Revealing the Power of Chess in Business

Jim Egerton      Friday, November 30, 2018

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Doing Business Development with Amazon and the Likes

Being in Seattle the day Amazon announced their record-breaking earnings was the day I was speaking to employees and chess club members about: Revealing the Power of Chess to Professionals. Many current and future leaders have studied business and some have even studied chess. But few, if any, have ever connected the dots between the two. And that’s what we accomplished.

 If chess is presented in terms that business people understand, it can be readily applied to developing and maintaining many of the critical skills needed to run a business.

 

Spending the better part of the day with my Amazon host, we hung out in the spheres where Amazon is sheltering endangered species of plants. Employees get to work inside in a conference area soon to be surrounded by vegetation. We also had time to blitz through the Amazon.Go store in the heart of their booming campus. Just fire up the app and head into the store. Once inside, discreet cameras in the ceiling record what you are putting into your virtual shopping cart. And then…walk out. A minute later an email arrives on your mobile with a receipt of your purchase accurate to the penny.

Seattle is a mecca for chess with numerous scholastic organizations providing students world class learning opportunities. But it’s also big on corporate chess. Amazon, Boeing, Blue Origin & Microsoft among others all have company clubs where employees play against each other and test their skills in corporate chess matches. 

I was in Seattle at their headquarters to show some of the Amazonians who play chess how valuable strategies and tactics that appear on the chessboard also occur in business and could enhance their professional development.

 

Who Let the Dog Out?

Everyone in the audience had played a ‘decent’ game of chess recently and of course reported to work that morning so they were in the right room eager to connect the dots. Curiously none of the attendees brought their dogs. Yep, Amazonians can bring their dogs to work every day. And I thought bringing your child to work once a year was a bit overdone.

 

 

Tactics

Right out of the box we discussed tactics. Tactics are opportunities that occur when the pieces are in a certain formation on the board, so they are not always present in the position.  The skill is recognizing when they are in the position and taking advantage of them in the moment. In business they happen through the placement of the resources available to the company.

A B2B tactic happening right now is that Toys’R Us stores are sitting empty and other retailers are eyeing that space since the opportunity has become available to acquire an asset at bankruptcy pricing. Wait too long and they could all be gone.

All of the tactics in the presentation are used in business.

The first tactic was the skewer. An important piece is under attack and has to move out of the way leaving a piece behind them to go lost. This example is ridiculously simple for those that have played any chess. It’s black to play since his King is in check from the rook. The only way to get away from the check is move out of the way (dodge the bullet) so the King must move up. White plays Rh7 + attacking the King again, it can move up or back but in either case the rook on a7 goes lost and with it the game.

So that’s the chess dot, for the business dot everyone in the room was acquainted with the phrase: Getting Thrown under the Bus!  It’s the same thing. A leader is under pressure or attack and steps aside and an employee behind them take the hit. In a presentation the night before I chose not to bring up this bus analogy because there was a young girl in the audience. She would have thought: “Wait, I ride the bus” what’s he talking about?

AT&T Uses the Skewer

This chess skewer tactic was recently used at AT&T when it was discovered they engaged Trump's personal lawyer for $600K. CEO said bad day for the company and was a big mistake. Did he take the hit, nope the head lobbyist in the DC office took the fall (resigned/retired) after the King/CEO stepped aside. In chess when the King is in check it often has to step aside and the piece behind him goes lost. What were they paying that kind of money for? Maybe it was the game of getting the TimeWarner AT&T merger approved? After originally approving the merger now the government is thinking of taking their move back and not allowing the merger. At least in chess with the touch move rule once you make your move it’s over. You can’t take it back.

 

 

Wells Fargo Doesn’t Play the Skewer

If you don’t play the skewer tactic in business, it could be a losing move. When Sen. Elizabeth Warren had the CEO of Wells Fargo testifying before her in Congress she asked Mr. Strumpf “Who in your direct line of reports did you fire over this scandalous credit card fraud activity?” He looked at her and said “no one”. And she replied then you should resign and give back all the ill-gotten gains you acquired during that time. And you know what a couple weeks later he was gone and through claw-back provisions he lost much of what he had earned.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DTMfzRfVAAA3IZV.jpg

Another business/chess tactic is the use of clearance.  In chess it’s when a piece is keeping another piece from making progress. Another piece could accomplish something if the piece in the way were removed from the board. Generally they can be sacrificed if necessary to open the avenue for attack. This is one of the most interesting examples of clearance I’ve seen in my practice. Can you find it?  (Hint: Rh1+ starts the winning combination)

When does clearance happen in business? Usually it’s part of a reorganization. The company wants to put people in different positions and sometimes needs to displace those already there. Also can be part of a layoff or early out program because in business, making a profit is essential for long-term success.

Uptake

In Chicago we have a unicorn tech company called Uptake. Maybe you’ve heard of them. They install sensors on heavy equipment and monitor the status and performance. They can tell when a piece of equipment should be taken off line for preventive maintenance and stop a serious breakdown. Recently something curious happened at this fast growing company. They laid off 50 people. Didn’t announce what area of the company was cut.

In the press release the company said the purpose of the layoff was to make sure they had the right employees in the right positions. Sounds like a chess explanation. In chess when you see strong players maneuvering their pieces to different squares on the board, they are reorganizing their workforce. And the press release went on to say Uptake is still hiring.

 

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Uptake

In Chicago we have a unicorn tech company called Uptake. Maybe you’ve heard of them. They install sensors on heavy equipment and monitor the status and performance. They can tell when a piece of equipment should be taken off line for preventive maintenance and stop a serious breakdown. Recently something curious happened at this fast growing company. They laid off 50 people. Didn’t announce what area of the company was cut.

In the press release the company said the purpose of the layoff was to make sure they had the right employees in the right positions. Sounds like a chess explanation. In chess when you see strong players maneuvering their pieces to different squares on the board, they are reorganizing their workforce. And the press release went on to say Uptake is still hiring.

Powerful Business Strategies and Tactics Found in Chess

In our discussions, we revealed how a chess strategy of offering your opponent a draw created over a billion dollars’ worth of value.  The importance of overprotecting an asset resonated with this group because a company that is growing so fast often has people doing their thing and their backup may not be in place. Succession planning comes to mind for example. We learned about the importance of making preventive moves. Sometimes in chess you don’t have a good move. But you have a move that prevents your opponent from having a good move. Shades of the LinkedIn acquisition come into play in that case.

Top of Mind

Among the skills that playing chess can develop for business leaders is keeping the strategies and tactics you need to win “top of mind”. Just like in a sales funnel or email campaign, when you send the first message the client may not need your services. But several months later, when they decide they need to build a sales funnel for their business, if your email arrives on that day and you create funnels, you may have just acquired their business.

How do you know this works? Just ask these Amazon Chess Club players who are practicing how to make their company extremely profitable.

 

 

Bring it Home

You can learn more about the fascinating connections between running a business and playing chess by bringing it home to your organization. It can happen with a keynote speech, in a workshop or breakout session that challenges your associates with valuable professional development using a game.  How cool is that…. Contact us through our website or let’s connect on LinkedIn and discuss the possibilities. If it works for Amazon it will work for you.  

 

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