In 2007, Gary Kasparov published How Life Imitates Chess, a book drawing parallels between success on the chessboard and success in the boardroom. I’ve gotten glimpses of how he operates in both realms.
In 1999, Kasparov played an online chess match titled “Kasparov versus the World.” The game provided a great opportunity to observe a creative individual battling against the wisdom of the crowd (in this case, with a panel of experts on their side). As you might expect, the world played a very safe and sound game. Kasparov employed just enough subtlety and surprise to score a victory. He understood who he was up against and fine-tuned his strategy for a very smart but ultimately predictable opponent.
The contest reminded me of the difference between a standards committee and an inventor. A standards committee is good for dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. But if you want to do something that has never been done before, you need imagination and daring.
I had my next encounter with Kasparov ten years later. In 2009, my son entered the U.S. Chess Federation SuperNationals chess tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. Kasparov was the keynote speaker at the opening ceremony. But first, we had to listen (for what seemed an eternity) to USCF dignitaries thanking the many people who put the event together. Finally, Gary Kasparov was introduced, and his words immediately resonated with the predominantly young audience. He talked about how, during his youth, he hated opening ceremonies because of the boring speeches—he couldn’t wait to start competing. The audience roared with delight.
There is much wisdom in How Life Imitates Chess. My favorite line is “Better decision-making can’t be taught, but it can be self-taught.” Modern educators either don’t believe it or won’t admit it, but most learning is an individual activity.