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Business Strategy vs. Chess Strategy

        posted by , April 10, 2013

When you see a good move, look for a better one.
~ Emanuel Lasker
Chess is about outcomes. Every potential move opens up a new universe of possible outcomes.

The art of chess is to see future outcomes and apply strategies to win. Business is no different.

Poor Strategy

A poor chess strategy fails to see the potential consequences of a single move.

For example, an absolute beginner at chess might move a Queen where it can be lost (not as a strategy but as a mistake).

poor chess strategy

Mediocre Strategy

A mediocre strategy considers the immediate consequences of a move. If a move results in the loss of a Queen, the move is avoided.

mediocre chess strategy

Master Strategy

A chess master can see many levels of possible outcomes for each move. A player who considers 3 levels of outcomes in their strategy almost always beats a player who considers 2 levels.

A chess master might purposely give up a piece to obtain a long term advantage in a game. This is known as a combination.

Combinations are complex strategies that require thinking through a large number of possible future outcomes.

strategy levels

A computer can potentially evaluate many levels of outcomes in the game of chess. However, eventually the levels don't have as much impact.

A player who can see 3 levels can apply sophisticated strategies that can potentially beat a computer that's looking at 7 levels.

Business Strategy

As in chess, a business that considers 2nd and 3rd level outcomes tends to have an advantage over a business that only considers immediate outcomes.

Two businesses consider adopting an aggressive sustainability strategy. The first business only looks at the short term:

sustainability difficult first steps

In the short term, a sustainability program generates publicity but requires effort, risk, change, costs, hiring and a culture shift. All these things can potentially threaten short term profits and incentives. As a result, a business that just looks at the short term has little incentive to start a meaningful sustainability program.

However, a business that looks at the long term has a different view:

sustainability strategy

In the long term sustainability can represent competitive advantages such as innovation, brand value, reputation, efficiency, productivity, employee engagement and stronger customer relationships.

A long term business strategy usually beats short term tactics.

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