Chess and the Art of Boardroom Strategies

Chess and the Art of Boardroom Strategies

Chess is all about the art of war.

Understand your opponent’s moves, create a plan to defeat them, mobilize your troops to achieve the final goal, yet protect your King, your reputation, brand, your business. Centuries ago, chess was the standard go-to time filler for the warriors to understand and play mind games. Today, chess lessons have transcended from chessboard to boardrooms.

Going back to the drawing board could very well be translated as going back to chessboard- for wisdom as well as for vision.

Is business similar to playing chess?

Are there any similarities between business and chess?

I would say many!

Chess has become part of everyday business communications and news. We checkmate our competition, we are just pawns in the game, and we always tend to think at least three moves ahead. Business teams today are very similar to the warring troops of the past. Today, instead of territory and money, they spar over gaining the market share and mind share of their target customer base.

In many ways, business strategies replicate chess strategies. We don’t say it the other way round because chess has been around a lot longer than business management principles. Most of the businesses that we know of, even the ones that have been around for at least a century, are run on four pillars, goal, product, people, and customers.

The battle of will and skill, where chance plays a minor role and both players start as equals, is hugely reflective of modern businesses and chess. Both require strategic thinking, willingness to make small sacrifices for the larger goal, and mobilizing people to attend the ultimate aim, controlling the game, and being the master.

Chess and strategic thinking

In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Grandmaster Gary Kasparov simplified chess strategies in a business context. (Read the complete interview here.)

Here’s a summary of what he said:

  1. Never underestimate your opponent.
  2. Keep your communication channels open, even with your competitors.
  3. Be mentally prepared for your competitor’s strategy and play.
  4. Be comfortable in all situations, including playing in the enemy’s territory.
  5. The devil still lies in details, but you must be able to look at the bigger picture.
  6. Don’t let the complacency set in. You are just one move away from losing the game all the time!
  7. Develop your intuition and learn to trust it in the right crunch situation.

Advantages of learning chess to understand Corporate Strategy

Business leaders often get challenged by questions like

  1. Should we go for the expansion plan?
  2. Should we do everything in-house or outsource?
  3. How to effectively manage resources?
  4. How to mobilize people and teams?
  5. How to stay focused on the ultimate goal and ensure the team does that too?

In every situation, you can draw several parallels between business and chess. Chess helps learn how to think in a very strategic, step-by-step, and systematic manner. It also teaches you about relationships between people and their goals and the crucial fact that everything is ultimately interconnected and interrelated in one way or the other. Understanding the various connections and angles helps us realize how successful and meaningful our businesses could be.

8 Critical thinking skills that business leaders can learn through chess:

In its simplest form, chess is like a puzzle with all pieces available, waiting to be solved. The difference is that the game rules keep changing depending on external circumstances, mainly the opponent’s moves—the analogy with businesses facing constant challenges from external factors like economic, political, and competition.

1. The art of solving problems

Chess is all about focusing on the problem at hand but not losing focus on the larger picture. Businesses must focus on moves that would result in maximum gains with minimum sacrifices. Reaching from Point A to B with the least number of moves in terms of costs and workforce is best understood on the chessboard.

2. Making cause and effect relationships

We all have been taught as kids that every action has its consequences. Somewhere in a rush to reach the finish line, businesses tend to lose track of taking a pause and reflecting on the long-term consequences of any action. The history is dotted with failed product launches, messed-up mergers, and the entire collapse of the business models, leading to bailouts and bankruptcies. No business starts with the goal of hitting a roadblock. It’s somewhere along the way that a series of bad decisions snowball into failure.

Chess encourages playing scenarios in our heads long before they have been played out on the board. Rather than making a move that you can’t take back, chess motivates players to be better strategic thinkers.

3. Staying calm in the middle of the storm

Chess is played with timed, well-thought-out moves. Unless the player has a calm mind, he/she can not go ahead and play their best moves. Business leaders need to learn to stay calm amidst all the chaos. They need to cut the noise and understand what is best for their business and its future. Even in crisis, only those who can keep their wits and their heads together can do something to overcome the situation.

4. Learning from your mistakes

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans go awry. Ask any business leader, and they will relate to you how, with the perfect team, best resources, and execution by the book still led to a potential failure. The aim should be to learn from your mistakes and make sure they have not repeated ever again.

Instead of closing down on the chapter, Game Analysis in chess teaches you to rebuild and replay every move painstakingly, every turn your game took, and analyze what you could have done better. Similar steps are needed in a business strategy where failures are analyzed to the T, and steps and measures are taken to not repeat the mistakes for future projects.

5. Patience is the key

There’s nothing worse than an idea whose time hasn’t come. Too soon, and you end up creating something nobody cares about; too late, and you have missed the critical mass of your customer base. In any situation, businesses ought to learn to keep a well-timed but patient outlook on any decisions. Even if initially it looks like a rather audacious move, staying patient and waiting for the competition to make a mistake could prove to come in handy in some situations.

6. Winning is a goal, not a strategy

Chess is all about creating opportunities where they are least expected. The ultimate goal is winning, but every step in that direction needs to be carefully crafted and executed to perfection. Several strategies come together to yield the desired outcome. To assess your strengths and weaknesses, understand your competition, and figure out an approach that gives you the best likelihood to win—deciding on long-term advantage vs. short-term gains, aggressive or defensive market strategy, and preparing yourself for the challenges that come along the way.

All this is part of combining your goal and your strategical approach to achieve it that matters in equal measure in both chess and business.

7. Every piece has its value

From Queen (9) to a pawn(1), every piece has a role to play, and it could be a part of your overall winning strategy. And there’s always the rule of a passed pawn. Each pawn has the potential waiting to be nurtured to play a more prominent, even winning role in the game. In chess, a king is as good as its army, so it is in businesses. You are as good as your team, and the sooner you realize and prepare yourself to motivate others to do their best for the business, the faster you can reach your goal of winning the game.

8. Optimize

The end not always justifies the means- Chess teaches you how to evaluate your every decision to perfection. Sometimes, even before executing, you would want to learn everything there is. There are times when you will be forced to think about what should be my plan to achieve the goal that I want to with minimum steps?

In chess, they call it “tempo.”

You waste a move, and you have “lost your tempo.”

The more you can accomplish with a lesser number of moves, the better your odds of success. We all want steady profits and loyal customers in our business. But in the highly competitive world that we live in, tempo or how much time/steps/resources it took you to get there can catapult you to new heights or doom you to shortfalls. At the end of the day, it is not just your ability to deliver a result but optimizing your way up to the pinnacle of success that matters.

Save the resources for the unforeseeable future.

Several of our students from the younger generation have already started swearing by chess. They share stories on how chess is responsible for a great deal in their lives—playing the multiple roles of a therapist, a reflective mirror, and an escape from the ordinary with equal ease. They like to play chess when they are conflicted, confused, distracted, lost in thought, or having trouble solving a problem.

Chess is an excellent tool for business leaders and managers alike in an identical way. It teaches you how to think in a very strategic, step-by-step, systematic manner. It compels you to think out of the box and prepare yourself better for the art of boardroom warfare.

Still not convinced if chess can do wonders for your business strategies?

Give us a call today.

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