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Garry Kasparov’s career and influence are wide ranging. In the world of chess, he is a genius. A long-time world champion, he is considered one of, if not the strongest player in history. In an interview after losing to Kasparov, English grandmaster Anthony Miles said, ‘I thought I was playing a world champion – not some monster with 27 eyes that sees everything.’

Along with conquering the chess world, Kasparov has been active in politics since the early 1980s. An outspoken critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, he is the founder of the United Civil Front (an organisation dedicated to upholding electoral democratic practices in Russia), and also the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation.

‘Deep Thinking’ marks a new turn in Kasparov’s writing. Following many volumes on chess and 2015’s politically minded ‘Winter is Coming’, this book takes the Grandmaster’s thoughts on (and abilities in) analysis and applies them to the ways we think. Specifically, in our attitudes to Artificial Intelligence.


The first reason to recommend ‘Deep Thinking’ is that it is simply a cracking read. The story at its core, Kasparov’s defeat by IBM’s Deep Blue, the first time a machine had overcome a sitting world chess champion, makes it a proper page turner.

But it’s Kasparov’s reflections on the event that hold the true weight. Raising the book from an entertainment to something truly worthwhile.

“What matters most, the process or the results? It’s always results that people want, whether it’s in security, investing, or chess… A chess machine that thinks like a human and loses to the world champion isn’t going to make the news. And when a chess machine beats the world champion, nobody cares how it thinks.”

This is a great illustration of one of the book’s central ideas. The results we value don’t necessarily mean what we think. We should always look deeper. Getting beyond a surface of spectacle and bottom lines. What would really have been the breakthrough in AI? The defeated machine that thinks like the rest of us would surely trump the machine that is victorious through sheer data processing power, in terms of progress.

Many of us have a predilection for ‘analysing to the result’ – “Since you know the outcome of the game before you analyse it, it is very difficult not to eye the eventual loser’s moves more critically even when it may not be merited.” The book shines a light on and asks us to overcome many of our engrained biases. To help us effectively learn and take more informed action.

For example: Say a company has been having issues with hand injuries. The guys and girls on the tools for some reason just keep 'forgetting' to put their gloves on. To try and fix this the HSE team craft some cool-looking comms with some neat information, statistics and reminders to always wear your PPE. They send it out to the workforce and cross their fingers that this will be enough to see a reduction in incidents. But over time, no real improvement is seen.

Why? There was a problem, we addressed it and it is still a problem. Why didn't this plan work?

The knee-jerk reaction may be to look at the comms. Was the information accurate? Was the message clear? Was it easy enough to understand? Was it relatable enough? Or were they fine, and there are perhaps other issues at play? Narrow ones such as - do the workforce even have access to the right gloves? Or wider ones such as - Is there a strong enough framework in place for HSE comms? Is there a robust enough culture in place to accept HSE comms?

On this point, ‘Deep Thinking’ makes a great companion piece to our July book of the month, Dan Ariely’s ‘Predictably Irrational’, which Kasparov cites in his text. Saying it has shaken his faith ‘in the power of human intuition.’ Kasparov writes:

‘We do not calculate every decision by brute force, checking every possible outcome. It is inefficient and unnecessary to do so, because we generally get by pretty well with our assumptions. But when they are isolated by researchers, or exploited… we could all use a little objective oversight…’

This oversight can help show us ‘how idiosyncratic and easily influenced our thinking can be. Becoming aware of these fallacies and cognitive blind spots won’t prevent them, but it’s a big step towards combatting them.’

This deeper, analytical understanding, promoted by Kasparov and Ariely, is foundational for achieving effective and lasting change. Results that are sustainable as opposed to mere novelty.

Consider this when the idea of plotting a(nother) new course comes up:

“I speak regularly about the difference between strategy and tactics, and why it’s essential to first understand your long-term goals so you don’t confuse them with reactions, opportunities, or mere milestones… Adapting to circumstances is important, but if you change your strategy all the time you don’t really have one.”

- Garry Kasparov

Fred (SC)


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