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What We Can Learn from Ken Jennings

by David DeFord

Kathy and I have avidly watched the game show Jeopardy! for years. In fact, other than Jeopardy!, The Weather Channel and some baseball games, we hardly watch television.

Since the show airs at 4:30pm on our Omaha station, we video tape each episode for playback later. Due to our busy schedules, we often have ten or more shows to watch at once.

We have particularly enjoyed Ken Jennings recent domination of the show. He has broken every major record on the show. Prior to his appearance, the record for the number of consecutive shows by a player was seven. Ken crushed that record long ago. After forty shows, he’s still going strong.

Jennings is such a superb player, that the show will probably never the same. The bar has been raised.

What lessons can we learn from this talented player?

Turn Your Weaknesses into Strengths
Ken belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hence, he follows the faith’s practice of abstinence from alcoholic beverages. On Jeopardy!, frequent categories and questions (answers) relate to features and ingredients of mixed drinks.

Before his first appearance on the show Jennings read books and schooled himself in the art of bartending. As a result, he has owned those categories.

We all have weaknesses that endanger our successes in our homes or professions. We can study and practice to turn our threatening weaknesses into tremendous strengths.

To do so we must focus our energies to making the needed changes.

Make Sensible Risks
Jeopardy! gets its name from the periodic opportunity players receive to risk some or all of their earned cash. If the player answers the question incorrectly he loses the amount of his wager. However, if he answers it correctly, the wagered amount is added to his score.

At the time of the wager, the player only knows the question category.

Generally, Jennings wagers conservatively. However, he plays to his strengths. When the question (answer) is in a category where he excels, he risks much more.

We will seldom succeed if we refuse to take risks. But we can use Jennings’ successful approach and bet on our strengths. We can take confidence that we can take chances if the success requires our performance in our strong areas.

Win Graciously
Except for four questions, a player must ring in before the other players in order to answer a question. On the Final Jeopardy question (answer), only players who have a positive score are allowed to compete.

One of Jennings’ greatest strengths is his ability to ring in before his opponents. I noted that when the other players have negative scores near the game’s end, Ken will back off and allow them to ring in first. He does this in hopes that they will not have the embarrassment of having to leave before playing Final Jeopardy. The young man truly wins graciously.

Let’s learn from the greatest player in Jeopardy’s forty-year history. We can turn our strengths into weaknesses and can make sensible risks that favor our strengths. And we can win graciously.


Related Quotes

"Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work." H. L. Hunt

"No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined." Harry Emerson Fosdick

"Man can learn self-discipline without becoming ascetic; he can be wise without waiting to be old; he can be influential without waiting for status. Man can sharpen his ability to distinguish between matters of principle and matters of preference, but only if we have a wise interplay between time and truth, between minutes and morality." Neal A. Maxwell

"The men who have done big things are those who were not afraid to attempt big things, who were not afraid to risk failure in order to gain success." B.C. Forbes

"Someday I hope to enjoy enough of what the world calls success so that someone will ask me, "What's the secret of it?" I shall say simply this: 'I get up when I fall down.'" Paul Harvey


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