When was the last time you used the phrase, “I just didn’t see it coming?” Maybe it happened during a traffic accident, or a denied job promotion or a poor stock selection. Or in the case of Enron where your company gave you thirty minutes to evacuate the premises after declaring bankruptcy. The phrase implies that somehow we were supposed to see the future.
That’s visualization and it is a critical skill leaders need for success. In previous issues we have discussed knowledge and experience leaders need to be effective. Depending on the phase of the business, leaders, need to be versant in transformational opening (startup), situational middlegame (growth), or results-based endgame (exit strategy) leadership style as their company matures.
Using the right leadership style helps the business become and remain successful. We have also previously discussed one word definitions for strategy (choice), candidate moves (possibilities), strategic thinking (analysis), and tactics (opportunities). In this issue we begin a series of skills business leaders need to develop and practice.
Visualizing the Future is a Huge Advantage
One trait that iconic leaders have is the ability to visualize the future. Visualization is the act of creating pictures in your mind. Unfortunately, it’s often an underutilized skill, even though it plays an important role in achieving future success. A leader had a vision of a car in every garage, a computer in every home, and a coffee shop on every corner before it became reality. Chess players develop the ability to see changing conditions on the chessboard when they calculate a variation or analyze a candidate move.
The image they base their decision upon is not what is on the board but the image in their mind’s eye of what can occur when a decision is made. When businesses reorganize, they are developing a different picture of how they want their company to function in the future. Is there a guarantee a change will be successful? That’s called predicting the future and chess players get pretty good at that, even though there are no guarantees. Visualization is a skill requiring frequent practice.
Out of practice chess players get “rusty” and don’t see potential winning moves. Business leaders get “rusty” because they are blinded by a competitive threat or didn’t see a potential lucrative opportunity. In business the Brexit decision is one that many leaders did not see coming and we are still reacting to that move by the British.
Magnus Defeats Max
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Ben Cohen wrote about a chess challenge between a novice player who intended to study chess for 30 days to see if he could play and beat worldchampion, Magnus Carlsen. Max Deutsch was challenging himself to test the theory of the limits of self-improvement. Being able to solve a Rubik’s cube problem in 17 seconds didn’t help Max as he succumbed to the world champion on move nine.
He did not see a two move combination which lost his knight. His visualization skills were not equal to a grandmaster and although he got checkmated in 39 moves he could have resigned much earlier. 1
Magnus Defeats Bill
In a more famous game played a few years earlier, which also lasted nine moves, billionaire Bill Gates (White) lost to Magnus Carlsen (Black) again in a checkmate. In this game, Magnus threatened Gates with a trap that challenged Bill’s visualization skills. In the diagram after move 8 can you see what Bill Gates is threatened with in the following position?
Bill Gates knight on f3 is a very important piece defending the king in the castle. Magnus is threatening the “Remove the Defender” tactic by capturing it with his knight from e5 with check! Since the king is under attack Bill can capture the black knight who is now on f3 with the queen on d1 or the pawn on g2. But either way he then gets checkmated by Qh2. Since this was a quick game with only 2 minutes to think, Bill Gates did not find a winning move on his part?
Do you see his problem? His king doesn’t have any place to move. If he had moved his Re1 there is no checkmate and Magnus would have been hard pressed to play on down material in the position. Instead Bill made the blunder ending move of removing his own defender and captured the knight on Ne5 and Magnus promptly mated him as shown in the diagram after move 9. Oh would the world have set up and taken notice had Gates defeated a world chess champion.
In both of these cases the challenger’s visualization skills were not able to see what they were facing. Magnus and other good chess players practice visualization intensely. Now we need to get business leaders to do the same.
Building a More Competitive Business
Understanding the dynamics of playing chess can accelerate your business’ competitive position. The knowledge gleaned from the visualization required in the game of chess tends to remain longer than written content provided in business cases studies.
Knowledge and experience are of no value if they cannot be recalled. It is best to keep it simple, easy to remember and useful for the future. In a chess game, players rely on information they bring with them to the board, being able to recall and use that knowledge makes the difference between winning and losing — not unlike the short-term and long-term decision-making in the business environment.
Next Issue: Leadership – Strategic Thinking Empowers an Organization — powerful thinking skills will determine success or failure of your company. Find a place to practice your strategic thinking and you will be running your business like a grandmaster.
Jim Egerton is the CEO and founder of Business on the Board™. He is a respected thought leader, teacher, coach, manager, entrepreneur, and a #1 International Best Selling author whose work has impacted the lives of thousands. His management, information technology and training experience comes from serving in the health care, energy and finance industries.