Bobby Fischer takes on the world. This is personal

July 31, 2011

A new film explores the psyche of Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess players of all time. This not a film review, but explores his chess genius to see what it tells us about the processes of creativity and leadership

The movie [released in July 2011] was Bobby Fischer takes on the World. The title makes play with an English expression which implies that here we have someone who was at odds with the whole of humanity.

Genius is a loosely used term

In Bobby Fischer´s case it refers to the exceptional talent he revealed at very early age. The attention he received even as a child bears comparisons with the fame heaped on youthful prodigies such as Mozart in music, and Gauss in mathematics.

Nature versus nurture again

There is still a lively debate around whether extreme talent is mostly innate, or whether it can be induced in a wide range of people by intensive effort under the influence of a mentor or parental figure. The recent advocates of this view include the father of the chess-playing Polgar twins each of whom attained status of grandmaster. Richard Williams has been quoted as selecting a tennis career and developing the great talents of his tennis playing daughters Serena and Venus.

The Cuban prodigy

Long before the arrival of Bobby Fischer, Chess had its earliest child prodigy in the Cuban Jose Capablanca who was to become World champion highly regarded for the clarity of his thinking in his play. Legend holds that Capa learned chess at the age of three, through watching his father play friendly games at home.

Heir to Capablanca?

In one respect Fischer could be seen as heir to the great Capablanca. At its best, his play is also marked by moves of an unexpected and beautiful nature. They could be said to be acts of creativity. The logic is obvious, but to others only after the event, when the moves of a game are re-analyzed by grandmasters and published in the leading chess magazines.

Bobby´s coming of age

His early promise was fulfilled in astonishing fashion as he moved from schoolboy talent to win the US chess championships at the age of twenty. It was the manner of his winning which produced headlines far beyond chess. He won with eleven straight wins. The 11:0 score line has never been equaled, before or since. The statistics are enriched by the style with which he demolished his opponents, including the strongest American chess players of the day.

Game of the century

One of his victims was the strong master Robert Byrne. Their match has been called the game of the century for the brilliance of Fischer’s play. His creativity is shown in moves which later were to appear as puzzles to be solved as training exercises for young chess-players. The first unexpected move must have come as a great shock to his opponent. Two or three other similarly brilliant moves took the result completely away from Byrne.

A pattern of excellence

For me, the pattern of excellence is of someone able to see beyond the conventions of the day. Chess players operate with sets of principles which guide them to find strong moves, and protect them from making weak ones. Most players operate by finding moves which conform the those principles such as ‘concentrate your forces towards the centre of the board'; ‘coordinate your pieces so that they support each other’. Fischer’s brilliance was in knowing when the principles did not quite apply because of specific circumstances in the game.

Byrne, playing white and had the first-mover’s advantage. He must have thought at first that his young opponent had blundered. Too late, he would then have seen that the shift to what looked like a weaker position had mysteriously revealed structural flaws in the disposition of his own pieces.

As the game drifted out of Byrnes’ control, Fischer uncorked another brilliant move. Not as radically original as the first, but still startling to all but the strongest players studying the game afterwards. The contest was as good as finished.

Creativity and leadership

The pattern of creative brilliance was to be repeated regularly throughout his brief but spectacular career. He went on to defeat Boris Spassky for the world championship. By then, he was showing signs of the mental illness which dogged Fischer for the rest of his life.

For me his creativity has something in common with that which marks the actions of great leaders who transform the way others act and think.

Acknowledgement

To Boylston Chess Club’s blog which has a wonderful set of images of chess players, including the one above, my all-time favourite for its echoes of Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi.


Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler dies

July 26, 2011

Elliott Handler founded Mattel which became a great and at times controversial business empire. The creation of the Barbie Doll concept has been attributed to his wife, Ruth, and was named after their own daughter

Elliot Handler lived a full and lengthy life before dying in July 2011 at the age of 95. His story is a fascinating one.

