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4 minutes

What chess teaches you about entrepreneurship

by Peter Rijsdijk

“Chess is not always competitive, chess can also be beautiful.” 

The beginning of the statement from Beth Harmon to the reporter from Life Magazine sums up why she falls in love with the sport. It’s the place she feels safest and in control of her life, the one place she cannot be hurt without it being her own fault. There was something we loved about her story, a willingness for it to be true; a hidden game of chess created a heroine with valour and a screen presence that was felt by 62 million people across the world. A story of discovery, talent, a drive for excellence earned from zero to master with blood sweat and tears.

As a competitive chess player, suddenly I became on trend overnight, “oh now my pastime is cool.” In fact, it provided me with an instant and attentive audience that could see the beauty of chess so I could use it to demonstrate how to play the right strategies for business, a connection I have always seen.

Understanding the art of chess and its beauty can perhaps support us as entrepreneurs to take and develop a broader view of company performance and how we can grow forward. Moving out of the now that often supports only a 2 dimensional view.

The Secrets of Spectacular Chess by Friedrich Nietzsche, defines the art of chess as being made up of the following 4 elements:

  1. Paradox, the source of surprise and breaking of the rules often play a role
  2. Depth is not about the obvious move, it’s about the mysterious move whose purpose only becomes clear a few moves later
  3. Geometry, the most visible element, with an underlying logic that emphasises the whole
  4. Flow, the fluid movement, the experience with time and tensions and twists in the positions

Your purpose, to checkmate the king, never falters. Others, the audience and your opponent, know who you are, solid, reliable, in some ways predictable. However, you win and stay unique through the moves and innovation that only you know – because it is a pattern, a collaboration of pieces that play together to create the mystery. 

The art is created beyond what you see, it’s more often about the hidden underlying patterns that are played, those that influence the surprise changes in direction with their twists and turns that seem to come out of nowhere. The creation of the art comes from a depth of knowledge and talent of a player to take the strategy 5 steps ahead and play the game before it is seen by anyone else.

It’s the alignment of these elements that builds the strength of the game, the mastery is how you build the depth of your play, creating patterns, twisting and pivoting them to react to the moves you are trying to predict in 64 squares…

It was the board I noticed first. It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it’s predictable, so if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame” her interview continues.

What can entrepreneurs learn from the art of chess?

Your purpose is clear and it always stays the same. I see the pieces on the board as the customer, forming patterns with their needs placed within the overall industry with your opponent also creating their influence on the positioning.

Looking upon this picture it forces us to have a broader view of where we currently are in the eyes of our customer. There is an importance in having a path forward, plotted into the next 5 predicted steps and when looking at our positioning, we need to understand there are hidden depths to what we see. 

What we see is the core of our business, “our game play.” It’s what we do and it’s reassuringly predictable for our customers, yet our company’s uniqueness and innovation comes from the elements of surprise. This is the balance we need to achieve and it is here that we need to understand the role of finance and risk. The more familiar you are with the financial situation of your business, the more you can play with confidence and creativity with the space that you have. As with chess, there has to be certain rules to the game. As with growing a business, these are your financial measures, placing them in strong patterns that support your growth ideas.

A clear purpose, led by your values is what people see and placing them on a broader board to view as a team enables you to predict, to play, to review patterns and scenarios is an important part of using the right innovation for growth. It’s about continually surprising your customers and staying uniquely positioned in your marketplace.

To continually surprise, we need to understand the potential patterns that exist and map the path ahead with a depth of understanding by asking ourselves constantly “what if?” 

This enables you to be prepared by planning out how you will group your talent around your solid game plan, to keep the core of “how you play” and deliver your purpose with reassuring quality and seamless flow…and just in the way of Beth Harmon, visualise how you will place your talent around key potential moves that no one else can see. In the case of the entrepreneur, your uniqueness and competitive advantage comes from playing and studying the game, predicting patterns on the ceiling, by knowing just that little bit more. By being prepared for whatever move could be played, Beth could play without flinching as she knew exactly what her board needed.

Just as in the art of chess, the flow and the twists & turns, all create elements of unpredictability and the surprise that your customers can’t help but applaud – for it brings them joy and is something that your competitors can’t follow. Well, at least not with the sophistication of the one who owns the 64 squares on the board, in this case the entrepreneur.

It is the art of chess that is needed now… building strength and alignment in our everyday game plan, keeping purpose clear, inspirational, using it to platform innovation, keeping your organisation unique and competitive.

Beth was incredibly talented in The Queen’s Gambit, however, her real genius was her ability to see a broader picture, predictions, what ifs, to challenge her game play, to inspire the pushing of the rules and playing alongside them to stay relevant and not bankrupt herself, she could challenge and still take manageable risk.

Play it like Beth.

As the Wyseminds’ purpose-led financial advisor, Peter also took time to talk to Julie about what he is currently seeing on the front line of entrepreneurship, 5 months into 2021. Take a look >