Reading a room like a grandmaster reads a chess board
Adrian de Groot was a frustrated amateur chess player. He wanted to know why he kept being beaten at chess by better players and he was determined to learn whatever skill he was missing. He assumed the grandmasters of chess had photographic memories, allowing them to remember many moves and defeat their opponents. De Groot, a Dutch psychologist, set out to study what made grandmasters so different.
In his first experiment, de Groot placed twenty pieces on a chessboard, imitating the layout of a possible game. He then asked a variety of chess players – experienced and inexperienced – to quickly glance at the board to memorise the location of each piece. As de Groot had expected, the amateur, inexperienced players were unable to recall the location of the pieces while the grandmasters, the most experienced players, easily reproduced the exact layout of the game. As de Groot hypothesised, the grandmasters had incredible powers of memory. Or did they?
De Groot tested his theory again, but this time, instead of setting up the chess pieces in a pattern that might represent an actual game, he placed them randomly on the board. He assumed if the grandmasters had photographic memories, the location of the pieces was irrelevant. To de Groot’s surprise, the grandmasters could not remember where the pieces had been placed any more than the amateurs.
It wasn’t memory that gave the experienced chess players the edge, it was perception. They ‘read the board’ better than amateurs and were able to turn pieces into meaningful patterns. Grandmasters were grouping pieces into larger strategies or structures such as the Sicilian Defence or the Queen’s Gambit rather than remembering the precise location of the pieces.
Leading with perspective is one of the eight attributes of a modern, head and heart leader. It is a process that never ends, but is also easily taken for granted. It is not about truth and getting to the ‘right’ answer but about continually rethinking the story or pattern about what is happening around us. Leading with perspective means seeking to understand the context we are leading in, testing our understanding of that context by talking with others, and gathering data to coordinate the best possible actions required.
You can see how your ability to lead with perspective compares to others here.
Is there an opportunity this week for you to consciously ‘read the room’ (whether a literal room, your organisation, your industry or another setting entirely) to practice leading with perspective?