Monday, October 26, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#26): Refining the Definition of the Expert

To thrive in the global economy, one cannot be a mono-focused specialist. Those days are gone. The abundance of information and the profusion of copycat competition have created an unstable level of uneven parity.

The Expert
The 21st century expert is proficient in integrating relevant points of various subject matters into one grand picture. It also enabled him or her to capitalize on major opportunities while mitigating the risks.

Most amateur experts do not possess the insight, the foresight and the perseverance to be the ultra class expert. They usually talk a good game of "what the objective" should be. As a big picture thinker, these experts rely on their network to do the detail work. The results are usually "good enough."

Following are the requirements of the expert:

  • Having the skill to define the dots;
  • Connecting them together on time, on budget and on target.
  • Staying focused on the target while being mindful of the relevant external points.
The completion of those three points usually guarantees the client that the expert's strategic advice is reliable, relevant and do-able.


Extinction of the Expert

How the knowledge economy is changing the innovation game.

By Denise Gershbein
The age of the expert is over. Information is flowing at such an everyone, everywhere, everything, all-the-time pace that participation in the knowledge economy is no longer optional, or a value-add. It’s compulsory. And it offers an identity crisis for those individuals and companies who call themselves experts, leaders, innovators, and problem solvers.
In the knowledge economy, you can’t achieve expert or lead status just by having a compelling idea, a creative design, or a body of experience to call upon, no matter what field you work in. Unfettered access to information means an expected participation in a larger number of domain verticals. Expectations for the quality of the idea are higher.
But while individual participation and production across domains increases, the bandwidth of the individual to validate his or her ideas shrinks. Your idea or topic will always have a germ somewhere else, whether you know it or not. Audiences are smarter, more skeptical, and more judgmental. Facts can be checked and disproved easily, and audiences can crowdsource a verdict quickly and summarily.
Innovation is a neutral term: it simply means “new.” But new isn’t enough when the crowd can do better. Today, the question of innovation and achieving it through cross-disciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing is well beyond deep expertise or broad horizons. We’re beyond the lateral and the longitudinal, beyond the specialist or the generalist. We’re also coming to understand that the crowdsourced collective isn’t the whole answer. To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell: You can’t crowdsource Shakespeare.
Convergence hasn’t delivered on its promise because it isn’t the solution: It’s only one step within a future-forward knowledge framework. Innovation is achieved after disciplines come together, when their organizing principles, themes, and guiding premises overlay in transparency and there is a resulting exponential accretion of knowledge and possibility.
The awakening to the power of our collective intelligence can be seen in the business media and the semantic gymnastics swirling around convergence, divergence, design thinking, innovation, and other catchwords. Convergence came on the scene when everyone figured out that there were other domains and verticals that needed to be considered in the practice of design; that there were other practices that could inform your own, other specialties to benefit from, shoulders of giants to be stood upon. Now, being “convergent” is like being multinational but not global. You’re on the big stage, but you haven’t achieved the statesmanship that comes with the full essence of understanding.
This awakening is likely a good thing, but it also means that the idea of a powerful collective intelligence is in its nascency. People don’t quite get it yet. Everyone is straining for the holy grail of innovation, but if everything is new, then change just becomes the norm and everything becomes disposable instead of special. Nothing is truly innovative in the finest meaning of the word.
Going forward, convergence must not be about the objects of design but about the process of creativity. Because of that it’s becoming harder to imagine a holistic, expert stance for an individual. True expertise and innovation increasingly depend on creativity and problem solving by community, or what we might call a “society of design.”
Does this mean experts, creative directors, and gurus are going extinct? It does if they try to hold on to the fading notion that they’re the central repository of expert knowledge. The fact is, encyclopedic knowledge is in the crowd, and specialized knowledge will rest with the individual. The leaders and experts of tomorrow have to be either polymaths (deep multi-domain experts), curators (those who collect or collate different domains), polyglots (the overlay and meaning makers), or all three.
Even then, effective leadership won’t come simply by collecting numerous disciplines under one roof. Nor will it come by buying a company for the purpose of associating oneself with expertise. True leaders and experts will have to support distributed knowledge networks by attracting polymaths, polyglots, and curators into their workforce, and by pursuing partnerships or collaborative consultancies externally. Leadership, expertise, and innovation will come from those who rise up to facilitate and speak the lingua franca of all domains.

We recently rebuilt the "Tangible Vision" of our company. This site is solely focused on remote team collaboration. Our view on the matter of strategy can be found at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#25): Understanding the Innovation Game

Regardless of the features of any new innovations, there is always a minimum of one technical weakness within its scheme. In most cases, quality is rarely a part of any innovation scheme.

By using our Compass AE process, we assessed this innovation with the following steps:
  • Identifying its approach in terms of various strategic variables;
  • Determining its tendencies through the collection of information;
  • Evaluating the sequences of events through the use of those strategic variables; and (finally)
  • Analyzing the data reliability through "probable and possible" scenarios. ...

September 6, 2009
N.F.L. Preview

N.F.L. Looks to College Game for a New Plan of Attack

It has been 10 years since the St. Louis Rams rode a fast and furious offense that resembled pinball on cleats — the Greatest Show on Turf — to a Super Bowl title.
But that attack, which seemed to come out of nowhere along with quarterback Kurt Warner, was merely prologue to an explosion of innovation that is transforming the N.F.L.

Conjured by coaches who borrow from the wide-open college game, new-look offenses have developed into something previously imagined by video gamers in their living rooms.
Nearly every team now has a Wildcat package, the scheme that carried the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs last season by putting players in unexpected positions.

And the spread offense floods the field, with receivers stretched from sideline to sideline, to such effect that Warner and the Arizona Cardinals used it about 85 percent of the time on their stunning run to the Super Bowl last season.
On the horizon is the University of Florida’s star quarterback, Tim Tebow, who will enter the draft next year. He could open the door to what was once virtually unthinkable in the N.F.L.: a quarterback with the size and sturdiness of a linebacker who reads the defense and has the freedom to run as often as he passes in the college-style spread-option offense.

In many ways, change has been forced on the N.F.L. because defenses are so fast and complex, and because fewer drop-back passers, fullbacks and blocking tight ends are being produced in a college game dominated by the spread.
So it is little surprise that almost all N.F.L. teams occasionally use a four- or five-receiver offense, and that Florida Coach Urban Meyer, who has all but perfected the spread with the Gators after giving it prominence at Utah, has been asked for advice from at least four N.F.L. teams, including the New England Patriots. “I think it would have worked years ago,”

Meyer said. “No one has had enough — I don’t want to say courage — no one has wanted to step across that line. Everyone runs the same offense in the N.F.L. A lot of those coaches are retreads. They get fired in Minnesota, they go to St. Louis. They get fired in St. Louis and go to San Diego. I guess what gets lost in the shuffle is your objective is to go win the game. If it’s going to help you win the game, then you should run the spread.”

