How Chess Applies to Organizational Management

I was exposed to chess in elementary school and quickly learned a lot about strategy and reading people just from watching and engaging with some of the early experts among my classmates. I did not recognize it at the time, but as I got older, I could clearly see how learning games like chess at an early age taught me about precision, forward thinking, reading people, self-discipline, patience, and modeling. When you are exposed to things like chess early on, your instincts and intuition get sharpened around skills that are absolutely vital as a student and as an adult in the workforce.
Today, I work as an analyst covering people practice in organizational management. While a lot of what I cover has historically been relegated to the HR practice, my career has put me on the leading edge of pushing industries to adopt new strategies for how to prioritize assets within their organizational management and business models to achieve better long-term success. My career is one part economic modeling, one part insights, and one part relationship management. Quickly and intuitively connecting all of these three elements together goes right back to those instincts I honed playing chess at an early age – modeling, reading people, matching behavior to the next move, etc. While my education has played a pivotal part in the characteristics that define the area of the market in which I now work, the underlying concepts of success go back to the instincts I honed thanks to games like chess – the parallels are obvious and plenty.
Just as I would encourage all educational systems to promote the arts to stimulate creative insights and approaches regardless of if students are right- or left-brained, I also encourage providing exposure to games like chess that promote a lot of skills that have been challenged or almost lost in the digital age.
  • Patience, for me, is rooted in games like chess and model building, both of which I was exposed to early.
  • Self-discipline taught me a lot about the difference between early, limited gains, and strategic, long-term holds that often yield better results and win-win situations where we all learn regardless of who wins.
  • Restraint in competition taught me how to be a good team player and that regardless of who wins, someone enables the win while others achieve the win – we are part of the process together and cannot achieve the victory without the other.
  • Reading people gave me a skill over my peers that I use everyday. Learning how to read people is imperative to beating the computer to equitable and good decision making on a daily basis. See something, say something means a whole lot more when you know what you are seeing so as to make a level-headed decision and respond in ways that will solve the problem with minimal confrontation based on poor assumptions.
  • Self-improvement taught me how to be introspective coming from a family who really was not. I love my family but admitting when we are wrong was not something I came by genetically – I had to learn how to balance standing up when I am right with the humility to know when I have gone down the wrong path towards a discovery or answer.
All of these skills and capabilities are rooted in instinctive development when I was young. Chess played a big part in it – I can still remember my third and fourth grade teachers supporting our competitions between subjects and at lunchtime (recess was still focused on exercise). Summarizing the narrative here – Chess is a great game that promotes a lot of instinctive development of skills that come in handy later in life. From standing up for myself in a complex economic system to promoting strategies for companies to equitably manage and embrace behavioral randomness in their next waves of innovation and long-term growth, I benefited from such early exposure to the game. I now work in the area of people practice, leveraging what I learned to reteach organizational leaders how to structure around the very values I learned from the game that I continue to use in my own management aspects.

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