Small Business and Chess

How is Small Business like Chess?

It seems like an obvious example, one we’ve all heard a thousand times before. You need to be thinking ahead, planning for the game three moves from now. Sometimes you need to give up a strong position and sacrifice some pieces to win.

But it doesn’t really always look like that, does it?

When you sacrifice in a game, the piece is removed. When you sacrifice in real life, you can lose friends and make enemies.

But it can still be a good tool for planning and strategy – just don’t execute without realizing you’re not playing a game that will be reset in an hour or so.

With that warning in place, let’s look at how you can use the game to consider your strategy.

  1. The King

    It should go without saying, you are NOT your business. You’ve created something outside yourself in all conceivable ways – a newborn entity that depends on you, but will grow into something more over time. Your business is the King. It can’t do a lot just yet, but it’s incredibly valuable. The real point to grasp here is that you are the general, not the King. You’re responsible for positioning and protecting the King, but you are not the one at risk.

  2. Pawns

    Pawns are your Junior employees, temps, casuals. They’ll move things along for you, but they’re limited in how they can really change the game. If you position them well, they’ll protect the interests of your more powerful pieces, and they may eventually grow to the point where they will move into a more influential position entirely. They could become a key partner and take on the role of one of your most powerful pieces.

  3. Rooks

    Rooks are solid, dependable, and will be there at the start and at the end. They are straight with you, and they’ll have your back – as long as you keep them clear on what’s going on. These guys are your advisers, and may even be shareholders in your business. They may not have the stake that you have, but they offer real experience and wisdom. Make sure you have at least two at all times!

  4. Knights

    Strategists. Unblockable. Unorthodox, and unexpected. The knights are the ones who jump in and change everything when things are most at risk. They can shift things from challenging to winning in a single move. They don’t have the range that some of the other pieces offer, but they’re unique in the way they move and operate. These guys are your consultants. Paid or otherwise, they’re the ones who know how to multiply effects of different areas, to make a and b equal c. You won’t play most of the game with them in mind, but when you need them, you’ll want to know you have them ready. Transition, growth and change often need experts in seeing opportunity, and this is where you’ll want to know you can tap into some unique insights quickly, and for a specific purpose.

  5. Bishops

    See the angle, always prepared to move, long sighted, but capable of small adjustments that can change the game. These guys are your senior sales team. We’re talking about the hunters who will go out and bring in serious contacts for you. You may not start the game with anyone like this on your team, but that’s where life is simply a better game to be playing. It will be your job for now, but the sooner you can get a bishop or two on your books, the faster you’ll be able to establish yourself in your industry. It’s obviously vital that you have quality services or products first though – you’ll lose far more than you gain if you bring in a real hunter too early.

  6. The Queen

    The ultimate force, powerful, agile, and capable of changing everything. Will protect your team, and create opportunity across the board. The Queen is your partner. Able to leverage and influence in many different ways, you need a Queen who will keep you going when you think there’s no hope. The very best businesses will have multiple Queens – some will be suppliers, some will be competitors in another space, but in all cases the Queen has a loyalty and support for you that is unquestioned. Do whatever it takes to get a Queen onside.


There could be a million other ways to think about this. Look at how it relates to suppliers, clients and competitors. Look at how you could apply it to products and services. It’s not written in stone, it’s just another visualization tool you can use to see things from a different perspective. How do you see business like chess?

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