In Chess and Business, Lies & Hypocrisy Do Not Last Long

In Chess and Business, Lies & Hypocrisy Do Not Last Long
Emmanuel Lasker, World Chess Champion 1894 to 1920

Interest in chess is exploding, driven by the pandemic, online streaming, websites like and charismatic players like Hikaru Nakamura, and World Champion Magnus Carlsen.  The Queen’s Gambit series is a smash on Netflix. A number of my wife’s friends are taking on-line chess lessons. This all delights me – I’ve loved chess since my teen years. I’ve spent many hours learning and playing the royal game, and it has repaid me tenfold.

Chess provides marvelous metaphors for strategy and life. Chess engenders discipline, insight and creativity thinking. Chess is fun, engrossing and teaches a marvelous vocabulary. Should I defend with the Nimzo-Indian or aim for a Queen’s Gambit Semi-Slav?  If I open with E4, will Black respond with the Poisoned Pawn Najdorf? My only hope is zugzwang…

The wildly romantic history and mythology of chess are an added bonus. Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine and all the rest are magic names and personalities.  And more recently, Bobby Fischer, Gary Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik and so many others. Chess champions are brilliant, sometimes crazy and always charismatic. Carlsen, Nakamura and today’s great players are worthy successors.  If you’re new to the history of chess, treat yourself and learn about them. More books are written about Chess than any other game, so you’ll find no shortage.  YouTube is another splendid source of history.

One of the great charms of chess is its binary nature. You win or lose based on:

  • The strength of your ideas, and
  • Your skill & courage in implementing them

Hence, Emmanuel Lasker’s famous maxim. Is Lasker’s maxim true in business? For most enterprises, large and small, the answer is clearly affirmative. Our success or failure depends on the depth of our strategic understanding, and the energy & intelligence with which we execute. (Luck plays a part too, of course, as always & everywhere.)

There can be exceptions, to be sure, usually involving monopoly, oligopoly, and market rigging (e.g. to keep competition out). Government agencies are also often exempt from Lasker’s maxim, with all too evident results.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Agile Governance is that it makes problems visible.  Our Transformation Lighthouse, for example, is a big room full of simple, clear visuals.  Senior leaders attend regular stand-up meetings wherein they develop a shared understanding of core business issues.

A good Lighthouse makes the business ‘chessboard’ visible at a glance. For example, there’ll be a highly visible Innovation Pipeline showing the different innovation sub-streams, corresponding capacity and loading and the status of each innovation project. We’ll be able understand our current condition at a glance, and take corresponding action.

We seek thereby to create an ‘idea meritocracy’, the great Ray Dalio’s most important management principle. In an idea meritocracy the best ideas win, and not the highest rank or greatest aggression or arrogance.  In a good Lighthouse, as on the chessboard, lies and hypocrisy don’t last long.