Away in a cradle

Mattel was started in a garage, that mythic cradle of entrpreneurship. The company website provides a time-line on its website from its foundation in 1945 to the year 2005 showing its rise to a global corporation. It shows highlights such as the ‘Birth of Barbie’, now an astonishingly well-preserved 52 year old. It also traces the acquisitions and mergers through which the company has grown.

Mattel Inc. incorporates Fisher Price, and produces a wide range of famous products such as Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys. The company name is derived from Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler. After the release of the Barbie doll, Mattel went on to revolutionize the toy industry with a range of innovations such as talking dolls and toys.

In the shadow of Barbie

Perhaps Elliot Handler will be remembered as living in the shadow of a fictional child. However, he was no mean inventor and entrepreneur. One of his successes was the product line Hot Wheels. The die cast range became a classic collectable. Elliot had pushed ahead when others showed little confidence in his concept.

Triumphs and disasters

Major successes in the 1960s propelled Mattel to its premier position as the number one toymaker in America. The triumphs were accompanied by several dark episodes.

Ruth Elliot had become President, and was mourned at her death as ‘Mom of Barbie’. By that time, Ruth had also been ousted from the company for financial wrongdoings, and Elliot had also been forced out off the board.

In 2002, outsourcing production to China led to a scandal involving lead contamination. The toys were recalled and public apologies made to the Chinese people. The episode anticipated the more recent strategies of companies such as BP and Toyota facing a hit to their corporate reputation.

Rewriting history

What you will not find on the company website is much about the board room coup which ousted founder Elliot and his wife Ruth.

A leadership mission

Matell today offers a leadership mission:

“Leadership” at Mattel is the ability to develop and communicate a compelling picture of the future that inspires and motivates others to take action. Leaders at Mattel align themselves with Mattel’s core values, exhibit leadership competencies and drive for success in our business strategies. In this way, we will work to achieve our vision, “Creating the Future of Play.” Every day as Mattel’s 30,000 employees worldwide strive to realize that vision, our leadership team is guiding the way.


“Pat Riley and Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t make it, but we are fortunate to have with us tonight instead…”

July 24, 2011

It is every speaker’s nightmare. To be introduced to a disappointed audience as a substitute for an advertised celebrity. Worse, to step in for two advertised celebrities…

It had been a piece of accidental viral advertising. The plan had been to advertise a low-key event for Miami business people to learn about the Manchester Business School’s new programs there. To make the event more interesting, it had been suggested that the presentation should look at local hero Pat Riley, legendary coach of the Basketball team Miami Heat.

My counter-suggestion was that I would be better able to talk about Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, a leader about whom I knew rather more. Eventually a creative compromise was reached, and the topic would be announced around the leader styles of both of the two great sporting figures.

Enquiries flood in

Somehow, the media picked up on the event as publicizing Manchester United’s summer tour to America rather than Manchester Business School’s tour of Miami. The MBS Miami center office started getting enquiries which turned into a flood.

Great marketing?

Maybe. Although an audience of disappointed basketball and soccer fans was not quite what the organizers were hoping for.

Here comes the substitute, to boos from the crowd

You couldn’t say that I saw what had happened as my great opportunity to come off the substitute’s bench and win over the crowd. It sounded too close to an earlier event I had been involved in. I can still picture the scene. It is of an after-dinner audience expecting to listen to Richard Branson’s thoughts about leadership. The chairman broke the news of a change of speaker:
“Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Branson could not be here this evening. But I’m sure you agree that we are fortunate instead to be able to listen to (consults notes) to our speaker (couldn’t find my name) who has agreed to step in at this late moment…” The audience did not seem to agree with the chairman. They looked palpably unenthused with the proposed substitute for Sir Richard. It was looking as if the chairman and myself were rated public enemies Nos 1 and 2.

I would like to say I won over that audience some years ago with a brilliant display of knowledge, wit and charm. But some merciful defense mechanism has blotted much of what happened from my memory banks. I can only recall the final flutter of applause, perhaps because I delivered on one promise, to be brief.

