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CHESS THE BOARDROOM BOARDGAME - March 1st, 2006

CHESS THE BOARDROOM BOARDGAME


Chess is a game of strategy, it is a game for the intuitive, those who can think as they play, those who can adapt to the changes as it comes and still think in a level headed fashion.
The two players in a game of Chess can be compared to two competitors who are fighting it out in the dynamic world for supremacy. Running an organisation is like placing pieces on the black and white squares. That is what strategy is all about. Placing your piece at the right place at the right time.
The published literature on Chess is more than the literature on the rest of the games taken together. If one looks at Chess from the Kolb's Learning Model, we find that Reflective Observation plays a very seminal role in Chess, which probably explains the extensive literature on it.
Fig 1: KOLB’S CYCLE
It is observed that the above learning cycle used by organisations, focus on - Active experimentation – to learn through new ideas and experiments. Concrete experience – to learn through what has happened before, not neglecting the past. Abstract conceptualization – to take into cognizance the past, present and the future and work out a strategy for growth and Reflective observation – to quickly learn from past mistakes and also be flexible enough to change strategy to compete in the new environment.
Similarly in Chess, analysis of different games played at all levels gives the players a vast history of all the moves that have been made under different circumstances. This database helps the players to plan their moves in their subsequent games. This also gives a fair idea of the style of different players, which also helps in making decisions while a game is being played. These active experimentation and reflective observation gives the game a new meaning and it helps in constantly creating new moves. This is also akin to a Learning Organisation, which has an inherent potential to constantly learn, innovate and improve to compete in the ever changing, dynamic scenario around it.
Though Chess is traditionally considered to be a left brain game, the amount of intuition, innovativeness and lateral thinking that are displayed in the "middle game" in Chess, seem to indicate the involvement of the right brain also. Since Chess involves both divergent and convergent skills, it can serve as a good tool for conceptualizing strategy and creativity in an organisational context.
In a game of Chess played by amateurs, it might appear that the game is demonstrative of vertical (i.e. step-by-step) thinking. However, Chess played at the higher levels doesn’t involve just the next moves being made: it also involves intuition and lateral thinking, which go towards building the strategy for the game as a whole.
Creative thinking is very different from thee traditional logical thinking. Our mind’s effectiveness results from the way it organises the information in patterns, and keeping this is mind we logically proceed to work out our problems. Innovation and creativity is an emotional experience. You can train people technically but you cannot teach curiosity. It is the Unknown area in the Johari Window, which is the seat of our entire subconscious behavior and emotions.
Here I would emphasize on the different aspects of the game and how these correlate with certain nuances and aspects of Creativity in Organisations.
STRUCTURE / GRID
The ChessBoard consists of a symmetrical arrangement of alternate blocks of Black and White, which could be compared with the values, culture, code of conduct, rules and regulations in an organisational framework. On the face of it, it might appear that innovations are not feasible in such a rigid structure, but one can actually move within the limits of these squares and make innovative moves. Every organisation has a set of values and beliefs and a code of conduct, which the players (employees) need to follow. These are written or unwritten laws, which have given the organisation the identity, it enjoys today. Those who can perform staying within the constraints of these defined boundaries will be a successful player. As the ChessBoard is identified with these black and white blocks, its values, beliefs and code of conduct identify every organisation.
TYPOLOGY
The 16 pieces on either side in a game of Chess are the King, the Queen, the two Brooks, the two Knights, the two Bishops and the eight Pawns.
These pieces can be classified into different categories on the basis of their working styles – i.e. Creative Temperament vs. Ability to sell one’s ideas.
Queen as the Innovator: The Queen with its ability to traverse in all directions on the board is the most versatile, flexible operator. It also enjoys proximity to power-the King. Innovators are the most important players in an organisational context. With the increasing customer demands for differentiated products with whole lot of variations in pricing strategy and design content it is the innovator who is holding the key for the success of the organisation. One "false move" and the whole organisation’s future might be at stake. These players make a difference to the competitive advantage of an organisation. They are the strongest and the most vulnerable pieces on the strategy board. You are safe till you have them, you don’t know what to do when you lose them. The Queen with its proximity to power and its creative temperament could very well portray the Innovator in Organisations.The Queen with its ability to traverse in all directions on the board is the most versatile, flexible operator. It also enjoys proximity to power-the King. Innovators are the most important players in an organisational context. With the increasing customer demands for differentiated products with whole lot of variations in pricing strategy and design content it is the innovator who is holding the key for the success of the organisation. One "false move" and the whole organisation’s future might be at stake. These players make a difference to the competitive advantage of an organisation. They are the strongest and the most vulnerable pieces on the strategy board. You are safe till you have them, you don’t know what to do when you lose them. The Queen with its proximity to power and its creative temperament could very well portray the Innovator in Organisations.