The resistance to the spread was based on a belief that no N.F.L. team would expose a quarterback to the pounding that might result with fewer blockers on the field. The Patriots, who rewrote the single-season record book in 2007, are the best N.F.L. team at the pass-heavy version of the spread precisely because quarterback Tom Brady gets rid of the ball so quickly, said Bruce Arians, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

The Dolphins went to the Wildcat to exploit a different advantage. They have two superb running backs, and they could be on the field at the same time.
“You can’t sit back and do the same basic stuff, because both sides have to try to fool the other,” Warner said. “It’s guys in their little laboratory saying, ‘What’s the next big things we can pull out to fool people for three or four plays?’

Many teams still use a form of the West Coast offense, which stresses methodical movement down the field. But the tipping point for the offensive revolution might already have occurred. When the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden attended his son’s high school football tournament, only one school of 77 used a traditional center-to-quarterback snap. The others were in the shotgun, running the spread-option offense. Those are the players who feed into the college game, where even traditional running teams like Texas and Oklahoma have switched to the spread after watching opponents with less talent become competitive with it.

The new schemes force defenses to honor all 11 players on offense. Against traditional offenses, defenses do not account for the quarterback. But if the quarterback — or the player taking the snap in a Wildcat formation — is a threat to run, it removes the defense’s numbers advantage. When the offense is spread out, the running lanes widen and it is easier to spot blitzes. That holds the promise of more effectively attacking defenses like Dick LeBeau’s confusing zone blitz, which has propelled the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles in four years.

When Kansas City Chiefs Coach Todd Haley was with the Jets earlier this decade and with Arizona last season, he said the teams deployed the spread against opponents they thought could manhandle them because forcing a defensive player to line up wide neutralizes his ability to overwhelm an offensive lineman. And with the defense easier to see when spread out, quarterbacks tend to make fewer mistakes.

Last season, the interception rate dipped below one per team per game for the first time since such statistics were first kept in 1932, even though teams have passed more in the last 20 years.
But the new offenses have also created problems for coaches. Quarterbacks are no longer schooled in the traditional drop-back model that is still the N.F.L. standard personified by Brady and Peyton Manning. It means quarterback coaches must teach rudimentary skills like how to take a snap from directly under the center or even run a huddle. This may eventually force teams to pluck college backups with little playing experience from programs that still run traditional offenses — a risky draft strategy.

“As coaches, we have to find ways to use what we have, and we have to do it fast,” said the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, Dan Henning. “They don’t give you a five-year program. What are you going to do, live and die until you get a franchise quarterback? Nobody wants that, because they don’t want to pick him No. 1 because they don’t want to pay them.”

This season, more teams seem to be trying to adapt elements of their offenses to their players’ talents. The Dolphins drafted Pat White, the former West Virginia quarterback, who is widely expected to run a fuller Wildcat package this year. In Minnesota, the former Florida receiver Percy Harvin will probably be deployed at a number of positions. And in Philadelphia, the Eagles signed Michael Vick — once the highest-paid player in the N.F.L. because he could deploy designed runs to such devastating effect — to run a specialized package of plays.
Still, as tantalizing as the Wildcat is, it is likely to remain a curveball more than a regular part of the offense. “I’m not a fan of putting a $100 million quarterback on the bench or at wide receiver, where they can take a cheap shot at him,” Arians said. The threat of injury is probably what will keep the college-style spread option from migrating en masse to the N.F.L., the way the passing iteration of the spread has. In 2006, Vick occasionally ran something similar: He was reading the defense and either running himself, handing the ball off or passing. He surpassed 1,000 yards rushing that season, averaging 8.4 yards a carry. At 6 feet 3 inches and 245 pounds, Tebow is a physical marvel who Gil Brandt, a former personnel executive with the Dallas Cowboys, thinks will be a top-10 draft pick next spring.

/// There is a risk for each objective and every approach. The general objective for most ultra class professionals is to maximize their opportunities while minimizing the risks.

But for an N.F.L. team to make the spread option its full-time offense, it would need several quarterbacks who can do what Tebow does. Even trickier, it would need players who are built to take the hits he does. Otherwise, one injury means the entire offense must change.
“You’re not going to be running your $18 million quarterback in the option,” said Jeff Jagodzinski, the recently fired offensive coordinator for Tampa Bay who saw plenty of the spread option as Boston College’s head coach.

/// All that glitter is not gold. What factor is one willing to compromise when using something new and innovative?

“That would be a tough one to explain to the owner.”
Perhaps, then, Tebow will represent the end of this thread of innovation. Even fans of the spread wonder if it could someday go the way of the wishbone and the run and shoot, earlier offensive incarnations that defenses eventually caught up to.

Then someone will have to go back to the laboratory to dream up the next big thing.
Warner will be retired by then, but he will be watching. “I love the innovation,” he said. “Better than 3 yards and a cloud of dust.”

Pete Thamel contributed reporting.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

/// *** Innovation is a good idea when one has the time and the resources to experiment with it.

Applying the Spread Offense in Business

In business, a "spread offense" approach works when the strategist is able to create technical mismatches within the opposition's defensive scheme. We discovered that it does always not work for those who have limited resources. If the mismatch does not work, the scheme will fail. One's supply of resources diminishes.

Whenever the difference maker (the principal implementer) is detached from the setting, the secondary option usually does not have the same experience and skills of the starter.

Lesson: It is not cost efficient for the strategist to sacrifice their difference maker in chaotic situations.

Sidebar: Regardless of the state of the settings, we professionally prefer the application of methodical movement in our strategic implementation. It creates a level of stability within the client grand settings.

The Way of Strategy (#24): Knowing the Grand Settings (2)

"Know the challenge, know yourself; your success will never be threatened. Know your settings, know the external changes, your success will always be absolute." - Art of War

Whenever one enters into a new competitive setting, knowing the rules and the dimensions of the terrain are the first few steps. Understand the strategic leverage of your team. Determining their strengths and weaknesses. Then matching the attributes to the terrain. Those are the first few steps of a good Compass strategy. ...

We recently were talking to an associate who used some parts of our process in his projects. He explained the following business situation.

