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  • Writer's pictureMartha Yasso

Consulting and Jeopardy! My Unlikely Takeaways from our Game Show Experience

by Martha Yasso of Yasso Bookkeeping Solutions

Buzzer GIF via

Nearly 20 years ago, my husband had the rare opportunity to be a contestant on the classic television game show Jeopardy! I had a front row seat to the process and I realized my work as a consultant has more in common with winning Jeopardy! than I ever would have imagined!

The short version is: Success is just as much about surrounding yourself with experts, and the right tools, as it is about your own expertise. This is the message every advisor needs their clients to understand for mutual success. Now, the not-so-short version…

Success isn’t just about your knowledge.

My husband is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. When he got the chance to play Jeopardy! I was confident he’d knock out his competition – if not with ease, then at least solidly. In fact, it was my own confidence that led me to sign him up without telling him. I had to scramble and explain (quickly!) what I’d done when the producer of Jeopardy! called him.

Despite his immense knowledge of topics from history and literature, to world religion and mythology, to pop culture and entertainment, he still came in second place. What we didn’t realize at the time was that all the knowledge in the world wouldn’t help him win if he didn’t have the buzzer on his side.

The buzzer? Yes, the buzzer.

Unless you’re already a well-versed Jeopardy! aficionado, you’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about. As it turns out, the buzzer, and a contestant’s mastery of it, is the most difficult aspect of playing Jeopardy!–and the real key to winning or losing the game.

It’s no surprise that each and every contestant on Jeopardy! is highly intelligent, well-read, and prepared for their appearance. But the process is more extensive than most people realize. It starts with the Jeopardy! Test. If you passed this first hurdle, you might get invited to audition, which includes another round of online test questions. From there, an applicant may be asked to play a mock game in front of the show’s producers who are looking both for correct answers and contestant enthusiasm (they need to make good TV after all!).

After all that, a select few applicants will be invited to appear on the show. This is when the real work begins! A quick Google search reveals hundreds (yes, hundreds) of books, websites, apps, flashcards (who knew there were so many flashcards?), and study guides all designed to help would-be Jeopardy! winners have the best chance. By the time you get to this point, there isn’t a contestant still in the mix who isn’t highly capable and qualified to win. But on the day of your show’s taping, anything can still happen. And that’s where the buzzer comes in.

Like running a business, Jeopardy!’s buzzer is a tricky thing

A lot of ink has been spilled bemoaning the Jeopardy! buzzer. Former contestants agree: The buzzer is where Jeopardy! is won or lost. What an average viewer doesn’t know is that a contestant’s buzzer isn’t activated until the entire clue is read and the contestants are informed by flashing lights offscreen. Then it’s game on! The first person to buzz in gets the chance to answer, but if two contestants buzz at the exact same time, everyone’s buzzer is frozen for a fraction of a second, leaving the opportunity open for anyone to be first again. This is why you’ll see contestants pressing their buzzer madly as each question is asked. Ultimately, it’s anyone’s game since all contestants are super-smart and the chance to win relies largely on buzzing in at the exact right time.

So what’s this got to do with being a bookkeeper, accountant, or advisor?

What I’m proposing might sound a bit out there, but stick with me for a minute. Think of consulting like the buzzer. More precisely, when a client has the right advisor on their team, it’s like mastering the Jeopardy! buzzer beyond expert mode. The business owners we work with certainly know their stuff. They are experts in their fields, and they’re in the small percentage of attempted entrepreneurs who last more than a few years. The longer they’ve been around, the more rare they are. But often, by the time we enter the picture as advisors, we see that despite knowing their business and their industry inside and out, they’re still struggling.

Like the overly-prepared Jeopardy! contestant (i.e. my husband) who can’t quite make it into first place, our clients are missing one small but vital ingredient. If their business is anything other than bookkeeping, accounting, or financial consulting, then it’s understandable these areas aren’t their sweet spots. They may wonder why they aren’t achieving the level of success they know they’re capable of, despite their expertise. Like a genius Jeopardy! contestant who is dying to say the right answer but can’t get called on by the host, our clients are being held back by a very specific skill gap.

This is where experts like us come into play. The work we do, like the Jeopardy! buzzer, may seem like a no-brainer from an outside perspective. But you only learn how vital it is once you’re in the deep end. Bookkeepers, accountants, and (most of all) advisors like us can bring the missing element to our clients’ businesses. We’re the buzzer that you have to have on your side if you want to win the game.

Taking it one step further: knowing when to ask which questions

Beyond the buzzer, another business “secret” I learned from my husband’s Jeopardy! experience was the role of the production crew. More than just holding the cameras or setting up lights and doing makeup, the production crew are vital teammates to the contestants when it comes to their game strategy. The (aptly named) showrunner guides contestants through their journey, including learning the logic behind which clues to pick at which point in the game. Is this starting to sound familiar?

It’s a bit like “you don’t know what you don’t know” and we see that a lot from small business owners. They’re smart people! But how can they get answers to questions they don’t even know exist? As business advisors, we give each client their own showrunner, so to speak. Someone who’s seen it play out hundreds, if not thousands of times before. We can help them spot mistakes and missteps before they take them, because we recognize the patterns that our clients don’t.

We can also help clients choose the right questions to ask – about their books, about their operations, about their goals, and more – so they’re set up to use the expertise they have in the best possible way. Just like a successful Jeopardy! Contestant.

If you’re a bookkeeper or accountant who provides advisory services to your clients, and you’d like to add even more value and become required, not just desired, sign up for my Required to Desired Roundtable. Being a part of the Roundtable Labs community, including multiple monthly live conversations and access to the members-only online discussion group is the best investment in your own growth I can recommend.

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