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.
1) Winning via Selecting an Arena with Weak/Little Competition
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?
2) Winning via Extreme Preparation
There's doing some advance prep and there's extreme preparation. The latter - doing everything in your power to:
- understand the game/competition/challenge in which you are trying to win
- internalize what previous winners have done
- analyze your opponent(s) strengths and weaknesses
- practice/train what you're going to do at "show time"
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.
3) Winning via Changing the Game
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.
4) Winning via Simply Refusing to Lose
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.
5) Winning via Joining the Winners
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.
6) Winning by Exploiting Weaknesses
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.