Play Chess, not Checkers – Does Your Decision Making Scale?

Too many people want to make things simple.  When it comes to user experience this is correct, but when it comes to the rest of the world… it is just DUMB.  In meetings often the leader of the meeting will try to set up a simple problem and look for a straightforward solution to it.  I refer to this as “playing checkers” –

-Checkers is a very basic game.  The goal is clearly laid out – complete elimination of the opponent’s pieces.  The method in which a player can eliminate another player’s pieces is simple, you have to jump it.  There is only one form of attack, only one thing the opponent needs to defend against.  Often attacks are driven by an implied stalemate when a user has to make a move to put himself in harm’s way.  It’s a game in which often the winning strategy is reactionary and not planned out.

When you only see a problem in a bubble you run into a lot of issue later on.  One of the most familiar examples of this is in technology when the tech work is done by outside or outsourced firms.  When someone in a separate company from your own is given a set of tasks to accomplish, what is their perspective?  Well it is that of a checkers player – the task is straight forward, there is only one goal, only one thing the developer needs to defend against (not completing the task).  This creates a lot of risk to the overall project, if each individual part of the project is carried out by individuals who are not a part of the larger planning process, development is done without awareness of how this small part of the project and the way it is coded might impact the overall product.  When everything is simplified it often overlooks the complexity of the long-term impact of the work.

Another situation that happens a lot, is how people/personalities act in meeting rooms.  For example, that person who always acts like this meeting and this small part of the project is by far the most important thing happening in the world right now.  Context is critical to making good decisions, it’s also very complex.  Don’t for a second think things are always as simple as they look on paper.  This is what’s being overlooked by the person who can’t see outside of their current meeting.  Making decisions and working in a meeting based on context and not current events is what I would refer to a “playing chess” –

-Chess is a more complex game.  The goal is clear – kill the king.  The method in which a player can eliminate the king isn’t as simple.  Instead of every piece having the same capabilities, there are rather 9 different types of pieces on the board each with different capabilities.  The opponent can’t, as in checkers, quickly scan the board and see all risks based on one reactionary concept… Rather the opponent must now look at a lot of different risks that may be on the horizon, as well as think more than just one turn ahead as many complex risks may be developing.  It’s a game in which the winning strategy is dynamic and requires complex thought across many turns, both for the player and their opponent’s turns.  Chess requires a player to understand the context behind the moves on the board rather than just the risks offered by each individual turn.

So to bring this to a close, when thinking on a problem.  Don’t only look at the individual problem, dig into its context.  Why is this a problem, what is causing it, does it need to be solved soon, will it lead to future problems?  Then with that context layer in who’s providing the problem, asking all the same questions you just asked yourself but now from the other points of view in the room.  Next incorporate the contextual impact of the solutions offered, what are their after effects, what new problems will they create, does the solution impact other things?  Finally, close the loop of context and with a new perspective on the issue make a decision.

An old boss once said the following to me: “the reason I trust you in those meetings is because you’re playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.”  At the time I didn’t understand the compliment.  Now, years later I’m realizing how important that way of thinking is.  Great ideas, great solutions, don’t come from brainstorms.  The best solutions develop out of the context: situational, political, technological, and personal.

Ever wonder if your decisions will scale?  Well here’s a better question – Do you play checkers or do you play chess?

Thanks for Listening,

Zach West

Parallels of the Industrial and Internet Revolutions

The two greatest tech booms in recent history have been the Industrial and Internet Revolutions.  While both are amazing stories in their own right, I’d like to focus on a few individuals that have and are defining these periods with almost the same strategies.

Industrial Revolution:  Andrew Carnegie created an empire in Steel.  He started with very little… but over time came to own his own steel company.  While his technology innovations in steel creation helped make his company successful, it was his business sense that made his company into an empire.  As Carnegie’s company became a leader in steel, he began to purchase the mines where his steel company purchased its iron-oar.  Then as he saw another year of record profits he purchased the major railroads that his company used to send its finished steel product around the country.  What Carnegie did was called Vertical Integration, where a company buys out its supply chain to cut its cost and maximize the profits.

Internet Revolution:  Steve Jobs created and empire of access.  Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs is a perfect example of modern vertical integration.  Apple created the iPod to allow you to listen to all of your music, any where.  Then they created iTunes a place to manage all of your music.  Next came the iTunes Music Store where you could buy all of your music.  This then developed into a larger library of content coupled with bigger and better products such as the iPhone.  All of these offering have evolved into the Apple we know today… a company that has both “vertically and horizontally integrated” the personal electronics experience.  You buy your content through Apple, you buy the product that you consume that content on through Apple, and then to top it off you’re content is part of a “cloud” that rewards you for having multiple products from Apple.

Industrial Revolution:  John D. Rockefeller’s strategy with Standard Oil wasn’t too complicated.  He realized that there was one limited resource that would drive his revolution… OIL.  He grabbed as much of it as he could, creating a position of power in the total revolution.

Internet Revolution:  Mark Zuckerberg had a very simple idea that evolved into Facebook.  (That is all him)  What he realized along the way was something that Rockefeller learned.  Zuckerberg controls by far the most of the one limited resource that drives the internet revolution… TIME.  Mark has a very strong grip on the vast majority of time spent on-line.  As anyone in the internet business can tell you… if you have eye balls on your website you are king.  (also “Time is Money”)

There are more connections than the one’s above… but what I’m most interested in is the aftermath of these periods… what’s next?

Thanks for Listening,

Zach West