rook to my one rook, but then he decided to take all of my pieces before ending... or something. He had numerous opportunities to trade off a queen for my last rook, but didn't do so. He could've checkmated me a number of times, but didn't do so.
So I moved my king around out of the way of checks, leaving my rook just to sit there. He doesn't take it, and gradually picks off all my pieces. Then, bam, I dump my rook on the back row, checkmating him. What a ridiculous victory.
A few lessons here -
I love X-Box Live. It may be the greatest invention of this century. It’s better than sliced bread with the option of butter or gravy. It is insane how many cool people are playing on Live. But for every great player, it seems there are two to three dorks.
What’s the deal guys?
Let me give you a few examples:
I was playing Rainbow Six Three. A teammate and I had a guy pinned in a room, and I decided to rush him, asking my partner to cover me. Then I rushed in and got my butt kicked. My opponent got me fair and square because I didn’t get my shot off in time. It was some nice shooting. But, as soon as I died I heard someone on my team (who is already DEAD) say to me:
“Man, you’re such a frickin loser. I can’t believe it. You suck so bad. Didn’t you see his gun go off?!”