"We have a mechanical engineer consultant who just has designed the physical box that our module unit will go into. It will be attached to the dashboard that I'm responsible for. He doesn't have an actual dashboard, but he has all the mechanical drawings from the daskboard designer. ... The management presumed that the mechanical engineer did not need any more information. He sent me a prototype. We tried to install it and the device did not meet our requirements. ... As you constantly mentioned to us, that people usually performs well, are given a tangible representation of what is required of them. ... ( Sidebar: Defining the end in mind is the most difficult challenge in defining the strategy. Proper strategic assessment and planning areis the other most difficult things to do.) ... *I* think what we should have done was to send him an actual dashboard and let him see for himself (not photos) on how it actually works. ... Management is beginning to come around to see the wisdom of assessing the compass of their situation before doing anything else. ..."

Strategic Assessment is about understanding the compass of one's grand settings. It is not about assumption or guessing. Depending on the quality of the data and the experience of the Compass strategist, he/she can predict the outcome.

Our preferred approach is to operate with tangible data from every strategic stakeholders. ...

Assumptions usually have a tendency of wasting time and money. One cannot tell someone to design a three-dimensional object with two dimensional data.

One cannot advise inexperienced outcome-driven management (who has no grand picture or any strategic experience on proper logistics and protocol), on the proper strategic management approach until they understand that quality takes time. Poor quality specifics (requirements to process) usually create extended time line and higher operating costs.

"There is no time to do it right. There is always time to fix it. ..."

When project managers or strategists do not properly build a grand picture that focuses on the agreed "end in mind.", time, effort and money are wasted. It is a lesson that most inexperienced outcome-driven management will never understand.

Conclusively, strategic experience results.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#23): Knowing the Grand Settings

"Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total." - Art of War

Knowing the rules of the competition is one of the first few steps of game strategy. ...

The quality of one's leverage determines whether the opposition will attempt to utilize the rules against you. If they can't use those rules, they find a way to change it.

In business competition, the act of fairness does not exist. It is a deceptive belief that most naive and innocent businessmen and women get lured into.

One should always know the rules and the history of the arena that he/she is competing in.

September 25, 2009, 6:58 pm
AT&T Says Google Voice Violates Net Neutrality Principles
By Saul Hansell
Policy and Law

AT&T is playing a “gotcha” with Google. The big phone company filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission Friday saying the Google Voice calling system violates the commission’s network neutrality principles.

At issue is Google’s decision not to connect Google Voice customers to certain conference calling and other lines because of what it says are excessive access charges by the providers of those lines. AT&T, which is required to connect its telephones to all lines, says Google is discriminating against certain uses of its network, a no-no in the network neutrality world.

Google, meanwhile, says it doesn’t have to follow the same rules AT&T does.

Whether AT&T is right depends on all sorts of technical interpretations of the commission’s policies and which regulations actually apply to Google Voice, which is a technological patchwork of telephone calling and Internet communication.

But that really isn’t AT&T’s primary concern. The company is mainly trying to score some debating points and show that sometimes companies have good reason to treat some uses of their networks differently than others. (If you do want to get into the policy minutiae, start with this post from the public-interest telecom lawyer Harold Feld .)

What AT&T and Google agree on is that the system for exchanging payments between phone companies for completing long-distance calls is deeply flawed. I looked into this last year, when Kevin Martin, then the F.C.C. chairman, wanted to reform what is called intercarrier compensation. After a week trying to understand those rules, I ran away screaming. Our long-distance system is so topsy-turvy that it makes the Mad Hatter’s tea party look like drill time at West Point.

But to simplify it as much as possible: When your long-distance company connects your call to a telephone served by a different company, it pays a fee to terminate the call. This fee can range from almost nothing to as much as 7 cents a minute. The difference is set by a number of factors, including state regulatory regimes. In most cases, those access charges far exceed the actual cost of completing a long-distance call, and every telephone user pays higher bills because of these charges.

So why do these charges exist? Originally, they were to subsidize service in sparsely populated areas, and they are still defended by the largely rural phone companies that benefit from them, many of which have allies in Congress. (Those phone companies get a number of other subsidies, too.)

Meanwhile, some enterprising phone companies, aided by local regulators, have taken to encouraging entrepreneurs to set up businesses that attract lots of inbound calls. Those include the free conference calling services, free fax lines and telephone pornography. The phone companies rebate some of the high call termination fees they receive to the companies running these services.

Maybe the commission will decide that Google, since it is turning into a telephone company, will need to connect to those lines and pay the fees. Maybe it will agree with Google’s argument that its services are different enough to be exempt from the rules AT&T follows. But consumers would benefit most if the commission used this as another prod to do the difficult work of bringing some rationality to the way that long-distance calling is priced.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#22): The Basics of Strategic Assessment

Lately, we have been spending our time advising startups who are over focused on tactics, specific means and their set of technological methods. While they refused to recognize the risk and the consequences of not understanding the grand objective and connecting the proper tactical approach to it, these decision makers believe that "keeping it simple" and the use of a specific technology are the key to their business success.

We also spent a great deal of time, trying to convince them in the importance of assessing the marketplace settings before building a tangible plan. The problem began when they began to believe that their intuitive feeling is greater than the need for intelligent data.

The beginning section of our future book will focus on the fundamentals of the grand picture and how to develop a tangible strategy from it.

Regardless of the marketplace, the general fundamentals for competing strategically are always the same:
  • Assessing the grand picture.
  • Positioning oneself with proper planning; and
  • Influencing through the implementation of direct and indirect methods.
Living in an information-driven society does not always mean that people would always make the proper decision. Our resolution is to emphasize the message of understanding the grand picture before making a strategic decision.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#21b): Assessing the Grand Settings and Other Matters

The Raiders understood the compass of their circumstances. Not only were their past performance was flat, the team unity, the leadership and their execution game plan were in disorder. Economically, the Raiders have repeatedly been unable to sell out their seats. A team that does not win, is a failing team that is in chaos. The team is professionally considered to be the laughing stock in the NFL's terrain.

After last week's slaughter against the NY Giants, the Raiders needed to change their grand modus operandi in order to regain their respect and retain fan interests.

The Raiders defense coordinator somehow regained the control of his defense and properly decided on a different approach and set of plays that gave them a competitive advantage. The Eagles were not prepared for this change of scheme.

Conclusively, the Raiders defeated the Eagles.

Given the right situation, the true professionals will adjust their circumstance in order to survive. The classic professional sports adage is proven true again. "Any team can be beaten at any day, at any time. ..."

Whether the Raiders are able to maintain this new Compass view and the momentum is questionable, we will presume the Raiders are playing with the mindset of "... one game at a time".

Say hello to defense

Oakland blitz-fest yields 6 sacks, holds Philly to 3 FGs

David White, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Eagles didn't see it coming, and, frankly, who did outside the Raiders' inner workings?

