30 December 2013

A business model for effective training programs

By coincidence I recently read a business article that I found very relevant for chess training programs, bearing on ideas discussed in "Do study techniques matter in chess?"  The article "What Makes Strategic Decisions Different" by Phil Rosenzweig - from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) November 2013 issue whose theme is "How to Make Smarter Decisions" - posits that we need to understand what type of decision to make in different situations.  This means not simply applying a single optimized game theory or decision-making process.  The idea is that such an "optimized" approach, which works well in simple models with fixed rules we cannot influence, fails to take into account dynamic factors such as our own ability to influence the situations we face - changing the rules, as it were.

The model the author uses is a 2x2 matrix of different "fields" with the axes (variables) being Performance (absolute vs. relative) and Control (low vs. high); diagram below is reproduced from the above link.

Training programs fall into the category of High Control - Absolute Performance ["Influencing Outcomes", the author's second field].  In this case, we can through our own efforts materially effect the outcome of our decisions.  In the case of chess, this is reflected in performance improvement as measured on an absolute scale reflected by our rating.  Progress requires analytic ability and effortful study (your "control factor" over the long term).  However, individual competitions (games or tournaments) would fall under the category of High Control - Relative Performance ["Managing for Strategic Success"], which calls for a different approach, namely emphasizing a strong positive attitude (your "control factor" in the short term) and making informed choices that also take into account your competitors' abilities when possible.

The most relevant portion of the article for chess training purposes is excerpted below.  It's worth noting that "The Making of an Expert" article cited below used as a case study the training and performance of the Polgar sisters, so it's certainly not a stretch to apply these types of ideas to the chess world, given that some of them in fact originated there.
Many decisions involve more than selecting among options we cannot improve or making judgments about things we cannot influence ["Making Judgments and Choices", the author's first field]. In so much of life, we use our energy and talents to make things happen. Imagine that the task at hand is to determine how long we will need to complete a project. That's a judgment we can control; indeed, it's up to us to get the project done. Here, positive thinking matters. By believing that we can do well, perhaps even holding a level of confidence that is by some definitions a bit excessive, we can often improve performance...
Some activities call for us to move between the first and second fields, shifting our mind-set back and forth. The approach known as "deliberate practice," which can lead to expert performance (see "The Making of an Expert," by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely, HBR July-August 2007), is based on objective and deliberate thinking before an event, full commitment with a positive attitude while taking action, and then a return to dispassionate analysis after the event--what is known as an after-action review. The ability to shift effectively between mind-sets is a crucial element of high performance in many repeated tasks of short duration, from sports to sales.
What the article describes above seems to fit well the general process that I've outlined here, in various places, that emphasizes similar elements: crafting a structured training program, creating a positive mental outlook when going into a competitive situation, then objectively analyzing your performance afterwards.

Given recent discussions about training methods, it might be worthwhile to put up a more comprehensive and updated post outlining my training program and methods, which would be personally useful as a reference and perhaps offer a suitable opportunity for others to share their own ideas and comparative experiences.

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