Clear the Mechanism

Movies are a part of culture. When done well, they can resonate far beyond words. Managers sometimes use movie scenes as a tool to illustrate and reinforce behavior. At least, I do at times. In the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, there is a scene when Ben Kingsley is trying to teach his star pupil to see the chess board. He places several pieces in strategic places on the board and wants to know the end sequence, see the big picture. The kid likes to play chess in the park. There, it is a game of impulse, feeling the board instead of seeing the board. But the kid can’t see it. He doesn’t have a strategy. So, the teacher smacks the pieces across the room. See the board, he yells. How does the game end? I might be paraphrasing here, but I do show this clip at least once a year to someone.

The ending of the movie is also one of my favorites. The kid finally sees the board in the championship game, offers a draw, but his opponent refuses. The kid says, You’ve lost. You just don’t know it yet. And they play on to the inevitable conclusion. It’s a pawn race to the finish. The kid prevails. Ben Kingsley smiles. The credits roll.

The Art of Learning is the real life story of Josh Waitzkin from the movie. This is a great read, probably one of the best about self-improvement and performance out there. It begins with the real life tale of the movie, focusing on the art of competitive chess. The trials of Waitzkin are impressive. I like to play the game, but I knew little about this world. I knew the games could take a long time, but who knew that chess could take days to finish? Tournaments can take weeks. Older Grandmasters love to outlast younger opponents. Small mistakes have consequences. I hate to admit it but I have trouble playing longer than ten minutes on my electronic device of choice. This is an exhaustive sport with both ups and downs and you are playing along.

And about that great ending to the movie? It was Hollywood at its finest. In real life, Waitzkin seemed to be offered the draw. The shoe is on the other foot. He loses the match. It’s still one of my favorite scenes. I admit I like the Hollywood ending better.

Then, Josh bows out of competitive chess after traveling the world. He heads to the Far East and immerses himself in Tai Chi, eases his mind, and begins study of the push hands technique. His life in the world of competitive martial arts begins. Like the world of chess, this was an eye opener. Going to Thailand to compete is big and bold.

This book is built around teaching yourself to learn and how to hit high performance. Who wouldn’t want to find that learning high every day? In the movie For Love of the Game, Kevin Costner tells his catcher that he is going to throw hard today at Yankee stadium. At first pitch, he tells himself to Clear the Mechanism. The crowd vanishes into the background. Yankee Stadium goes quiet. The Art of Learning talks through the author’s techniques to hit high performance. Wouldn’t it be great to block out the noise at will? How can you snap your fingers to find the focus? It involves (1) eating snack of choice, (2) meditation, (3) training the unconscious mind, and (4) listening to Wasting Light by the Foo Fighters (this might be my song of choice). Routines are important. Finding failure is as well.

Yes, the learning techniques highlighted can be used in chess, martial arts, sales, marketing, etc., Pick your field. You will write down a few takeaways. However, great autobiographies are often more interesting than fiction. This is a great story.


  • Solid book for understanding how to create cues to recreate optimal performance. Being deliberate is meaningful.
  • The picture is from the Pilgrammage Music Festival. I believe the city had to cut the power to force Dave Grohl off the stage. Foo Fighters, a band that often pushes to the extremes.
  • I’m noting Foo but believe the picture is the Killers. We all do a little fake news.