The Rook as the Dreamer: The Rook as the Dreamer: The Rook has a lot of Creative Potential but till "Castling" is done with the King, its creative potential is not unleashed, and it generally remains a very passive piece. This is suggestive of a Dreamer, whose creative potential can be exploited, with the active support of the Top Management.
The Knight as the Maverick: The Knight as the Maverick: The Knight with its "L" movement and its power to jump over pieces, is a very unconventional piece. Its creativity is limited to only 2 squares in an L-shaped movement. The L movement of the Knight is suggestive of the manipulativeness of the Maverick. The Knight is the only piece, which can jump the rank and file and move to a square of the other color. This is akin to the Maverick in an organisation who show a good amount of independence and skills for operating beyond their role boundaries.
The Bishop as a Mandarin: The Bishop as a Mandarin: The Bishop can move from one corner of the board to the other, but only along the diagonal. This is illustrative of a Mandarin in an organisation, who is likely to operate within the boundaries of the formal definitions of the roles. Their receptivity and openness to ideas would be limited to those solutions which emerge out of organisational norms and conventions which can be implemented through standard procedures and using the formal authority structure of the organisations.
The Pawn: The Pawn is generally the most neglected of the lot. It is there just to add to the number of pieces. But if we study carefully, it is one of the most potential pieces of all the pieces. The Pawn is normally allowed to move in a straight line, except when it has to capture an opponent’s piece, when it can move diagonally. A divergent candidate indeed. In the "enpassant" move of the Pawn, by which it captures the opponent piece without converging on it, and after which, the whole vistas of the board are available to it, a tremendous power is bestowed upon it. In an organisation, the employees are like the Pawns, they are there all over the place doing their duties and adding value to the organisation. Some out of this majority show sparks of creativity and innovativeness and rise to the occasion as it were, to be noticed and recognized by the organisation. The Pawn is generally the most neglected of the lot. It is there just to add to the number of pieces. But if we study carefully, it is one of the most potential pieces of all the pieces. The Pawn is normally allowed to move in a straight line, except when it has to capture an opponent’s piece, when it can move diagonally. A divergent candidate indeed. In the "enpassant" move of the Pawn, by which it captures the opponent piece without converging on it, and after which, the whole vistas of the board are available to it, a tremendous power is bestowed upon it. In an organisation, the employees are like the Pawns, they are there all over the place doing their duties and adding value to the organisation. Some out of this majority show sparks of creativity and innovativeness and rise to the occasion as it were, to be noticed and recognized by the organisation.
The King: The King: The bone of contention, the raison-de-aitre for the whole game. The King has absolutely no major role to play except to save itself from the opponent. This is like the market share for which two competitors are constantly on a competitive mode with each other. The game ends when the market share is acquired.
STARTING WITH THE SAME HANDICAP
There is a symmetrical and identical arrangement of pieces on either side, and both the sides start with the same advantage / disadvantage. This is reflective of two competing organisations having the same resources, but the innovative utilisation of resources and occupying vantage positions as seen in chess is what creates a difference between one organisation and the other. Vertical complexity in organisations can be illustrated by the hierarchical levels in terms of Power like the king, the queen, the rook, the bishop etc. The Horizontal Complexity can be shown by the differentiation in the abilities to move the different pieces on the chessboard. The spatial complexity in organisations can be analysed in the "middle game", which may either be used to the advantage or disadvantage of the organisation.
PARTICIPATIVE CULTURE
Prima facie, the Pawns may appear to be insignificant on the Chessboard in terms of their functions and ability to move vis-*-vis the other pieces. However, the support that the Pawns provide and the positions that they occupy on the board determine the outcome of the entire game. Similarly, the importance of every individual employee towards the fostering of creativity and growth in the organisation is appreciated and realised by the top management of growing and innovative organisations.
