The One Game to Improve Your Strategy Skills

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Dan Arens Dan Arens

The decade of the 1970s was not only a tumultuous time for America, it was also a time of opportunity for Japanese automakers. The strategies they employed were taken directly from the game of games for strategists. It is also known as the game of kings.

The game of chess has been around for ages. It is a game of strategy and skill that helps players with their critical decision making skills. Japanese automakers knew they had a formidable foe in the American automakers, back in the early-1970’s.

As Dr. Donna Thomas-Rodgers recently conveyed in an article on the game of chess, "knowing there was no way to dominate the American market through profit, Japanese car makers launched an attack straight from a chess player's manual." Thomas-Rodgers goes on to say "utilizing the strategies of having multiple advantages as well as the willingness to sacrifice, the Japanese were content to sacrifice profits in order to gain market share." As history has shown, their strategy paid off at a time when American car companies were still selling gas guzzlers and inflation was causing the sticker prices to be trending up, not down. They were caught flat-footed, consistently losing market share as the higher gas mileage and cheaper Japanese cars increased their market penetration.

Many times, chess is associated with military strategies and tactics. In reality, it is a game of opposition or competition, where one player ends up winning because they had a better plan of action than their opponent. It is that simple. Getting there, however, is where strategy and intrigue come into play.

The key element of strategy in chess relates to planning. Not just planning the current move, but trying to look ahead several moves in order to figure out what might happen in the future. The possible number of moves are many, but the game forces the player to narrow down their field of choices and pick the best one under the current set of circumstances.

Strategy involves making choices. So does chess. The game provides the player with many different opportunities to make a myriad of choices. Just like in the business world, sometimes there are immediate consequences and sometimes the impact of those choices is felt later.

Author Sean Hampton-Cole has written about fifty lessons that the game of chess teaches people about living strategically. Here are some lessons that relate to business growth:

• Competitive Advantage - "If you already have it, maintain it. If you don't have it, seize it."

• Be Pro-Active Not Reactive - "If you wait around for someone else to make a decision for you, they will... and you probably won't like how it turns out."

• Do Not Always Stay with the Script - "A little bit of creativity and lateral thinking can often take you to new heights."

• Do Not Ignore the Competition - "We often get so absorbed in our own games and machinations that we ignore what is going on around us. Be aware of threats and alert to opportunities."

• Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose - "Cut your losses. Sometimes you are going to lose. Try to minimize your losses and move on."

• You might have to Sacrifice for Position - "Sometimes even the greatest material sacrifice can result in a winning position later on."

• Multiple Alternatives - "Have a Plan B. And a Plan C. If none of those work, you're probably doomed."

• Adapt - "Be flexible. It seldom goes the way you planned- adjust and continue."

• Keep Active - "Never rest on your laurels. Keep thinking, looking for new opportunities and trying to generate new ideas."

• Identify Your Alternatives - "Narrow down your choices. And then decide. Take your time, but settle on one plan of action... and then do it!"

• Consider the Entire Landscape - "Always consider the whole board when deciding on a move: decisions made with too narrow a focus are often bad."

In order to "win" in business, your company needs to be better at something than your competition. Business owners and managers are not born being able to develop and implement a strategy. Strategic planning must be learned by doing it over and over again. In many respects, business strategy is similar to chess, which is similar to a militaristic battle of generals. In the game, as in business, however, usually it is not a game of life and death, but a battle of wits. Whether the intent is to develop your critical decision making skills, improve your concentration, or fine tune your ability to develop various scenarios, chess has been THE game to learn in the world for centuries.

Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

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