James Holzhauer might be the greatest Jeopardy player in the show's history. While he is far from matching Ken Jennings' 74-game winning streak--Holzhauer only has won 16 straight--Holzhauer is winning money at a faster rate than any contestant ever.
In just 16 games, Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler, has piled up the seven highest single-day scores in the show's history. He has won over one million dollars, and on a recent show he correctly answered all 41 questions he attempted.
Holzhauer demonstrates all the characteristics of a top-performer. It has become clear that he's trained his entire adult life for this opportunity. Here are the lessons Holzhauer's brilliant run teaches any high-achiever.
1. Have a clear vision.
Getting on Jeopardy is a rare opportunity. Each contestant must first pass a trivia test in order to be considered for an audition, and a person must take the test once a year to stay in the applicant pool.
Holzhauer, 34, has been trying to get on Jeopardy for his entire adult life. He has taken the test each of the past 13 years and has auditioned for the show multiple times. Despite several rejections, he never lost sight of his goal.
Holzhauer's clarity of vision even extends to his winnings. Holzhauer said during one telecast that he and his wife already have a plan for a "Year of Wonder", where they pick 12 cities and spend a month living in each. Holzhauer had already set a purposeful plan for spending his winnings, one that rewards his entire family. That demonstrates the type of detailed vision necessary for achievement.
2. Perfect practice makes perfect.
While Holzhauer waited 13 years to get on Jeopardy, he was consistently practicing. He worked to improve his weaker areas of knowledge, even reading children's trivia books, which present facts in an easily processable format.
But his preparation even goes deeper. He researched the show and found he could gain an edge mastering the timing of Jeopardy's buzzer, which contestants click at a precise time to answer a question. Holzhauer went as far as to read The Secrets of the Buzzer, by former contestant Fritz Holznagel, then used that knowledge to create a replica buzzer and practice with it.
Holzhauer watched hours of Jeopardy and played along with the contestants, even going as far as to watch the show standing, in dress shoes, to best simulate the experience. Holzhauer doesn't just have a wealth of knowledge--he has also spent years practicing in a controlled environment designed for the exact outcome.
The highest performers, like Holzhauer, know that the best way to improve is to practice under the exact conditions that you will need to perform. Even though I have spoken on stage hundreds of times, I find it incredibly valuable to practice on the actual stage for big speeches to understand the nuances of the set up and the room.
3. Be driven by passion, not money.
Jeopardy uses dollar counts to keep score, so it's natural to focus on money when discussion Holzhauer's achievement, however Holzhauer is driven by more than money.
Holzhauer's love of Jeopardy has always been tied to family. He grew up watching the show most evenings with his family and told the Washington Post that: "I promised my dear Granny that I would appear on 'Jeopardy' one day, and I never take promises lightly."
He has specifically structured his wagering on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy to ensure his winnings correspond with figures that honor his family--for example Holzhauer once intentionally wagered to win $110,914 to match his daughter's birthday, November 9, 2014.
Holzhauer has even wagered less money that he could've in spots, just to ensure his winning totals match important dates in his family history. He told the Washington Post: "Family and friends will always mean more to me than any amount of money or 'Jeopardy!' wins. I wanted to show them my love in an unconventional way."
The depth of Holzhauer's dedication to getting on Jeopardy, and his preparation for the opportunity, is because he's not motivated by money, he's motivated by personal passion.
Holhauzer's case is a reminder that financial gain can only push a person so far, and fulfilling achievement requires pursuing something that aligns with passion, purpose and core values. He is at the top of his field, and his vision, preparation and passion are characteristics that everybody must emulate to be a top performer.