In Chess every Pawn has the potential to become a Queen (Innovator) as it reaches the last block on the opposite side, and it is this potential which is effectively realised by innovative and successful organisations. Another way of looking at the Participative Culture in an innovative organisation is by taking into cognizance that every organisation will have few Innovators (Queens) who would require the whole-hearted support of the Pawns and other pieces to implement and sell their ideas.
Fig 2: ENVIRONMENTS AND THEIR CORRESPONDING STRUCTURES
STATIC / SIMPLE: This can be case of a small organisation, which is operating in a relatively stable environment. This can be compared to the start game – where fewer choices are available or the end game with no attacking pieces e.g. with 1 Bishop and 4 Pawns or with 1 Knight and 4 Pawns. There is not much scope for movement and the environment is relatively simple. This can be case of a small organisation, which is operating in a relatively stable environment. This can be compared to the start game – where fewer choices are available or the end game with no attacking pieces e.g. with 1 Bishop and 4 Pawns or with 1 Knight and 4 Pawns. There is not much scope for movement and the environment is relatively simple.
STATIC / COMPLEX: STATIC / COMPLEX: This is the case of an organisation, which has a complex and large structure, and is operating, in a relatively stable environment. The positions in a chess game could be where there are a lot of pieces on the board, but without much scope to maneuver and innovate.
DYNAMIC / SIMPLE: DYNAMIC / SIMPLE: This could be illustrative of small organisations, which are facing a cutthroat competition from the environment. The Queen with 1 Rook or 2 Bishops with 1 Knight can easily "mate" a King, because of relative freedom of movement along the rank and file during an end game.
DYNAMIC / COMPLEX: DYNAMIC / COMPLEX: This is seen in the "middle-game" in chess where the pieces are well developed and the Queen with the help of the Rook and the Knight can change the complexion of the game. This is similar to an uncertain and turbulent environment faced by organisations during their growth stages.
BLOCKS ON THE WAY
FEAR OF FAILURE: FEAR OF FAILURE: This can be illustrated by a very conservative play, when the pieces are not developed, but a very defensive stance is adopted. The player might get trapped in his own passivity, and the same can also happen to organisations, which tread on the beaten track.
TRAP OF SUCCESS: TRAP OF SUCCESS: When a person plays at lower levels and keeps winning, then it often happens that he plays similarly with everyone, but when he plays against a Grandmaster, he is faced with a lot of uncertainty and gets defeated. All competitors are not the same, one has to differentiate between a small player in the market and a big player in the market. A sense of ennui should not develop after competing with some small players.
RESOURCE MYOPIA: RESOURCE MYOPIA: In the "middle-game" there are infinite possibilities, but a player who does not realise the same, makes obvious mistakes and ends up losing the game. Companies should learn to make effective utilisation of their resources at the appropriate point of time for their competitive advantage.
STARVED SENSIBILITIES: STARVED SENSIBILITIES: In chess, one often may get obsessed with the movement of an important piece e.g. the Queen, without looking at the other pieces and may end up as a loser. One may see only one part of the board, neglecting the other and as a result become insensitive to what is happening in the whole game. Organisations also have a tendency to nurture their "cash cows" and in turn neglect the "stars". This often leads to a "star" becoming a "dog" or a "?". Organisations with multiple products should always have the big picture in mind while setting strategies for the firm.
EXCESSIVE RESULT-ORIENTATION: EXCESSIVE RESULT-ORIENTATION: Whenever the opponents King is exposed, it may so happen that the player might keep giving repeated "checks", without developing his pieces, which may not serve any purpose in the long run. This can happen to organisations with excessive result orientation without nurturing the potential of its employees who will be an asset to the company if developed at the right time with the right kind of inputs.
RULE ORIENTATION: RULE ORIENTATION: Chess is often "played by the book" e.g. certain time tested openings, which signify inflexibility in certain cases. This could prove fatal in unfamiliar situations for the player. Excessive rule orientation and less of prudence often results in death and decay of an organisation. With the changes in the environment, organisations should also be able to change accordingly.

IN CONCLUSION
Chess is a game, which can be studied very carefully for boardroom strategies. This will help organisations to think ahead and make good moves under any circumstances. The size of the organisation is not relevant here.
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Best Regards,
Nikhil Gadodia
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