Monday, 28 September 2009

Kasparov, Karpov and Simutowe

After 25 years Kasparov and Karpov, the chess Grandmasters are back to their old ways, battling it out for supremacy.

I am filled with awe when I think about the brain power that must be being set to work when these two meet. Intelligence is an interest of mine and I enjoy being amongst exceptionally smart people.

Not that I lay any claim to be exceptionally smart myself, although I did once score 104% in a maths exam. But when you meet people who are really, really clever then if, like me, you fall into the category of "definitely not stupid" you have enough smarts to appreciate what they are capable of.

Speaking of chess, I am not bad at the game myself. I wouldn't say I was a keen player, but I can put up a decent fight. However at my old software company, we had some really smart developers who were excellent chess players. Not that I ever played against them but it just wouldn't have been worth it to them. They would have beaten me as if I wasn't there.

Then we hired a testing analyst. As well as being a jolly decent software tester, he turned out to be an English Grandmaster . On one of our team awaydays, we set up about 20 chessboards for all of us, in a horse-shoe and he played against all of us simultaneously, moving swiftly from board to board. He beat us all as if we were children. Only one of our software engineers put up any sort of resistance, which I think he foundquite entertaining. For his own amusement, when all of us had succumbed, our grandmaster reset the engineer's board and then replayed the whole game from memory talking us through the moves as he went. Amazing.

However, he would admit himself that there were other international grandmasters who would beat him as if he was a babe in arms, and those grandmasters would bow their heads if they ever came up against a "super-grandmaster" such as a Kasparov or Karpov.

So, where does that leave me on the intelligence ladder? Slightly above a cabbage I think. Fortunately I have never felt bad about not being "the smartest guy in the room" because I grew up with two exceptionally smart brothers, so there was no point trying to compete on that score. In fact I find myself drawn to genius, I enjoy observing it, just being in its presence.

Sometimes I get mistaken for being smart and this is unfortunate, as happened when I was doing my physics degree in Nigeria. There was a mathematician who shared a couple of courses with me. He was super-smart and somehow got it into his head that I was too. So, when other lads were heading off to the bar for a bottle of beer or two, he would beg me to stay behind for an hour or so to "solve vectors" with him. Oh, the happy hours we would spend, him with the chalk at the blackboard scribbling away, turning occasionally to say "what do you think, Tom, is it correct, Tom?" Me lying on the desks, legs crossed, smoking away, pondering for a few minutes and then pronouncing, to his great relief "by jove, I think you've cracked it". I never had the heart to say "I have absolutely no idea what those funny little squiggles you put on the board actually mean, but can I go now please? Beer doesn't drink itself you know!".

Over the summer I have been reading extensively on the nature of intelligence, how to identify those with a real gift in certain areas and how to unleash their full potential. I am fascinated by gifteness and intelligence and I am also puzzled as to why the African continent has not managed to unleash its fair share of genii and what happened to my vector-analyzing friend who was easily as smart as the smartest people I have met since from London to Silicon Valley. Did he fulfill his full potential or did the rigours of African life mean that his awesome brainpower was put to the task of making a half decent living day to day? If so, what a waste!

For example, in a continent of nearly a billion people, why is there only one chess Grandmaster, Amon Simutowe from sub-saharan Africa? Is there a different distribution of intelligence across the African population? I don't believe there is. But if there isn't then that means that, just taking the young people, of which there are about 400 million across Africa, there must be something like 8 million (2%) who would be eligible to join Mensa!

I imagine what the continent could be like if we could find and unleash some of this brain power and so I am creating a charitable foundation to take on that challenge. In Britian, USA, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and all over the world countries are investing millions into gifted and talented programs for their young people and I want to make sure that the same thing happens across Africa. I have been working on this for a couple of years now and the bits of the jigsaw are coming together. It's an impossible challenge and it's going to be a long and fascinating journey that will start in earnest next year when we run our first major gifted Academy program. The outcomes are unpredictable and that makes it even more exciting.

And if in ten years time all I suceed in achieving is finding and unleashing 10,000 young people who all beat me at chess as if I was a babe in arms, then I will be very, very happy.

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