At first glance, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen is your typical 25-year old celebrity.
The thing that sets Carlsen apart, though, is his claim to fame.
Carlsen is the best chess player in the world.
He became a grandmaster at the age of 13, and continued to progress until becoming world champion at the age of 22. He's currently in New York City defending his world title against Russian Sergey Karjakin. (Carlsen trails Karjakin by one game in a best-of-twelve match.)
I only discovered Carlsen recently, and in researching him came across a game he played against billionaire Bill Gates back in 2014.
It took Carlsen about a minute to checkmate Gates and win the game--in nine moves.
The video is entertaining to watch, but a close look at this 60-second game reveals some interesting business lessons. Franklin Chen, a U.S. Chess Federation Master and blogger, extracted nine lessons, which you can read here.
I've picked out my three favorites:
1. Know who you're dealing with.
One reason Carlsen was able to win the game so quickly is he had a pretty good idea of how Gates would play. The Norwegian actually made moves that most experts would consider "bad," but he used them as bait to lure Gates into a trap.
Lesson: We all share common traits, but remember that every employee, business partner and customer is an individual. Learn to adapt to the person, and you'll find success more often.
2. The devil is in the details.
Gates's final move appears fantastic from many angles. It appears to force the win of a piece, which would give Gates an advantage.
There was only one problem: The move allowed checkmate.
"In chess, you can do everything right," points out Chen, "have everything figured out but one detail, and lose horribly. What are the analogies in life? There are many: In warfare, missing one vital piece of information could mean losing an entire battle. The Challenger tragedy. Mission-critical computer software. Professions such as surgery [and] race car driving hinge on detail."
Lesson: Train yourself and your team to look at the big picture and the details. In chess, you can't have someone take a second (or third) look before making your move. But in business, it often pays to get others to review your work.
3. It's important to fail.
Many fault Gates for falling into the trap, reasoning that Carlsen must be up to some sort of trickery to sacrifice a piece the way he did.
But Chen doesn't see it that way. He explains:
"I see this kind of meta-reasoning happen too often in club level chess, where a weaker player is afraid that the stronger opponent must have had a reason when playing a seemingly bad move, and therefore does not play the correct continuation against it.
I think there is a funny line between being pragmatic about one's limitations and being too timid to dare to question a poor move and try to prove it wrong. This psychological tension...can be a vehicle for developing self-awareness, trust in one's own mind...and continuous learning in case of making the wrong call."
Lesson: It's all about bias for action. All too often, fear of failure causes us to overthink things, leading to "analysis paralysis." Gates, whose hunger for learning is evident, isn't afraid to make mistakes and use these as opportunities to grow.
The problem-solving nature of chess provides lots of analogies to business--and life. The world championship between Carlsen and Karjakin continues this afternoon.
Can Carlsen come from behind to successfully defend his title? Will be interesting to see.
Either way, it's sure to be a learning opportunity.