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Strategic Lessons from Chess

I learned how to play chess from a man named George Cinti. I had been exposed to the game as a young boy, but did not begin to understand the value of flexibility, forethought, and strategy in chess until meeting Mr. Cinti. In playing the first couple of games with me, he noted that, although I understood how each piece moved, I failed to grasp how their strengths and weaknesses could be used in tandem to realize the ultimate goal…winning. From that point on, my chess studies with Mr. Cinti were comprised mostly of “chess puzzles” in which I was set-up with a finite number of pieces, and was forced to formulate a strategy by assessing what I had to work with, and matching that up against my rival’s position. Seldom being set up with a guaranteed win, I was forced to see the whole board, and make the best of the very worst of situations.

Quite recently I came across some writing I did for my MBA thesis, and was reminded of the importance of intelligently using your resources to their fullest potential in making business decisions. It is quite easy to organize tactical movements with an “a place for everyone, and everyone in their place”, “blinders-on” approach to resource management, but in doing so one misses the richness of hidden skills employees and teams of employees have to offer the firm. In a recent conversation I had with an HR Director, she said, “You aren’t just the IT Guy, are you”? In saying this, she realized that I could possibly provide greater value to the organization than I do by just keeping the computing systems up and functioning. Coupled with re-reading parts of my thesis, witnessing this epiphany brought back my fond memories of learning to really play chess.

Today’s business landscape is not completely unlike the “chess puzzles” I learned to play. Often leaders find themselves dealing with seemingly impossible situations, from which they must bootstrap results. Managers contending with limited budgets, especially in small businesses and non-profits, must always be looking at the “chessboard”. Not only recognizing how each piece in their organization moves, but firmly grasping how those capabilities can play into one another to formulate a winning strategy.

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