Philadelphia came into the Coliseum with three wins going on four. The Raiders crawled in with four losses going on their usual 11 or 12.

If the Giants could hang 44 points on Oakland the previous Sunday, imagine the potential numbers with the second-ranked scoring offense coming to bat.
"They saw the Giants did what they did last week, so they're coming in thinking they'd really have a day," Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt said. "That's just human nature." Here's what wasn't natural Sunday: the Raiders' defense blitzing and blitzing more, then playing zone coverage and more zone coverage, not letting up until a 13-9 victory was won Sunday.

The defense kept the Eagles out of the end zone and thoroughly confused, just in time to keep the season from being irretrievably lost. "They were able to come up with a scheme we haven't seen," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said after a 22-for-46 showing. "They dropped back in more zone than we've seen in the early games. They came up with more of a blitz package." In short, the Raiders threw in their entire kitchen-sink package, and they needed every bit of it.

The no-octane offense scored but 13 points. That was enough to beat the lousy Chiefs in Week 2. It shouldn't have been enough to beat the high-flying Eagles.
But, it did. The Raiders' defense saw to that. "I'm sure they thought we were sorry and didn't want to play," defensive end Trevor Scott said. They would have been wrong, on every count. The Raiders blitzed the linebackers and safeties from the first series to the last. They sacked McNabb six times for 53 yards, then hit him another eight times for good measure.

Defensive end Richard Seymour had two sacks and three hits. Backup defensive end Trevor Scott had two sacks and two hits. Outside linebacker Thomas Howard got his first sack of the season, but it just as easily could have gone to middle linebacker Kirk Morrison on the double blitz. To a man, members of the Eagles' offense said they had no idea the Raiders had this in them. The Raiders' defense got off the field with five three-and-outs. It stopped the Eagles short on 14 of 16 third downs. It allowed but six plays inside the red zone. "If you sit back there and let the quarterback look over the defense for about three to four seconds, he's gonna kill you," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. "We knew we had to pressure him."

The Raiders always say that, though. Only now have they gone to drastic measures. Why they haven't tried this blitzing-zone stuff sooner, no one knows, but it worked wonderfully against the Eagles - if only for the element of surprise.

"It was a shock," Eagles right tackle Winston Justice said, "They caught us by surprise." Right guard Max Jean-Gilles said they weren't "prepared." Eagles coach Andy Reid said they were "outcoached." Eagles defensive end Chris Clemons, a former Raider, said nothing at all. He declined comment. "I don't know what to say," Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel said. "They gave it to us." That, they did, and they didn't even need much help from the lowest-scoring teammates in the NFL.

Cardinal Rule: The ultra class professionals are always prepared to have contingencies of what the opposition could do. (One should never underestimate the opposition).

Cardinal Rule: If the opposition's offense is not scoring, the team has a chance to win. Offense thrills. But it is the defense that wins the game.

The offense chipped in one play of note: tight end Zach Miller's 86-yard touchdown catch with two downfield blocks from receiver Louis Murphy. Everything else simply was killing the clock. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell managed the game with 17-for-28 passing for 224 yards. Running back Justin Fargas kept drives alive with 23 carries for 87 yards.

For a day, it was all the defense needed.
"We looked at the film last week and knew that we didn't show up to play," Seymour said. "We got embarrassed. We just said, 'Hey, let's come out this week.' If we all put it together, then we could do something good."

E-mail David White at
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


Raiders overpower Eagles 13-9
By JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
Sunday, October 18, 2009
(10-18) 18:23 PDT Oakland, Calif. (AP) --

Louis Murphy sprinted upfield and laid out a defender with a punishing block. Not satisfied, he caught up to the play again and delivered a second block that allowed Zach Miller to cruise into the end zone on an 86-yard catch-and-run.

For an offense criticized for lacking big plays, intensity and leadership, a rookie receiver gave the Oakland Raiders all three in one play that answered the skeptics.
Miller scored the only touchdown of the game, Justin Fargas helped control the clock by rushing for 87 physical yards and Oakland's defense harassed Donovan McNabb all day in a 13-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

"We went out and threw a fight on somebody and said, 'Enough. Let's play,'" coach Tom Cable said. "That's all you can say. There's no magic words or anything like that." It was a major turnaround from the last three weeks when the Raiders (2-4) lost by at least 20 points for the first time in franchise history, capped by a 44-7 loss to the Giants last week. After that game, New York linebacker Antonio Pierce said it felt like playing a scrimmage.

Those comments were posted in the Raiders' locker room this week and the team responded to the critics in impressive fashion.
"That gave me extra fuel," Murphy said. "You have to look yourself in the mirror and man up. His comments were true. We played flat. We didn't play with any emotion. This game was totally different. We took those comments to heart."

The key Sunday was the Oakland defense. Coordinator John Marshall mixed in more zone coverages and blitzes than usual to combat a high-powered Philadelphia offense that was averaging the second-most points in the league.
The Eagles abandoned the run early, only had Michael Vick on the field for two plays, allowed six sacks and were the first team in three years to fail to score a touchdown against the Raiders. "They were able to get home and hit our quarterback," coach Andy Reid said. "When we did have opportunities we didn't take advantage of opportunities."

Philadelphia's last chance ended when McNabb underthrew DeSean Jackson on fourth-and-4 from the Oakland 44 with 2:14 remaining. "I'm sure they watched the Giants game and thought we were sorry," Scott said. "But all week coach Cable talked about persevering and forget the past and move forward so we can get to where we want to go."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#21): Assessing the Grand Settings and Other Matters

Compass Team Strategy Rules
  • A team that masters the fundamentals first, has the option to implement great strategic moves with ease. (A top Taiji player used to remind me that one who masters the small moves, will be able to make the big moves.)
  • A team that operates together, must have the same access to all relevant information.

[ The day after ]
So what are we left to think after the 49ers' 45-10 head slap by the Falcons? The loss seemed most stunning to the 49ers themselves and particularly to head coach Mike Singletary. In his postgame news conference, Singletary said he never expected the blowout and he believed his team had established a standard that would have made such shattering losses no longer possible.

The 49ers firmly believed they were the better team going into Sunday's game. That's why Singletary showed his players a clip of the American relay team from the Beijing Olympics. Viewed as far more talented than the rest of the field, the relay team faltered because they dropped the baton. Singletary's message was to remember to execute the small details.

Mike Singletary's coaching powers will now be tested.

The 49ers never got to the small details because they were overwhelmed by the big details of the Falcons superior offense, defense and special teams.

So instead of getting a new standard established as a solidly good team in the NFL, what Singletary might have done in his first four games is lift the team up by his Herculean acts of motivation, discipline and hard work. It's possible that the immensely rigorous training camp made the players believe they had been forged into a better team.