Time to fess up

Meanwhile back in Miami, the organizers had been frantically battling to deal with expectations, without wiping out the audience entirely. Maybe, I thought gloomily, I could fess up and tell the story about the time I stepped in for Richard Branson…

And remember what Pat Riley said: “You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.”

What happened next?

Maybe, just maybe, I will report what happened next in a future post.


The Guardian’s brilliant map-testing and map-making in Murdoch meltdown

July 19, 2011

The crisis at NewsCorp has been produced in no small part by brilliant investigative journalism from The Guardian newspaper. Their analysis of Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation demonstrates how a story can be read and tested for its credibility to help reshape public beliefs

Journalists are attempting to create new stories all the time. This is a process which metaphorically examines what is known (map reading), tests its credibility (map testing) and offers re-interpretations (map making).

As the crisis unfolded [in July 2011], the Guardian’s daily accounts became the first ‘go to’ for many who had not been regular readers. A nice example of its approach can be found in its treatment of the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson
as chief of the Metropolitan Police.

An interpretation

The piece was presented as ‘an interpretation’ of the resignation statement. The map was presented as provided by official sources. Its contents were scrutinised to get behind the text (map-testing). By focussing in such a way, a story behind the story emerges. For example:

When Sir Paul writes that he has no knowledge of the phone hacking in 2006

The Guardian notes: Reminds people that the original inquiry happened on Sir Ian Blair’s watch… nothing to do with him

When Sir Paul writes that his meetings with the NOTW deputy editor Neil Wallis were a matter of public record

The Guardian notes: Between September 2006 and June 2009, Stephenson had seven dinners with Neil Wallis. That’s a lot of dinners for a deputy editor. The meetings weren’t “public” until this weekend.

When Sir Paul notes that unlike former NOTW Editor Andy Coulson, who had been employed by Prime Minister David Cameron, deputy Editor Neil Wallis had never been convicted or associated with the phone-hacking issue

The Guardian notes: Stephenson is effectively saying to Cameron: Your guy is smellier than my guy. It leaves Cameron vulnerable to the question: if the Met chief is willing to take responsibility and resign, why don’t you?

The map-making continues

The last piece of map-testing had become part of the questioning of those interviewed about their insights yesterday [July 18th 2011], including London’s mayor Boris Johnson. Boris was announcing the resignation of Sir Paul’s deputy, John Yates, the latest casuality in the crisis. Quizzed on Sir Paul he was somewhat less ebullient than usual, and rather unenthusiastically refused to agree that David Cameron should resign for lack of judgement in the Andy Coulson affair.

Making sense of a complex story

The Guardian method of analysis is worth studying by any student wishing to test the accuracy of some text. It can be extended to ‘reading’ of situations of all kinds.


Murdoch Meltdown

July 17, 2011

Elisabeth Murdoch and father Rupert

In three turbulent weeks in July 2011, Rupert Murdoch faced a complete meltdown of his global corporation News Corp. The crisis has a timeline which can be traced to the imprisonment in 2004 of a few ‘rogue’ journalists in one newspaper, the News of the World. This spread to allegations of a culture of corruption and phone hacking at the NOTW, and its closure. The story continued to spread with political fallout reaching the wider global corporation

We concentrate on the turbulent weeks at the start of July 2011, after briefly reviewing the wider timeline of events.

BBC Timeline

The BBC gave a good summary of the timeline of events from 2000 to July 20th 2011. although for whatever reason, overlooked the dimension of police corruption which is also to be found within the story. The Timeline It begins with the appointment of Rebekah Wade (later Rebekah Brooks) as editor of News of the World in May 2000, and ends with her resignation as Chief Executive of News International, July 15th 2011

Resignation of a News Corp executive fuels the wider story

Within hours of Rebekah Brooks tendering her resignation as head of News International, her predecessor Les Hinton, one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest lieutenants in the United States, fell on his sword, saying that the pain his reporters had inflicted on innocent people was “unimaginable”. Mr Hinton has been the publisher of The Wall Street Journal since Mr Murdoch bought it in 2007 and his continuing presence was threatening to drag the media mogul’s prize US newspaper asset into the scandal.

