Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chess, as Life

I sheepishly admit that I continue to get creamed by the chess program on my phone, even at the easiest level.

But, even though I suck at chess, there are important parallels with life and lessons to be learned.  Some of these have been brought home to me in recent days.  The biggest one, and the one I think others should learn, too, is:

Your Opponent Has a Strategy, Too.

I've sat through more than a few "business planning meetings" or "strategy sessions" and even a few reviews of other people's proposals.  In many of them, people's winning strategy, or method for getting the desired result, can basically be boiled down to, "We're gonna win!  Yeah!"


To continue the chess analogy, it's like saying, "We're going to advance some pawns up the board!  And then we're going to push up a knight or two, and maybe place our bishop near the center where they have lots of scope!  And then we're going to bring out THE QUEEN!  We'll be unstoppable when we pin the opponents' king in the corner, and it'll be checkmate then."

To the uninitiated, this might all sound very convincing.  The strategy is to use a variety of pieces, who have different abilities, then use a fancy word (like "scope") to imply that we really know what we're doing, and lastly to bring in something REALLY powerful (like THE QUEEN) -- and victory is "assured" in this hazy grayness of uncertainty.

This all sounds convincing until you actually play chess, and you realize that the opponent has the exact same pieces you do -- and, in fact, is trying to capture your king just as much as you're trying to get the opponent's king. Your Opponent Has a Strategy, Too.

It's not good enough to have a winning strategy in the absence of an opponent.  You have to be better than the other guy.  And that other guy is going to try to thwart your moves and your initial strategy.

Thus, since the other guy is likely to fight back, or at least put up some resistance, it leads me to my second lesson:

You Need To Think More Than One Move Ahead.

This is the one that consistently trips me up in chess, but I like to think I'm getting slightly better at it in life -- and one that many people (but certainly not all) just don't seem to grasp in real life.

I always craft these great traps in chess to snag a rook, or put the opponent (my phone, in this case) in check -- only to be put in check myself because I didn't see how it would make my king vulnerable.  Gah ... too many moving parts in the game of chess.

But in life, it can actually be a little simpler: so you want to chew some person out at work.  Or you want to send a nasty email.  Or you want to trash some other person's work as baseless and without merit.  That's great.

But wait a minute: how do you think the other person is going to respond??!?  Are they just going to roll over and take it?  Are they going to say, "Gee, you know what, you're absolutely right!  I hadn't thought of that.  All hail the genius person that you are!!"

To go back to the chess analogy, if you throw your queen at the opponent's king recklessly, chances are the other guy is going to capture your queen.  And then your life just got a lot harder.  I wish people would think about how they want the other person to respond before they launch off on some denigrating tirade.  In real life, people get pissed.  They don't just quietly take someone else's tirade; they push back.  They argue.  And the whole thing just spirals rapidly out of control, and everyone ends up worse off for it.

Dale Carnegie said it really well in his book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People": The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Despite our initial desire to really unload on someone when we get steamed about something, it's just not productive.

The Other Guy Has A Strategy, Too, and You Need to Think More Than Once Move Ahead.

It would make the world a hell of a lot more productive.

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