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Before joining the RSA I played chess professionally. I learned the moves when I was five, and began studying the game properly as a teenager, when chess proved to be a refuge from adolescent growing pains. I represented Scotland and the UK in various international events. I  hold the life-long title of 'Grandmaster' and was British Champion from 2004-6.  I never threatened to be World Champion, but I did acquire 'expertise'.

Before joining the RSA I played chess professionally. I learned the moves when I was five, and began studying the game properly as a teenager, when chess proved to be a refuge from adolescent growing pains. I represented Scotland and the UK in various international events. I  hold the life-long title of 'Grandmaster' and was British Champion from 2004-6.  I never threatened to be World Champion, but I did acquire 'expertise'.

The best way to understand expertise is as 'the exhaustion of errors' in a given domain. To get good at anything, you have to make a lot of mistakes. In chess, this means playing a lot, and analysing your games closely. You attempt to avoid repeating errors that gradually become familiar, and you begin to notice you are getting better when your opponents appear to be making these familiar mistakes more often than before. You have moved beyond them, and see them coming, such that yesterday's peers gradually become tomorrow's customers.

And it doesn't stop there. People who acquire expertise continue to look for errors in their play, and they even look at the board differently. The stronger the player, the more likely we are to attempt to falsify our own hypothesis i.e. the more likely we are too seek out reasons why what we think might be wrong.

At the risk of overlooking a thousand ifs and buts, people who make mistakes get good, and people who remain interested in the possibility that they are wrong tend to be more accurate. Jean Piaget built his reputation on his interest in children's wrong answers, and James Joyce called errors his 'portals of discovery'. It was with deep insight that Thomas Watson, founder of IBM said: "If you want to succeed, double your failure rate".

So why is it that we are so hung up about being wrong? If politicians admit they made a mistake we are more likely to accuse them of being flip-floppers,  hypocrites, or inconsistent than to praise them for their maturity and learning style.  These thoughts were prompted by a typically trenchant analysis from Johann Hari at The Independent.

Anybody seeking to explore these issues in more depth should consider the role of cognitive dissonance in perpetuating our attitude to error, and perhaps also read the wonderful book: "Mistakes were made, but not by me".

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