That might be true, but what's also true is that they're the same group that went 7-9 last season and they are still adjusting to another new offensive coordinator.

The Falcons proved to be far more agile in the preparation. Over their bye week, the Falcons ditched their defensive identity as a zone team and installed a blitzing, man coverage scheme. Even though they were unfamiliar with such a style they pulled it off magnificently and flummoxed the 49ers as a result. That's quite a feat for a team in only their second year under head coach Mike Smith and with five new starters on defense.

Part of the switch in tactics included playing a five-man, two-linebacker, four-linemen defense against the 49ers predominate use of their twin tight-end offense. The 49ers never seemed to get comfortable with that adjustment, particularly tight end Vernon Davis, who reverted back to his old ways of tentative route running.

The one not startled by the switch was quarterback Shaun Hill. Like a couple of research nerds in white lab coats, Hill and fellow quarterback Alex Smith scoured video from the 2008 Falcons searching for changes the Falcons might adopt during their bye week. They discovered that Atlanta at times blitzed and played man coverage last season, and Hill and Smith figured they would try it again.

The problem is Hill knew it, but the rest of his offense didn't and a quarterback can only do so much if the rest of his offense was unprepared.

From that standpoint the 49ers were clearly and thoroughly out-coached.

So what the 49ers may have discovered is that there are limits to the Singletary philosophy of just playing basic football and allowing the other team to make a mistake. If the other team is talented and if they throw something completely different at the 49ers, they can knock San Francisco out of their comfort zone and the stunning results were all there, exposed in the soft autumnal light of a glaring 45-10 loss.

Lesson: A team that focuses on mastering the basics, will always lose to a team who mastered the basics many months ago.

Lesson: In a high risk and high reward scenario, one cannot continuously live off the same set of plays. The world class competitor must always be prepared for that day where he or she must adjust to a scenario where the opposition knows their modus operandi (i.e., the strategic approach, the plays, the adjustments, etc.) In a life and death scenario, the competitor must either evolve or perish.


If a certain fan base is paying their professional sport team many millions of dollars per year for the privilege of watching their team perform professionally and efficiently, should that team have spend more time and effort, properly preparing for the game? ... Is that how a professional should operate?

A world class professional is the expert who knows the compass of their grand settings by having a comprehensive understanding of the basics, the technicalities and the cycles. He or she also knows how their competitive arena is being affected by the other parts of the globe.

The world class professional is someone who is always focusing on the now, while being mindfully aware what could happen next.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009 (SF Chronicle)

Singletary says 49ers must prepare better
John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer

(10-12) 18:37 PDT -- If the 49ers looked unprepared in Sunday's didn't-see-it-coming blowout loss to Atlanta, it's because they were. So said coach Mike Singletary.

"We learned that preparation is everything," Singletary said after absorbing the worst defeat of his nascent coaching career. "Yesterday ... on the defensive side of the ball, I felt they (the Falcons) had a good game plan and we had a difficult time getting on track. The preparation on
our behalf, starting with me, was not good. Just did not do a good job overall."

Singletary suggested changes in the lineup might be in the offing, probably at right guard where second-year player Chilo Rachal has struggled in pass protection. The 49ers have this week to tinker before returning to play at Houston on Oct. 25, when running back Frank Gore
should be back and wide receiver Michael Crabtree likely will be active for his first NFL game.

The coach said deficiencies on the offensive line contributed to Shaun Hill having his worst game as a starting quarterback. Hill completed 15 of 38 passes for 198 yards, was sacked three times and had one pass intercepted for a passer rating of 45.7.

"Overall, the inconsistency in terms of the blitz pickups caused him to get rid of the ball prematurely," Singletary said. "It was more a case of some of the offensive-line breakdowns in pass protection. We will address that this week, next week. We may have to make some changes there."

Asked if one of those changes could be at right guard, the coach said, "Quite possibly."

The 49ers would have several options if that's the case. They could install versatile backup Tony Wragge at right guard and leave Adam Snyder and Tony Pashos alternating at right tackle. Or they could start Pashos at right tackle and move Snyder to right guard, where he has started six games in his career.

During this bye week, Singletary said his task is to evaluate the 53-man roster to determine "whatever changes we need to make, we make them now. That's the most important thing."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#20): Always Assess Your Opposition

Compass 1st Rule of Competition: Assess, Position and Influence

Cardinal Rule of Competition: Stay focused on your grand objective during the competition.

One who loses their emotional balance, usually become so engaged to the micro-event, that he/she surrenders their focus of the grand objective.

A leader should never lose their cool especially in the field of competition. There is no excuse.

49ers Post game

/// A competitor who does not stay focused on the grand picture, is usually the one who is being pawned.

This game had everything, including a nice shouting match between Mike Singletary and the acknowledged dirtiest player in the league, Falcons guard and former 49er, Harvey Dahl. Dahl completely got into everyone's head including the head coach.

"I wish I had better coaching ediquette," Singletary said. "I have to get better at that. ... It was the heat of the moment."

Dahl also drew a personal foul from Takeo Spikes at the end of the game. He was living rent free in the 49ers' heads.

/// Once the opposition has misdirected you from the game, you are being pawned.

"I expected a little bit of it," said 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson, who knew Dahl when Dahl was a practice squad player. "But nothing like that."

Others downplayed the Dahl factor, with a very somber Shaun Hill saying, "That's part of the game."

Spikes attributed the loss to this. "Whatever could have gone wrong, went wrong, times two," Spikes said. That included a Michael Turner fumble in the first half that was kicked right to a Falcon.

If the San Francisco Niners coaching staff properly assessed their opposition, they would have realized that a specific element of the opposition was going to play dirty. They should have been prepared for this worst case scenario. Click here for a news item on the mindgamer who got into Singletary's head.


Compass View

Point #1: Assess your opposition properly and carefully.

Point #2:
Plan your gameplan to exploit their strengths and weaknesses

Point #3: Plan and prepare for best and worst case scenarios.
* Ensure your contingency
plays are in your script. (We presuming that you have one. Do you?)

Point #4: Consciously know what you are planning for.

Point #5: Prepare your team on your contingency moves for all best and worst case scenarios.

Point #6: Never ever let a negative event stay in your head for more than a micro moment. Remember to keep your eye on the current event while being mindfully aware of the rest of the game. Avoid the emotional negativity.

Point #7: It takes a coolhead to win a hot game.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#19): Intelligence Gathering

To succeed in an information-driven society, companies are constantly gathering and analyzing intelligence on the consumer every cyber second.

Why is it important?

