2023 Focus: Quarter Year Update
Better every year. That is my goal. I believe that through focused effort I can keep improving and ensure my best years are still in front of me.
With that in mind, at the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. By being selective about where I direct my energy, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than if I split my attention.
2023 Theme: Strategy
I’m having so much fun reading about this topic. I love strategy and reading more formally about it has only served to confirm that. My brain just loves chewing on things and thinking about strategy feels satisfying in the same way it feels good to crunch into a big sandwich.
Part of my success at these yearly focus exercises I do is working them into my life in a way that requires very little effort or extra time. I’ve found that having about one third of my reading for the year be about the topic I’m learning is a nice way to do that. I usually read for about 15+ minutes a night before bed to calm my brain down, so that gets me something like 30+ hours a year to read about the topic, which is usually enough to cover 5+ books.
I identified the following books as valuable on the topic of strategy. So far I’ve finished ‘Good Strategy, Bad Strategy’ and am making progress on Harvard Business Review’s top 10 strategy articles. I won’t get through all of these books this year, but I’m sharing the full list for the benefit of others (and my future self).
Good Strategy Bad Strategy
- HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy – IN PROGRESS
- Blue Ocean Strategy
- The Crux
- Playing to Win
- Understanding Michael Porter
- The Art of Strategy
- Competitive Strategy
- Your Next Five Moves
- Measure What Matters
- Your Strategy Needs a Strategy
- The biggest bluff
- Carl Von Clausewitz – On War
- Art of War
- On grand strategy
2023 Challenge: Become a Chess Expert
I’m also having a lot of fun with learning to play chess. As I suspected, that popularity and maturity of the game means it is easy to learn a lot and find people to play with. I’ve spent enough time with the game that I’m starting to see some of the beauty of it – the relationship between the Queen and the Knight, the way the pieces develop while protecting each other, how pawns can work together as one unit, etc.
I signed up a chess.com subscription which gets me access to a few things – recorded lessons, practice exercises/puzzles and game reviews. The combination of the three of those has been great for learning the basics and then getting a quick feedback loop on what I did wrong so I can improve it.
One of the things that is both fun and frustrating about more modern european-style boardgames is the amount of luck involved. It is fun because you never know what will happen and a player can sometimes get lucky and beat someone better at the game than they are. The downside is it is really hard to self-evaluate whether I lost because of luck or strategy. Chess makes it painfully obvious what I did that caused me to lose and that is helping me learn pretty quickly.
The early phase of learning chess involves a lot of following rules and learning to defend against common traps, but once you have those down, games have these exciting moments of puzzles where you’re figuring out which of the handful of tactics available to you will best set you up to win.
In terms of ranking, what is very clear is that I have potential, but am not yet putting it all together in games. As I practice puzzles, my ranking is currently ~1600. That means that with unlimited time and specifically designed situations, I’m usually pretty good at finding the right set of moves to get a winning advantage. The desktop view I got a screenshot of doesn’t show a percentile, but on the mobile app I can see I’m in the top 10% of players on chess.com by puzzle ranking. Part of that might be that not as many people do puzzles and part of it might be that there is no time limit, so I can really just stare at a puzzle and take my time solving it. Nonetheless, the fact that my ranking is high there after a quarter of practice tells me I have the potential to get there in my games by end of year.
Meanwhile when it comes to games, I’m closer to middle of the pack. This actually represents a fair bit of progress though. When I started playing this year my rating rapidly dropped from the starting point to a score that put me in the bottom 20% of players. As I practiced and learned a few things I worked my way up to where I am now, which is just above average for players on chess.com.
Not to let me get too confident, when it comes to the fastest game setting, Bullet, in which each player has a total of 60 seconds to make all of their moves, I am really bad. I’m in the bottom 7% and even that represents and improvement from a month ago. I end up losing most games because I run out of time and the others, I make game-losing mistakes while trying to play quickly.
It is obvious I have a few things to work on. Reviewing my stats, I’m still missing a decent number of ‘checkmate in one’ situations where I have the game won if I make the right move. I’m making fewer obvious blunders that I immediately regret, but there are lots of fairly obvious things that I’m not seeing – forking opportunities, pins, moves where the defender I’m worried about is pinned, etc.
The god news is I have nine more months to make some progress here.
2023 Habit: Weekly Strategic Analysis Reading
This is the focus topic I’m doing worst on. Part of it is that I need to sit down and identify what I count as a strategic analysis. So far, there are a few email newsletters I’ve signed up for that I count and in the 50% of weeks where I’ve completed this, I used reading those as the item. I really do enjoy reading these when I make time to do it (especially when I read the emails on my phone from the hot tub) but I need to improve my frequency here.
2023 Exemplar: Genghis Khan
I read one short overview about Khan, ‘Genghis Khan: A Life from Beginning to End’ that served as a nice introduction and now I’m diving a bit deeper with the book The Mongol Art of War’. Some of the things that stand out to me already are that his world is very unlike mine, that his military genius was clearly responsible for much of his success (but even with that, he lost a number of significant battles) and that his charisma was a huge asset (reminds me of Steve Jobs). I’m also noticing that he had some innovative ideas about equality, organizing groups and aligning incentives that seem extremely practical to challenges I face in the business world a thousand years later. I’m excited to learn more about him and see if I can apply some of the lessons, but in a much less death-causing way.
2023 Bucket List Item: SUP Adventure into Untouched Wilderness
I signed up for a 70 mile SUP race in June as a chance to practice and test my skills. From there, based on how things go, I can figure out how my untouched trip will look and depart on that in July or August.
When I sign up for a new outdoor challenge, one of the first things I usually end up doing is upgrading some gear. So far this year I got a new PFD (personal flotation device), paddle and sun shirt. I’m also looking into new boards that are a bit more optimized for the long distance and carrying gear – my current board is 12 feet long and I’m considering some in the 14-16 foot range.