Chess teaches so many things about life. It is really a way of life if you learn from it. As there are millions of possible chess moves in a game there are also countless lessons from chess—both personal and for business. I play chess on a regular basis to keep my mind sharp and to keep being reminded of the many lessons I have learned from it. Just when I need the lesson it reveals itself in a game I am playing. Tempo has been my latest lesson. I also subscribe to Pete Tamburro’s excellent chess column for the same reason and I recommend it to you too. Chess makes my mind fly with possibilities and helps me with my critical thinking and it can help you as well!

Here are just three of the many business lessons I have gained from:

Situations in Life can be Deceptive even if you are Top

1) You are always one move in life from a surprised checkmate even if you are super rich and super powerful. In chess it has happened to people with 3 queens on the board and being huge amount of materials ahead, no matter how powerless your opponent appears, it is their position that matters and they can take you out. Examples of these colossal falls abound in business. One that comes to mind is Friendster, it was the first social network rage, it got taken over by MySpace who looked so powerful no one could imagine that anyone could topple it, then came Facebook, and like its two predecessor someone will come along and top it as well.


Never stop innovating, gauging your competitors, and storing enough reserve for any hard times ahead. If you lose your way fight hard to strengthen your position and as soon as you can find your way to a win take it—Apple and many comeback businesses have learned this well, but it was because they were good strategist and did not panic when the shadow of the wrecking ball loomed over them. This lesson is especially useful for startups who are on the rise, remember others are working to disrupt your disruption and you cannot be complacent. Even giants like Facebook and Twitter can be toppled easily by the right invention or innovation. My own innovation can cripple Twitter itself and later innovations can affect Facebook greatly. A small shift is all that is needed to topple a business these days!

Timing is Everything

2) You can be one move away from mating your opponent and never get there because he gets you first. Being almost there has caused businesses billions when someone gets there first. But being first does not guarantee you success either; it is the timing or tempo of what you offer that matters. Facebook had timing that there was a backlash against MySpace with its spammy pages and they gave a clean and easy to use interface which came at the time when people were looking for simpler alternatives. MySpace took it away from Friendster because it too was easier to use and much flashier and open. The timing each of these companies had made them rise to the top and lack of staying with the times made them lose in the end. AOL had bad timing when it kept wasting money sending out CDs that never got used because people wanted open internet access and not a closed system like theirs. Time ran out for them after they spent all of their money trying to force people into a system that no longer worked.


Read your business landscape well and plan a route that gets you where you are going the most efficient way and lookout for landmines that others may have set in your way. If you have to wait for something wait, if you have to speed something up do your best to do so, but arrive not too early and not too late so you can have the “just right soup” that Goldilocks had! Tempo is your best friend or your worst enemy! A great lesson for startup that wait too long to launch because they are afraid of many things or the product is not perfect. I have personally experienced this problem with my last startup. Find the right time and launch as soon as it is feasible.

When in Trouble Complicate and Cloud the Issue

Not sure if Pete and many Chess Grandmasters would agree with me but it is something that certainly has helped me win many a game. When you have nothing to lose complicate, misdirect, bluff, cloud the issues, do anything you can to buy you time to regroup. This works especially well when your opponent is not strong or well organized. If you get them out of their comfort zone and you are good in the wild lands of innovations you have a chance and you have evened the playing field even if you lose a great deal on the way. In all the commotions find a way to strengthen your position to give you enough power for a final push that lets you win. Politicians are Masters at this. Get in trouble create trouble somewhere else to hide the original trouble (like in the movie Wag the Dog). Newt Gingrich was a Master at this getting the heat off his back while trying to impeach the president for the same offense he himself had committed—by the time he finished the thing most people remembered was the impeachment.


If you are in trouble and stand to lose, innovate, kick, scratch, do whatever legal means are available to you to allow you to survive and regroup and strengthen your forces. When Apple was moribund it innovated and went into a different direction and created a new category of products and by doing so strengthened its appeal in the computer space and saved itself in that space as well. Now it is the largest company in history and may soon be the first to reach a valuation of a trillion dollars!

What business or life lessons has Chess taught you?