"Those who do not know the positive and the negative conditions of their marketing terrains, cannot properly conduct their marketing and sales operations efficiently; ...Those who do not possess the latest customer data, are unable to obtain the advantages of the terrain." --- Paraphrased from the Art of War 7

Q: How do you secure this type of intelligence?
A: Start by understanding the grand picture. One assesses the grand picture by understanding the obvious and non-obvious factors.

Our questions to you:
  • Do you know what is your grand picture?
  • Do you know how to assess the business intelligence of your grand picture?
Until you answer those questions, you will be struggling in the middle of the pack. If you want to talk about about a better alternative, please contact us at service [aatt] collaboration360 [dott]com

As Google and Microsoft vie, Twitter could turn tweets into dollars
Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld
Thursday, October 8, 2009 (10-08) 14:57 PDT --

With Google and Microsoft both looking to ink a deal with Twitter for its real-time data, the microblogging company could have finally found a way to turn tweets into dollars.
At the same time, the titans of tech may have found a way to boost their real-time search efforts in the midst of their raging search war .

The intense rivals are in separate talks with the new online darling Twitter to set up their own data-mining deals , says a report from The Wall Street Journal 's AllThingsD Web site.

The "advanced talks" are said to be over licensing deals that would allow them to integrate real-time Twitter feeds with their search engines, Google's search and Microsoft's Bing.

None of the three companies would respond to requests for information about the reported negotiations. AllThingsD reported today that the individual deals could mean upfront payments worth several million dollars, or involve revenue-sharing plans.

"Ah, this could be a way for Twitter to make some money , and maybe more than just a little money," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Co.

"It finally means a business model for Twitter, or at least the beginnings of one. And, of course, it means real revenue, which is very important. Not just in licensing revenue from Google or Microsoft, but also in potentially getting a piece of the action on an ongoing basis. So there could be considerable upside here for Twitter,"

Olds said.
Industry watchers have been waiting not so patiently for Twitter to come up with a business plan and actually start making some real money. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has said for months that the company has wanted to focus on building features into the site before worrying about the business end of things. If either, or both, of these deals go ahead, they would solve some big income issues for Twitter.

"The data is valuable," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. "It allows the search engines to front-end Twitter. And it also clues them in to what people on the Web are talking about."
"What people are now twittering about is what people are now interested in...," Gottheil said.

"So the engines could include tweets as indexed content, either through an option, a separate search page, or a search window."
Gottheil said he doubts that either Google or Microsoft would allow the other to have the only license with Twitter.

If one deal goes through, the other would most likely follow, he said. In the ongoing battle for supremacy , neither company would want the other to gain a real-time search advantage .

For Microsoft and Google, it's more ammunition they can use to beat the hell out of each other," said Olds.

"It's probably more important for Microsoft to secure a deal than Google, but I would expect that there will be deals with both of them..."
"The hype around Twitter currently has it being considered to be one of the very best ways to gauge what people are talking about and what they're interested in.

This is a direct benefit from Twitter becoming so large. It's the value of a huge user-footprint," Olds said.

Original story -

Copyright (c) 2009, IDG News Service.
All rights reserved. IDG News Service is a trademark of International Data Group, Inc.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Way of Strategy (#18): How to Be An Expert

From A Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho)
Written by Miyamoto Musashi Translated by Victor Harris
  • Do not think dishonestly.
  • The Way is in training.
  • Become acquainted with every art.
  • Know the Ways of all professions.
  • Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
  • Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
  • Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
  • Pay attention even to trifles.
  • Do nothing which is of no use.
You can find more information on the Five Rings at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Way of Strategy (17): What Makes An Expert (2)

A continuation of the topic "The Expert"


July 24, 2006

The Expert Mind

Studies of the mental processes of chess grandmasters have revealed clues to how people become experts in other fields as well

By Philip E. Ross

A man walks along the inside of a circle of chess tables, glancing at each for two or three seconds before making his move. On the outer rim, dozens of amateurs sit pondering their replies until he completes the circuit. The year is 1909, the man is Jose Raul Capablanca of Cuba, and the result is a whitewash: 28 wins in as many games. The exhibition was part of a tour in which Capablanca won 168 games in a row.

How did he play so well, so quickly? And how far ahead could he calculate under such constraints? "I see only one move ahead," Capablanca is said to have answered, "but it is always the correct one."

He thus put in a nutshell what a century of psychological research has subsequently established: much of the chess master's advantage over the novice derives from the first few seconds of thought. This rapid, knowledge-guided perception, sometimes called apperception, can be seen in experts in other fields as well. Just as a master can recall all the moves in a game he has played, so can an accomplished musician often reconstruct the score to a sonata heard just once. And just as the chess master often finds the best move in a flash, an expert physician can sometimes make an accurate diagnosis within moments of laying eyes on a patient.

But how do the experts in these various subjects acquire their extraordinary skills? How much can be credited to innate talent and how much to intensive training? Psychologists have sought answers in studies of chess masters. The collected results of a century of such research have led to new theories explaining how the mind organizes and retrieves information. What is more, this research may have important implications for educators. Perhaps the same techniques used by chess players to hone their skills could be applied in the classroom to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

The Drosophila of Cognitive Science
The history of human expertise begins with hunting, a skill that was crucial to the survival of our early ancestors. The mature hunter knows not only where the lion has been; he can also infer where it will go. Tracking skill increases, as repeated studies show, from childhood onward, rising in "a linear relationship, all the way out to the mid-30s, when it tops out," says John Bock, an anthropologist at California State University, Fullerton. It takes less time to train a brain surgeon.

The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born.

Without a demonstrably immense superiority in skill over the novice, there can be no true experts, only laypeople with imposing credentials. Such, alas, are all too common. Rigorous studies in the past two decades have shown that professional stock pickers invest no more successfully than amateurs, that noted connoisseurs distinguish wines hardly better than yokels, and that highly credentialed psychiatric therapists help patients no more than colleagues with less advanced degrees. And even when expertise undoubtedly exists--as in, say, teaching or business management--it is often hard to measure, let alone explain.

Skill at chess, however, can be measured, broken into components, subjected to laboratory experiments and readily observed in its natural environment, the tournament hall. It is for those reasons that chess has served as the greatest single test bed for theories of thinking--the "Drosophila of cognitive science," as it has been called.

