My dad is a Scrabble freak.

He routinely beats friends and others at the classic word game, many of whom are smarter and better educated than he is. It's especially impressive considering he immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines as a young adult, and speaks (a heavily accented) English as his second language.

Dad attributed his Scrabble success to his days in the Navy, which he joined shortly after coming to the States. With plenty of time on the ship, he would stay up late reading the dictionary, in an attempt to improve his English.

That's just one of the strategies followed by Brett Smitheram. A 37-year-old recruitment consultant from East London, Mr. Smitheram defeated Mark Nyman on Sunday to become the world's Scrabble champion.

Here are three (unexpected) lessons Mr. Smitheram has learned from Scrabble that can help you solve your toughest business problems.

1. Focus your preparation.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Smitheram said he strived to memorize every seven- and eight-letter word in the dictionary, about 70,000 words.

The hard work paid off.

What was the soon-to-be champion's final play?

Braconid--the obscure name of a type of wasp. The word scored a whopping 176 points.

Notably, though, Mr. Smitheram admitted he couldn't remember what the word meant at the time.

"Memorizing definitions uses up valuable brain space," he said. "Scrabble is an endurance sport and requires a lot of stamina."

Takeaway: In the digital age, it's easy to get distracted by interesting information. Our brains are constantly processing and organizing acquired knowledge. But it can be helpful to prioritize that knowledge, and to differentiate between what you need to know and what you can look up or rely on others to know. That way, you'll be sure to remember what's important when it counts.

2. Make the most of what you get.

In the pivotal second game (of a series of three), Mr. Smitheram was "dead and buried," by his own account. But he didn't give up, and was eventually able to spell Gynaecia (a part of a flower), for 95 points.

Other words he spelled through the course of the tournament:

  • Periagua: a long narrow canoe hollowed from the trunk of a single tree (76 points)
  • Variedly: in a varied manner (95 points)
  • Zorinos: the fur of a skunk, when referring to clothing (92 points)

Takeaway: One of the keys to success in Scrabble rings true for your career as well: Look beyond face value, and learn to identify opportunity where others cannot.

3. Know when to walk away.

Mr. Smitheram confessed that he's "severely Scrabbled out" and that he would now take a much-needed break from the game.

"I've already bought two bottles of champagne," he said. "I am not playing Scrabble for the rest of the year."

Takeaway: When we focus on a specific problem or issue for too long, we may become blinded or burnt out. The most obvious solutions then become elusive. That's why it's important to schedule time in your day-to-day schedule to relax. For me, this means:

  • Taking short, periodic breaks throughout my day
  • Making time for a real lunch, where I refuse to think about work
  • Avoiding emails and current business dilemmas once I come home for the day, and making sure I get enough sleep at night
  • Scheduling frequent long weekends and vacations where I broaden my horizons and learn new things ... or simply chill out and recharge

Following these steps can do wonders for keeping you inspired and can help you see more clearly once you return to work.

Putting it into practice.

Scrabble is like any other competition: Developing skills involves good habits, strategy, and practice.

Of course, if you're interested in learning the game, you could always give my dad a call. Just be prepared.

He doesn't go easy on beginners.

Published on: Sep 6, 2016
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