Josh’s early life as a world class chess prodigy is the true story behind the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. Josh continued his pursuit of mastery after his chess career by becoming world class in Tai Chi. He discusses his learning strategies and techniques in his excellent book, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.
A new chapter in Josh’s life has opened up with the study of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, an art which he is pursuing by partnering with and learning from Marcelo Garcia, the ‘Michael Jordan of martial arts.’ Josh describes Garcia as the most kinesthetically gifted person he’s ever met. In talking with Tim, Josh explores a fascinating line of thought on transitions that could apply to a number of disciplines.
Say you and I are looking at a situation. In your mind, there are three positions, but in my mind, I’m constantly training at the transitions between these positions. These transitional frames actually expand and become their own positions. If I’m seeing 100 positions when you’re seeing two, I can play in your blind spots and seem mystical to you because you haven’t trained there. And that’s what Marcelo does. By spending all of his time in transition, he has cultivated the art to play in the in between.
Josh is talking about brazilian jiu jitsu, but it’s a beautiful idea that has application among so many things. The brilliance of Roger Federer can be similarly analyzed. While his forehand, serve, and footwork are master class, that is also true of many other top players. Instead where he exceeds all others is his subtle transition between shots and the fluid anticipation of where the ball and his opponent will be before it happens.
Essentially, the masters excel at things you can’t put a label on. It’s an artful creativity and understanding that average people cannot comprehend. Most spectators watching golf will routinely see professionals hit shots that require the kind of vision and feel that no amateur can even comprehend. The degrees of variation available to an elite golfer when facing a challenging pitch shot are on a much higher order than a regular player. The same is true watching Stephen Curry navigate the lane for a layup or softly shed a defender and drain a three.
Application to Business
In thinking more broadly about this concept, you can make some interesting links to business. Seth Godin has an extremely important book called Linchpin
in which he provides an assessment of the modern business landscape. The era of finding a high paying, secure, process oriented job is long gone. Anything that has a rule book or clear definition can be outsourced or destroyed with technology.
Linchpins today are the people who do the things you can’t put into a job description. They solve problems a company doesn’t even know exist yet. In the accounting and finance staffing world, these are the people I see succeeding every day. They’re the ones who take pride in learning things they’re not required to learn and teaching people they’re not required to teach.
These people are mastering the transitions. They’re not only good at the specific, codified responsibilities they’re supposed to perform, but also the ability and understanding to do what’s not written down. As Waitzkin says, they can play in other people’s blind spots. Anyone who’s diligent enough can learn and follow a clearly written rule or responsibility. Getting good at those things can make you successful, but it doesn’t truly separate you from the field. What separates people is the art and thinking required to get good at things that other people would never even conceive to try. By cultivating this type of thinking and action, you can open up a whole new skillset that is invaluable in a business setting.
What do I mean? Just because you’re an accountant doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the pain points of a marketer or an engineer. It’s not written in your job description, but take some time to learn what makes them tick and what stands in the way of their success. Take them out to coffee. Ask them what you can do to make their lives easier. Maybe you’ll end up brainstorming a solution that more fully integrates accounting and IT. And more importantly, you’ll cement a professional bond that will enrich your network.