Chess and Business

Lately I have been playing a lot of chess, even learning from a coach. It was supposed to be my children who I wanted to put in the program, but they said they would rather not. Since I bugged the coach so much with questions, I decided to enroll myself rather than tell him he won’t be coaching my kids. No regrets! I am learning a new skill that I can play until all my hair is gone.

In those few sessions and from reading chess books, I learned some chess principles that can be applied in business. No, that would not be lessons like the typical plan and be a few steps ahead of your opponents. Here they are:

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  1. Pawns are important

We see pawns as dispensable pieces since there are 8 of them and they can only move in one direction. Once you push forward, you are already committed to it. That is why we only see them as tradable pieces early in the game. I was wrong in seeing pawns from that perspective. They are more important than I thought.

Pawns are the only pieces that can be promoted in exchange for captured pieces towards the end of the game. That gives them their value and they are the player’s last hope in the end game. 

Business application: Train your juniors for future promotion

Pawns are the office juniors and new hires in the company. They may be replaceable since there are numerous of them in the market but they are clean slates. This means that they can be trained, developed and molded to become heads who will replace leaders in the future. This assumes that these new hires have the right attitude.

  1. In the end, kings turn into warriors

The idea of chess is to win by capturing the opponent’s king while protecting your king. This is why there is such a move as putting the king inside the castle protected by pawns and a rook. But the case is different In the end game, when what is mostly left are a few pieces, maybe a pawn, knight or bishop and the king. During this part, the king is activated to support whatever piece is left. He goes behind, side or front, depending on who they are against. 

Business application: Give support to your team

In business the goal is profit and not to capture the competitor’s CEO. This means that the CEO is safe to be out there to give their support to the team without fear of being eaten by the rival company. Being out there means not sitting in the room and waiting for reports for analysis but seeing the action. By seeing the action, he will have a better perspective of the whole environment which then translates in better decision making. 

In Japan they have what they call genchi genbutsu or go and and see in english. This requires the manager to be out there in the field to go and observe. It is only when they see that they can  judge better and act accordingly.

  1. Protect your turf

The 4 middle squares in the chessboard are crucial in controlling the whole board. Putting the bishop there allows them to move along the long diagonals. Putting the knight there allows them to jump in different locations. If you don’t get to post any of your pieces there, your chances of winning drops. This is why at the start of the game, players try to dominate them. 

Business application: Get the best location for your business (retail)

Plenty of businesses do not want to spend on good locations, that means a place with high volume of traffic, primarily because of expense. However, a good location is less of a liability but more of an asset. Survey tells us that most people still buy in-store while walking in malls. 

So, how do you know which location is good for your business? One that offers the most traffic and less competition, unless you know your competitive advantage. Same goes with online platforms. Be in the most visited sites.

  1. Be excellent in every stage

There are 3 stages in chess, opening game, middle game and end game. Each stage requires different sets of skills. Opening requires that you develop pieces to give those at the back maximum freedom to move. Middle game requires decision making in terms of when and which to attack. End game requires excellence in cornering the king for a checkmate. The challenge however is that the opponent is doing the same thing and is on a quest to control the middle board creating congestion.

Business application:

In business there are different stages as well: startup, growth and decline and each stage requires a certain management skill and style. The startup requires the team to understand the logic of their business and this means identifying how the business makes money and where money comes from. There is a plan before the business starts but the plan does not always happen. In the growth stage, the phase when money comes in, the business must be able to understand and prepare for the decline stage. Here, the business is required to find innovation opportunities. The decline stage is when the business takes a different business model and applies the innovation it learned from the previous business stage.

Chess is not just a beautiful game that uses logic and creativity, it is also a wellspring of lessons that can be used in business.

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