Tuesday, 18 August 2015


Motivation. It is perhaps the most important word in the English dictionary. When I was a teenager, I had a period where I got really into chess. It was during my O level retakes when I was studying at Orange Hill Senior High School. I would sit in the common room and spend hours playing against my mates. These days teenagers sit and fiddle with their phones on social media, but we played chess and cards, did the NME crossword, talked about punk rock and which girls we liked. But of all those activities, the only ones which gave me any real benefit was playing chess and cards. Cards is a great way to learn how to read people. To be a truly great poker player, you have to understand what your opponent is thinking and the best way is to learn there "tells". Although I am not a great poker player, I became very good at this, which is a valuable life skill and a massive asset. But perhaps the most important skill was the one I learned playing chess. When I joined Orange Hill school, I was a useless chess player. I am highly competetive, so I set about trying to change this. There was one kid who was far and away the best. I determined that I would beat him before I left the school. So I started to read books on chess, learned openings, closing strategies and upped my game. All of a sudden, I was transformed from a rubbish player to an extremely average one. Try as I may, I couldn't get anywhere near the good players, let alone our chess god.

I was discussing this with my Dad, who mentioned that one of his mates was a truly awesome player and had played masters etc. He  suggested I give him a few games. As with all things in life, If I want to do something, I will move heaven and earth. So I arranged to play said individual. Inevitably, I was thrashed withing ten moves in the first game. The second game was even more humbling. So I asked what I had to do to become a better player. I was surprised by his response. He said "You've learned lots of openings and lots of closings. This will help you beat a very poor player. But when you play a very good player, they will know these. This is there bread and butter. They understand your motivation, which is to do things by the book. If you want to beat a very good chess player, then you must understand their motivation for every move. He recommended I threw out all of the fancy openings. He said that a poor player (ie me) should play an ultra defensive, conservative game and analyse every move the opponent makes. He said "understand the motivation behind the player. What is he trying to do. Why is he making the move and what is he expecting you to do. If you can undermine his faith in himself, then you have a chance".

Over the next few weeks, I'd play my new mentor regularly. He'd give me a running commentary. Every time I made a duff move he'd scream "THINK!". He'd then explain just why I had made a stupid move. He then suggested I play our school chess guru. he said "don't try and win, just remember his moves". He said that he'd then analyse his style and tell me what his weaknesses were. He advised to do a simple opening and just play defensively. So this was exactly what I did. The plan was to figure him out and then see how good he really was. For my schoolmate, this was just another game of chess, an easy one at that. For me it was a vital part of a key ambition. I hadn't let on to anyone I'd been having tuition or practising. I hadn't played any of the good players recently. Much to my amazement, a truly amazing thing happened. I won in 12 moves. My schoolmate had made a silly move after five and crumbled. I couldn't believe it. He seemed absolutely devastated. For me it was one of those moments when I realised that if you want to succeed in life, you need to plan, prepare and practice.

That evening I went to see my mentor. I was euphoric. He was interested to see the game replayed. He said "Your friend clearly wasn't expecting the game you played and then fell apart. He clearly isn't used to playing people who play without fear". He then explained that one of the main reasons I'd been losing was because I was playing by the book, in a conservative manner and with fear. When I'd been liberated from this straightjacket, I'd upped my game. We got into a conversation. My mentor had been a prisoner of war for four years. During the period in a prisoner of war camp, the only release he had was chess. The camp commandant was also a chess buff and had encouraged the POW's to play. He would also on occasion play them himself and it was the one time when you got a decent meal and a glass of cognac. I was surprised by this friendlyness but my mentor explained "He was a man of culture and refinement, who wasn't cut out for a life in the army. As the commander of a POW camp, he was fair and honest. he had confided that he felt the Nazi regime repugnant and was determined to ensure his camp was run according to the Geneva convention and that no one should be treated unfairly. At the same time, he was not a soft touch. He ensured that discipline was kept and everyone knew who was boss". I was intrigued by this insight. How could you play chess against a camp commandant? He replied that the first thing you need to understand is that we are all human beings first. He told me that the commandant enjoyed playing the English, because he could simply play chess for the sake of it. I asked if there were guards in the room. He said "No, why on earth would he need them? It would be an act of extreme stupidity and futility to attack an unarmed commandant in a camp guarded by hundreds of armed men. It would lead to massive reprisals and probably ensure a complete bastard took over". Of all the lessons I learned from this period, this was the one which was perhaps the most revealing. When it comes down to it, human beings are programmed to survive.  That is our primary motivation. It is also important to understand the results of our actions. In my naive teenage state, I'd felt that my chess mentor was less than heroic. He could have taken out the camp commandant, but would rather have a cognac and a ham sandwich. But he knew damn well that his action was good for his own self preservation and had he done otherwise, he would have simply have triggered a massacre of his camp mates. I discussed it later with my Dad who had escaped from a POW camp. I'd expected him to be disdainful. He put me right "Until you've been a POW or even in prison, you can't possibly understand. He did the most sensible thing possible where he was. My situation was different, I knew an escape was a viable option and we were being half starved to death in Romania."

