Learning Ad Agency New Business from a Chess & Tai Chi Champion

Relentless focus on improvement is a key to success
by Todd Knutson

Bottom Line interviews Josh Waitzkin, a former national chess champion and current martial arts world champion, in their most recent newsletter. Waitzkin shares insights that may cause you to change your perspective on how to learn and improve your new business skills.

His insights come from both competing at the highest levels in chess and tai chi, as well as from his personal experience pushing himself to win.

He has found that the most successful competitors are relentlessly introspective. They first recognize how they learn best and then take on their weaknesses, one at a time.

Attacking your weaknesses in this way breaks down the walls "between work and play, which leads to a fully engaged performer...and a learner who loves every step of the journey."

How would your new business skills and performance improve if you approached it as play, and less like work?

Waitzkin also discusses how to maximize your learning. He has found that concentrated effort on a limited amount of subject matter is critical.

  • Spend days, weeks, or even months "gaining a feel for the operating principals" of a very limited amount of material.
  • Only after you have achieved a "deep feeling" for it should you move on to more complicated material.

Consider what you currently know about new business. Let's say you don't feel particularly confident at being able to engage with a corporate marketer on the phone. What if you focused solely on gaining a deep understanding of how to engage better. I know from experience that it would probably take you weeks of reading, studying, and practicing before you should actually pick up the phone with a prospect. And then, months of actual telephone experience to achieve what Waitzkin calls a "deep feeling". But, think of the professional rewards that would come from being two or three times as effective as you are today.

Perfection is dangerous. Waitzkin argues that "when we believe that we have achieved perfection...we lose...our ability and willingness to absorb new information. Do you believe you've mastered new business? Are you open to learning more?

If those at the top of their fields relentlessly pursue improvement, what does that say about how we should approach our careers as new business professionals? Do you approach each day as a learning opportunity? Do you know what you need to work on to improve your skills, and are you "plunging deeply into a small pool" of information in order to do so?

I'm sure all of us can remember the single-minded focus we had as kids when we were learning something new. That approach caused us to quickly 'climb the learning curve'. It's that focus that we're talking about here, and that can yield significant results.

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