The measurement of chess skill has been taken further than similar attempts with any other game, sport or competitive activity. Statistical formulas weigh a player's recent results over older ones and discount successes according to the strength of one's opponents. The results are ratings that predict the outcomes of games with remarkable reliability. If player A outrates player B by 200 points, then A will on average beat B 75 percent of the time. This prediction holds true whether the players are top-ranked or merely ordinary. Garry Kasparov, the Russian grandmaster who has a rating of 2812, will win 75 percent of his games against the 100th-ranked grandmaster, Jan Timman of the Netherlands, who has a rating of 2616. Similarly, a U.S. tournament player rated 1200 (about the median) will win 75 percent of the time against someone rated 1000 (about the 40th percentile). Ratings allow psychologists to assess expertise by performance rather than reputation and to track changes in a given player's skill over the course of his or her career.

Another reason why cognitive scientists chose chess as their model--and not billiards, say, or bridge--is the game's reputation as, in German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's words, "the touchstone of the intellect." The feats of chess masters have long been ascribed to nearly magical mental powers. This magic shines brightest in the so-called blindfold games in which the players are not allowed to see the board. In 1894 French psychologist Alfred Binet, the co-inventor of the first intelligence test, asked chess masters to describe how they played such games. He began with the hypothesis that they achieved an almost photographic image of the board, but he soon concluded that the visualization was much more abstract. Rather than seeing the knight's mane or the grain of the wood from which it is made, the master calls up only a general knowledge of where the piece stands in relation to other elements of the position. It is the same kind of implicit knowledge that the commuter has of the stops on a subway line.

The blindfolded master supplements such knowledge with details of the game at hand as well as with recollections of salient aspects of past games. Let us say he has somehow forgotten the precise position of a pawn. He can find it, as it were, by considering the stereotyped strategy of the opening--a well-studied phase of the game with a relatively limited number of options. Or he can remember the logic behind one of his earlier moves--say, by reasoning: "I could not capture his bishop two moves ago; therefore, that pawn must have been standing in the way...." He does not have to remember every detail at all times, because he can reconstruct any particular detail whenever he wishes by tapping a well-organized system of connections.

Of course, if the possession of such intricately structured knowledge explains not only success at blindfold play but also other abilities of chess masters, such as calculation and planning, then expertise in the game would depend not so much on innate abilities as on specialized training. Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot, himself a chess master, confirmed this notion in 1938, when he took advantage of the staging of a great international tournament in Holland to compare average and strong players with the world's leading grandmasters. One way he did so was to ask the players to describe their thoughts as they examined a position taken from a tournament game. He found that although experts--the class just below master--did analyze considerably more possibilities than the very weak players, there was little further increase in analysis as playing strength rose to the master and grandmaster levels. The better players did not examine more possibilities, only better ones--just as Capablanca had claimed.

Recent research has shown that de Groot's findings reflected in part the nature of his chosen test positions. A position in which extensive, accurate calculation is critical will allow the grandmasters to show their stuff, as it were, and they will then search more deeply along the branching tree of possible moves than the amateur can hope to do. So, too, experienced physicists may on occasion examine more possibilities than physics students do. Yet in both cases, the expert relies not so much on an intrinsically stronger power of analysis as on a store of structured knowledge. When confronted with a difficult position, a weaker player may calculate for half an hour, often looking many moves ahead, yet miss the right continuation, whereas a grandmaster sees the move immediately, without consciously analyzing anything at all.

De Groot also had his subjects examine a position for a limited period and then try to reconstruct it from memory. Performance at this task tracked game-playing strength all the way from novice to grandmaster. Beginners could not recall more than a very few details of the position, even after having examined it for 30 seconds, whereas grandmasters could usually get it perfectly, even if they had perused it for only a few seconds. This difference tracks a particular form of memory, specific to the kind of chess positions that commonly occur in play. The specific memory must be the result of training, because grandmasters do no better than others in general tests of memory.

Similar results have been demonstrated in bridge players (who can remember cards played in many games), computer programmers (who can reconstruct masses of computer code) and musicians (who can recall long snatches of music). Indeed, such a memory for the subject matter of a particular field is a standard test for the existence of expertise.

The conclusion that experts rely more on structured knowledge than on analysis is supported by a rare case study of an initially weak chess player, identified only by the initials D.H., who over the course of nine years rose to become one of Canada's leading masters by 1987. Neil Charness, professor of psychology at Florida State University, showed that despite the increase in the player's strength, he analyzed chess positions no more extensively than he had earlier, relying instead on a vastly improved knowledge of chess positions and associated strategies.

Chunking Theory
In the 1960s Herbert A. Simon and William Chase, both at Carnegie Mellon University, tried to get a better understand-ing of expert memory by studying its limitations. Picking up where de Groot left off, they asked players of various strengths to reconstruct chess positions that had been artificially devised--that is, with the pieces placed randomly on the board--rather than reached as the result of master play. The correlation between game-playing strength and the accuracy of the players' recall was much weak-er with the random positions than with the authentic ones.

Chess memory was thus shown to be even more specific than it had seemed, being tuned not merely to the game itself but to typical chess positions. These experiments corroborated earlier studies that had demonstrated convincingly that ability in one area tends not to transfer to another. American psychologist Edward Thorndike first noted this lack of transference over a century ago, when he showed that the study of Latin, for instance, did not improve command of English and that geometric proofs do not teach the use of logic in daily life.

Simon explained the masters' relative weakness in reconstructing artificial chess positions with a model based on meaningful patterns called chunks. He invoked the concept to explain how chess masters can manipulate vast amounts of stored information, a task that would seem to strain the working memory. Psychologist George Miller of Princeton University famously estimated the limits of working memory--the scratch pad of the mind--in a 1956 paper entitled "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two." Miller showed that people can contemplate only five to nine items at a time. By packing hierarchies of information into chunks, Simon argued, chess masters could get around this limitation, because by using this method, they could access five to nine chunks rather than the same number of smaller details.

Take the sentence "Mary had a little lamb." The number of information chunks in this sentence depends on one's knowledge of the poem and the English language. For most native speakers of English, the sentence is part of a much larger chunk, the familiar poem. For someone who knows English but not the poem, the sentence is a single, self-contained chunk. For someone who has memorized the words but not their meaning, the sentence is five chunks, and it is 18 chunks for someone who knows the letters but not the words.

In the context of chess, the same differences can be seen between novices and grandmasters. To a beginner, a position with 20 chessmen on the board may contain far more than 20 chunks of information, because the pieces can be placed in so many configurations. A grandmaster, however, may see one part of the position as "fianchettoed bishop in the castled kingside," together with a "blockaded king's-Indian-style pawn chain," and thereby cram the entire position into perhaps five or six chunks. By measuring the time it takes to commit a new chunk to memory and the number of hours a player must study chess before reaching grandmaster strength, Simon estimated that a typical grandmaster has access to roughly 50,000 to 100,000 chunks of chess information. A grandmaster can retrieve any of these chunks from memory simply by looking at a chess position, in the same way that most native English speakers can recite the poem "Mary had a little lamb" after hearing just the first few words.

