Business strategy lessons learned from chess - Business Works
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Business strategy lessons learned from chess

by Lee Wagstaff, Brand Development Manager, Thornton & Lowe In an interview for the Norwegian talk show Skavlan, Bill Gates was challenged to a game of chess with Magnus Carlsen, the world's best chess player. Gates, a genius in technology and business, agreed and the Scandinavian public eagerly watched on as one of the world's richest men took on a Norwegian 23-year-old chess prodigy.

The result? Carlsen clocked only twelve seconds before he had Gates in checkmate.

Bill Gates himself looked inspired, a broad smile emerging as the admittedly brief game progressed. In the aftermath, he conceded that the game had 'a predetermined outcome'.

It took Carlsen only nine moves to eliminate Gates, because of one key aspect: strategy.

tactics require observation ... strategy requires thought

Famous Dutch chess grandmaster and mathematician, Max Euwe, allegedly stated that, "Tactics require observation" and "strategy requires thought". Bill Gates had tactics; he was able to observe Carlsen's moves and react to them. What he lacked, however, was a predetermined strategy. Carlsen had a plan that allowed him to react to his opponent while keeping in focus his long-term goal of ... well, humiliating the founder of Microsoft on public television.

What can business owners learn from this clash of titans? Well, it's about understanding the importance of strategising as a foundation for tactical business manoeuvres. Laying down a strategy as a cornerstone of your business sees your company excelling past competitors.

Here’s how to do it.


A lot of businesses can approach networking in a similar way to an amateur chess player to the game - they're reactionary, rather than proactive. Problematically, a small client stream means that there are periods their business is locked in stalemate, wondering what their next move is.

To ensure you never get trapped in this stasis, ask for referrals from any clients you feel may give you a glowing review. Chances are that at some point down the line they'll come into contact with a business partner that requires a service like yours, but if you want to be the name on their lips, you need to say so.

don't assume that clients will mention you

Don't assume that clients will mention you in a heartbeat, because they might have the impression that you're quite happy finding your own business.

Your own outreach can be just as powerful, so don't underestimate it. Establish a strong online presence as a way in which people can get to know your business before they work with you. Regularly blog about what's happening in your company and in the industry, and share it through social media too. With the economy improving, competition is intense, so raising brand awareness if crucial.

Search for Government contracts

The signature highlights of chess matches occur when a major piece is taken, such as a queen or rook. It counts as something of a 'big win', and can give a chess player the head-start they need to win the game.

In the world of business, these 'big wins' are often government contracts. Not only are they lucrative, but they also carry with them the kind of reputation that revolutionise your company's portfolio.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these contracts are in extremely high demand, so in order to branch out into government contract work, you may need the help of an outsourced bid writing agency who can help in your request for tender.

If you can land a solid contract in the public sector, and can come through on what you've promised to deliver, it will open numerous doors for your services in the future, so invest into procuring the work.

Target othermarkets

Without a bespoke strategy, you may end up restricting the markets that your business can branch into by default. Going in blind will bring you into the market that probably serves you best, but you could be missing a trick.

Small business consultant Frances McGuckin made a fantastic point when providing advice for "If your consumer market ranges from teenagers to college students", says McGuckin, "think about where these people spend most of their time". Getting your business involved in schools and on campuses is just the start; target popular student clubs in towns, offering discounts for anyone with a valid NUS card.

These extra markets act as revenue streams that can fund your core projects and expansion.

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