Motivation. We need some sort of motivation to achieve anything. In my case, my motivation was to improve my chess. My Dads friend was motivated to survive. In any situation, we need to understand not only what motivates us, but also what motivates those we are interacting with. I write a blog. You may wonder what motivates me? The answer is quite simple. I enjoy it. It seems that other people enjoy reading it, which is why I've had more than 1.6 million hits. I don't get paid to do it. I don't write anything on behalf of anyone else. I am not the member of any political party and I dont label  myself as subscribing to any political persuasion. Some of my views are traditionally left wing, some are in the centre and some are what could best be described as libertarian right. What is interesting is that whenever I write something people deem controversial, those who disagree with me try and apply labels to me.  I guess that is just par for the coure

 I am continually surprised just how seriously certain people seem to take what I write here. Granted, a lot of people read this blog and a lot of people seem to agree with what I have to say, but I don't understand why a small group of rather odd people seem to forensically trawl the blog (and my twitter feed) for the smallest scraps of information which they think will discredit me. What is their motivation? The sad thing about such people is that they lack trust of their fellow man (and woman). Are they really that scared that if I say something, the world will change? What is quite interesting is that whenever there is a concerted attempt to have a go at me, the number of blog hits I get goes up and the number of twitter follows goes up as well. Following my blog yesterday, two twitter followers were upset and publicly unfollowed me. I don't mind, thats their perogative and if they don't want to see what I have to say that's fine. I find this concept that following someone on twitter is endorsing them is an odd concept. I'd say the majority of people I follow, I simply follow as they have something interesting to say. If I violently disagree with them, that would be all the more reason to follow.  Unlike some, I don't really have a huge interest in twitter and how many people follow me. If you want to great, if you don't thats fine. If you agree with me, great, if you don't, thats fine. The main reason I tweet is simply so people know that I've posted a new blog. I usually post a blog called "Tweets of the Week" so people in the Borough can see what is going on and who to follow. That is really the only time I look at Twitter, apart from when I get notifications (well that and when people send me DM's saying "have you seen this").

What I have noticed is that there is a mindset that the chief motivation for many people on social media is provocation. They simply seem to want to upset people. They hunt around for comments by people they don't know and then give them what is tantamount to a kicking on Twitter. Why? I've no idea. We all get things wrong, we all say silly things, but on twitter, this is blown out of all proportion. I wonder if these Trolls really understand what is motivating them. Do they think "If I am beastly to enough people, party X will win the next election or candidate Y will become the leader of Party X"? If they do they are delusional. At present, there are some very nasty tweets flying around the Labour Leadership contest. If you were a Martian, you'd wonder why a competition to be Labour Leader is being given a choice between Loonies or Tories. The truth is that none of the candidates are either. They are simply people with a different perspective. It seems to me that one has made the best case by a mile and the other three are at a loss how to respond. It also seems to me that one has made some rather nasty comment about disabled people, so is reaping a whirlwind. But all in all, I am truly amazed at what is happening. I ask myself (going back to the earlier discussion) "What is their motivation?". One rather hopes that their motivation is to do the best job possible running the UK and the Labour Party. One rather hopes that as candidates, they would have a manifesto that lays this out. Mainly one rather hopes that they can do this without resorting to being rude about their fellow candidates. As far as I am concerned, motivation is not enough. As I explained earlier, to succeed Motivation needs to drive planning, preparation and hard work. As I look at the candidates I ask "where is the planning in this campaign?" "where is the preparation of policies", "where is the hard work necessary to win the argument". It is the absence of these in certain camps that is defining the result.

When I was playing chess at Orange Hill, I told one of my mates that I would beat our chess god before the year was out. He told me that I hadn't got a hope in hell. When it happened, he was gobsmacked and said "you were so lucky there that he made that mistake". It is funny how often I've been lucky in my life. What is even funnier is how often I've been lucky when I've worked my butt off. From what I've seen, a certain Labour candidate is being written off in a similar fashion, with regards to becoming PM if they win. I've no idea whether he understands the maxim "there is no substitue for hard work". I suspect that if he does, one or two people may be in line for a rather rude awakening.

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