What leaders can learn from chess about decision-making

p 1 leadership lessons from a chess master beware overconfidence

Years earlier than the notion of beginning a software program firm ever entered my thoughts, I briefly toyed with the thought of turning into knowledgeable chess participant. On the age of 19 as a sophomore in school, I tied with grandmaster Pal Benko for first place within the World Open chess event. I went into the event ranked one hundred and fifteenth, and I don’t suppose anybody was extra shocked than I used to be to make it to that final sport and tie with Benko.

It was thrilling. I used to be younger, had a grasp ranking, and a giant win below my belt. However I in a short time realized a long-term chess profession was not in my future. It might have required fixed journey, full devotion, and little means to construct one thing that would have an enduring, vital influence on the world. To not point out that my grand successful from the World Open was a test for a bit over two thousand {dollars}. In 1975, that wasn’t unhealthy. However as soon as I subtracted my registration payment plus prices for journey to New York Metropolis, I noticed I might probably battle to make a good residing.

Although I resigned from the thought of turning into a grandmaster, I discovered my chess expertise helped me grasp the duties required of a CEO of a rising firm. Because it seems, most of the identical rules concerned in selecting a chess transfer can be utilized to creating choices in enterprise.


In chess, the benefit might shift and alter with every participant’s transfer. One second you’re the underdog; the following, you acknowledge a chance to take the lead. The flexibility to establish and determine which alternatives to take—in chess and in enterprise—are discovered expertise. Over time, I’ve relied on the next three-phase strategy to assist me make the most effective choices.

Acknowledge the patterns

In chess, patterns are necessary. Should you’re going to show the sport to your benefit, you’ve obtained to see one thing in an open place that your opponent doesn’t. To grasp and acknowledge patterns, chess gamers research their rivals’ historical past and expertise. For instance, within the Netflix sequence The Queen’s Gambit, the lead character reads e-book after acquainted e-book analyzing the video games of nice grandmasters. The objective is to acknowledge micropatterns on the board inside the positions of the items and the management of the totally different squares. Recognizing these patterns will clue you in on the strategic strategy it is best to take.

Run candidate strikes

Is the technique you need to apply a winner? Analyzing the scenario will enable you discover out. Take an “if-then” decision-tree strategy to determine what is going to occur if you happen to tackle a sample with particular strikes, and map out a sequence of options to assist refine your subsequent transfer.

Consider your overconfidence

Proper earlier than you make your transfer, step again and ask your self, “Am I lacking something apparent that would completely derail my resolution or wipe me out?” It’s actually harmful in chess—and in enterprise—to get so wrapped up within the analytics of your resolution that you simply fully skip over one thing easy that will journey you up on the finish. And whereas chess is a really clear sport, enterprise—and particularly markets—are opaque. You not solely want to investigate what your competitors is doing—it’s essential to perceive what is going on holistically within the ecosystems that will have an effect on you.

I’ve used this framework for decision-making for many years now and took some learnings from it to coronary heart early on in our firm’s existence.

In 1996, after working as a personal enterprise for 13 years, I made a decision to take the corporate public. Actually, I wasn’t positive if we have been totally prepared and wasn’t skilled in all the ups and downs of an IPO, however individuals who have been skilled in these transactions assured me that it was a great technique. We listed on NASDAQ and watched the corporate’s worth rise . . . then fall—sharply. I felt I had failed. I used to be overconfident; carried away by Wall Road hype, I missed the indicators that ought to have instructed me we weren’t prepared.


To treatment the scenario, I took myself out of the day by day CEO obligations, introduced in somebody extra skilled to assist stabilize the enterprise, and dove again into product improvement, which I had gotten too far-off from. I additionally took the chance to in the end change into a greater chief for the corporate. I used to be in a position to actually research and perceive the structural and managerial patterns of profitable firms, look holistically at conditions, and totally analyze our operations and go-to-market methods. Then, in 2005, after I was assured in my means to guide the day-to-day choices of the corporate once more, I retook operational management. The enterprise has grown yearly since and lately handed a milestone of $1 billion in income for the primary time.

Over this previous yr and for a while to return, leaders in nearly each business are being challenged with extra change than they ever anticipated. The pandemic exerted forces on markets that have been unexpected, and a few aftereffects are nonetheless unknown. Disruption will proceed to be the norm for the close to future, and markets are evolving rapidly, making the enterprise of doing enterprise more and more extra advanced. The operational choices you make now will probably be extra necessary than ever. Search for the patterns. Think about all of the angles. Have a Plan B (and C and D). Take one final, lengthy look. Then make your transfer.

Alan Trefler is the founder and CEO of Pegasystems, a multinational software program firm he based in 1983. Years earlier, at age 19, he tied for first place within the World Open Chess Championship.