Even so, there were difficulties with chunking theory. It could not fully explain some aspects of memory, such as the ability of experts to perform their feats while being distracted (a favorite tactic in the study of memory). K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University and Charness argued that there must be some other mechanism that enables experts to employ long-term memory as if it, too, were a scratch pad. Says Ericsson: "The mere demonstration that highly skilled players can play at almost their normal strength under blindfold conditions is almost impossible for chunking theory to explain because you have to know the position, then you have to explore it in your memory." Such manipulation involves changing the stored chunks, at least in some ways, a task that may be likened to reciting "Mary had a little lamb" backward. It can be done, but not easily, and certainly not without many false starts and errors. Yet grandmaster games played quickly and under blindfold conditions tend to be of surprisingly high quality.

Ericsson also cites studies of physicians who clearly put information into long-term memory and take it out again in ways that enable them to make diagnoses. Perhaps Ericsson's most homely example, though, comes from reading. In a 1995 study he and Walter Kintsch of the University of Colorado found that interrupting highly proficient readers hardly slowed their reentry to a text; in the end, they lost only a few seconds. The researchers explained these findings by recourse to a structure they called long-term working memory, an almost oxymoronic coinage because it assigns to long-term memory the one thing that had always been defined as incompatible with it: thinking. But brain-imaging studies done in 2001 at the University of Konstanz in Germany provide support for the theory by showing that expert chess players activate long-term memory much more than novices do.

Fernand Gobet of Brunel University in London champions a rival theory, devised with Simon in the late 1990s. It extends the idea of chunks by invoking highly characteristic and very large patterns consisting of perhaps a dozen chess pieces. Such a template, as they call it, would have a number of slots into which the master could plug such variables as a pawn or a bishop. A template might exist, say, for the concept of "the isolated queen's-pawn position from the Nimzo-Indian Defense," and a master might change a slot by reclassifying it as the same position "minus the dark-squared bishops." To resort again to the poetic analogy, it would be a bit like memorizing a riff on "Mary had a little lamb" by substituting rhyming equivalents at certain slots, such as "Larry" for "Mary," "pool" for "school" and so on. Anyone who knows the original template should be able to fix the altered one in memory in a trice.

A Proliferation of Prodigies
The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

According to this view, the proliferation of chess prodigies in recent years merely reflects the advent of computer-based training methods that let children study far more master games and to play far more frequently against master-strength programs than their forerunners could typically manage. Fischer made a sensation when he achieved the grandmaster title at age 15, in 1958; today's record-holder, Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, earned it at 12 years, seven months.

Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Meanwhile the standards denoting expertise grow ever more challenging. High school runners manage the four-minute mile; conservatory students play pieces once attempted only by virtuosi. Yet it is chess, again, that offers the most convincing comparison over time. John Nunn, a British mathematician who is also a grandmaster, recently used a computer to help him compare the errors committed in all the games in two international tournaments, one held in 1911, the other in 1993. The modern players played far more accurately. Nunn then examined all the games of one player in 1911 who scored in the middle of the pack and concluded that his rating today would be no better than 2100, hundreds of points below the grandmaster level--"and that was on a good day and with a following wind." The very best old-time masters were considerably stronger but still well below the level of today's leaders.

Then again, Capablanca and his contemporaries had neither computers nor game databases. They had to work things out for themselves, as did Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and if they fall below today's masters in technique, they tower above them in creative power. The same comparison can be made between Newton and the typical newly minted Ph.D. in physics.

At this point, many skeptics will finally lose patience. Surely, they will say, it takes more to get to Carnegie Hall than practice, practice, practice. Yet this belief in the importance of innate talent, strongest perhaps among the experts themselves and their trainers, is strangely lacking in hard evidence to substantiate it. In 2002 Gobet conducted a study of British chess players ranging from amateurs to grandmasters and found no connection at all between their playing strengths and their visual-spatial abilities, as measured by shape-memory tests. Other researchers have found that the abilities of professional handicappers to predict the results of horse races did not correlate at all with their mathematical abilities.

Although nobody has yet been able to predict who will become a great expert in any field, a notable experiment has shown the possibility of deliberately creating one. L¿szl¿ Polg¿r, an educator in Hungary, homeschooled his three daughters in chess, assigning as much as six hours of work a day, producing one international master and two grandmasters--the strongest chess-playing siblings in history. The youngest Polg¿r, 30-year-old Judit, is now ranked 14th in the world.

The Polg¿r experiment proved two things: that grandmasters can be reared and that women can be grandmasters. It is no coincidence that the incidence of chess prodigies multiplied after L¿szl¿ Polg¿r published a book on chess education. The number of musical prodigies underwent a similar increase after Mozart's father did the equivalent two centuries earlier.

Thus, motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise. It is no accident that in music, chess and sports--all domains in which expertise is defined by competitive performance rather than academic credentialing--professionalism has been emerging at ever younger ages, under the ministrations of increasingly dedicated parents and even extended families.

Furthermore, success builds on success, because each accomplishment can strengthen a child's motivation. A 1999 study of professional soccer players from several countries showed that they were much more likely than the general population to have been born at a time of year that would have dictated their enrollment in youth soccer leagues at ages older than the average. In their early years, these children would have enjoyed a substantial advantage in size and strength when playing soccer with their teammates. Because the larger, more agile children would get more opportunities to handle the ball, they would score more often, and their success at the game would motivate them to become even better.

Teachers in sports, music and other fields tend to believe that talent matters and that they know it when they see it. In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity. There is usually no way to tell, from a recital alone, whether a young violinist's extraordinary performance stems from innate ability or from years of Suzuki-style training. Capablanca, regarded to this day as the greatest "natural" chess player, boasted that he never studied the game. In fact, he flunked out of Columbia University in part because he spent so much time playing chess. His famously quick apprehension was a product of all his training, not a substitute for it.

The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. What is more, the demonstrated ability to turn a child quickly into an expert--in chess, music and a host of other subjects--sets a clear challenge before the schools. Can educators find ways to encourage students to engage in the kind of effortful study that will improve their reading and math skills? Roland G. Fryer, Jr., an economist at Harvard University, has experimented with offering monetary rewards to motivate students in underperforming schools in New York City and Dallas. In one ongoing program in New York, for example, teachers test the students every three weeks and award small amounts--on the order of $10 or $20--to those who score well. The early results have been promising. Instead of perpetually pondering the question, "Why can't Johnny read?" perhaps educators should ask, "Why should there be anything in the world he can't learn to do?" #