Two symbolic events

Two events received particular media attention. They were presented as reflecting a callous culture, which ignored the impact of behaviours on members of the public who were already victims of tragic events. Each story involved journalists who had targeted families of victims of highly emotive tragedies. In the UK, the definitive episode involved tampering with the mobile of the murdered teenager Millie Dowler which may have given false hope to the family. Rupert Murdoch was to meet and apologise personally.

In the USA, allegations developed of hacking of phones of families of victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings.

An unfinished case

This post ends [17th July 2011] at the start of a week which promises more in the unfinished drama surrounding Rupert Murdoch and the business empire he founded. One interesting theme is being reported concerning his daughter Elisabeth, on whom it is reported he is now pinning his hopes to take the dynasty forward. This is certainly consistent with a story that has cropped up from time to time within biographic accounts.


Gary Neville’s eco-house and an example of how a professional footballer may make a good role model

July 13, 2011

by Mark Williams

Manchester United’s Gary Neville has built an eco-friendly house and promotes social causes through his celebrity status. LWD subscriber Mark Williams examines how a professional footballer might also be an environmentalist, an example of eco-leadership, and a role model

Eco-leadership is a term suggested for an emerging form of leadership which has been proposed as a more socially aware replacement for controlling messianic or charismatic forms.

How media ignore energy conservation stories

What encouraged me to write about Gary Neville, was a report in the Independent about his (then) forthcoming testimonial match at the end of last season [2011]. While reading, I noticed his concern that the news media had previously showed little interest in energy conservation efforts at Manchester United, which have saved the club £235k in energy costs within 7 months during the 2008-9 financial year.

Lurid headlines and quiet conservation

That this was largely unreported is worth noting. One is more familiar with the lurid headlines of off the field exploits or other celebrity footballers. Sadly, I guess it is the latter which sell papers. Maybe Neville’s environmentalism and energy conservation is a refreshing sign of maturity?

Another example I recall is Jurgen Klinsmann during his time with Tottenham Hotspur, who chose a VW Golf in preference to a luxury sports car favoured by her peers.

An Ambassador for sport

I consider Gary Neville to be an excellent ambassador for sport. He uses his position to convey a positive image of environmentalism, responsible energy use, onservation and sensible living by example and encouragement. His inspiration came from the ‘Kick-it-Out’ anti-racism campaign, and how this was widely adopted and accepted by the fans.

Neville conveys his message by highlighting the benefits of doing things just a little differently. I empathise with this view, for it is ‘smart’ to get the same or very near to, for less energy used. An example of his persuasion was his suggestion of altering kick-off times to make greater use of natural daylight. However, this suggestion was initially met with cynicism, but gained interest.

Gary uses his position to connect with his audience and peers to promote ethics and sustainability by using his privileged position to build an energy-efficient ‘zero-carbon’ home. This conveys a cool-to-be-green image to his fans and wider audience. More people are noticing and talking about this. His testimonial match at Old Trafford was ‘powered’ entirely from renewable generation sources.

Inspiring the fans

How does sustainability and eco homes inspire football fans? While many cannot currently afford the leading-edge technologies of Neville’s home, these will become cheaper and more accessible over time. Meanwhile there is encouragement by example to do a little more with a bit less. Gary Neville is the thinking person’s footballer: he flies in the face of the common perception of feckless footballers because he is as much a leader off the pitch; it is what he is doing outside of the stadium which is now being reported.

So what makes a leading footballer a good example of eco-leadership? One reason maybe is that sportsmen and women are seen as non-political, whereas the electorate is increasingly suspicious of politicians.


Message for new LWD subscribers: Top ten legacy posts

July 10, 2011

Tudor Rickards, Editor Leaders we Deserve

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Barack Obama, vision and reality

Emirates airline: The secret story of a successful company

Che Guevara was the ultimate charismatic leader

Stranded in Singapore. Blame the volcano

English football isolated from Jose Mourinho

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