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When the business life imitates art, or more specifically, chess

The Golden Globe winner "The Queen’s Gambit" shows how the fundamentals of chess can be applied in business, especially in a time of uncertainty.

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Starting a global business during a global pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty and stress. While networking and physical meetings were completely out of the question, I found myself reflecting from the one resource that was always available and comforting—binge-worthy content. While streaming turned out to be the one constant source of comfort and entertainment that never failed to deliver, I found myself swept away by Beth Harmon’s journey in The Queen’s Gambit , seeing how her character can provide some solid career tips, not only for my fellow women or my PR colleagues, but in the grander scheme of running a business. 

Despite not being based on any semblance of reality, the mini-series inspired viewers to go beyond the program itself, this award winning series raised important discussions about women’s growth in male dominated environments, about addiction, and about managing ones own extraordinariness when the hand that was dealt is far from ideal. In less than a month after the premiere of The Queen’s Gambit, the sale of chess sets jumped by 87 percent in the U.S alone, and chess book sales rose by 603 percent, according to research firm NPD Group—and that was after years of flat or negative growth in each of those categories. 

But it didn’t stop there. People also started exploring ways to apply the lead character’s experiences to real life. Conversations emerged between viewers on how to apply the fictional Harmon’s rise to their own lives to come out on top. In hindsight, the timing of this dialogue was perfect, considering the difficulties we were collectively experiencing and are working to overcome. 

Chess strategies don’t only apply to life in general, they can also apply to business initiatives, in any business, and especially in public relations. One does not need to know how to play chess (or have watched The Queen’s Gambit) in order to appreciate its fundamentals and apply it in order to deal with uncertainty. 

Analyze the steps you might take – but more importantly – the steps you have already taken

In The Queen’s Gambit, audiences watched as Beth Harmon relentlessly studied anything and everything she could get her hands on, in order to master every possible move, tactic, loophole, and strategy imaginable. If you think about it, she was essentially conducting her own SWOT analysis- recognizing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. She ultimately became a grandmaster due to her relentless pursuit. In our world of PR, we are constantly mapping and analyzing the dynamics of numerous elements, which include consumer demands, approaches, and what are the reactions each of our actions may hold. This is also extremely relevant for business owners, who need to always be on the lookout and not take anything for granted. Our environment is changing rapidly and we should always stay ahead of the curve. 

Beth Harmon replayed every match in her mind, even those she won, and this is a strong tip for pros who won’t settle with just ‘winning’ a situation, but also want to know if there’s an even better solution for them the ones they took, regardless of the objective real life outcome. You can call us neurotic, but we’re simply very thorough. This is, in fact a well known practice I picked up during my army service—all events must be debriefed and analyzed, post-partum, to understand what can be learned from it, what went wrong (or could have gone wrong), and what was done correctly.  

Train yourself to see the board from your competitors POV

The most dedicated chess players spend time learning how their opponents think and play. In The Queen’s Gambit, audiences watched as Harmon did so in order to come up with countermeasures to stay ahead, withstand potential attacks, and make counter-attacks. 

This is a basic tip for any business out there, and it has an interesting twist during a time of uncertainty. Generally you should always know what your competitors are all about. What are they offering their clients that you are not? How can you make your efforts outshine theirs? How will your unique selling points be heard? During the pandemic, many companies were quick to hold all or some PR/marketing budgets to save money. Those who haven’t, and were mindful enough to adjust their messaging and services, ultimately ended up winning in the public eye. 

Keep your eyes on the big picture

Chess isn’t typically played for leisure. Participants play to win. However, as each game progresses, sacrifices often have to be made. Players know that they sometimes have to let go of some of their better pieces and positions, while keeping the big picture in mind. 

The same applies towards PR initiatives and new business opportunities—it’s important to be flexible and set pride aside by knowing when to make necessary adjustments for the sake of the big picture. On that note, moves must also not be rushed. You may even have to make pivots in the middle of the way. Every action has a reaction, and all options and possible outcomes must be considered while treading lightly (and keeping an eye on the clock,) both in chess and in business.

Factor contingency plans, and crisis management with each move

It is common knowledge that experienced chess players tend to foresee moves that are several turns ahead, and it was beautifully depicted in The Queen’s Gambit as well. It is the ultimate way to outwit the opponent. 

This similarly applies to business as well, in the form of contingency plans. This is different from traditional crisis management because contingencies are planned ahead of time, while crisis management is more so ‘in the moment.’ Preparation for negative outcomes is key, but it is also important to know how to tactfully respond in case an issue comes up that may not have been accounted for. After all, in business and in chess, once you make a move, you cannot take it back.

Understand the value of each component and manage accordingly

Just as each chess piece has its own unique value to capitalize on, so does every team member associated with marketing campaigns for your business campaigns. From strategy, to content production, to design, to promotions- every member that is involved has their own unique set of strengths and passions that best be capitalized on for successful campaigns. 

Maintain balance by thinking outside the box

One of the most pivotal points in The Queen’s Gambit was when Harmon played her final game with the grandmaster, and had to figure out the best way to balance between her intuition and analysis before making a critical move. Instead of making the move in haste, she took a moment to zone out, and think outside of the box. Her game went on to improve remarkably, and she came out on top. When running your business, thinking outside of the box (in terms of unique approaches that pack a punch) is oftentimes the difference between very successful, and less-successful outcomes. 

To lay it out bluntly- people that come out on top in chess and in business are calm, and strategically, ruthless. They know their own strengths and weaknesses, in addition to that of their opponent, and they strike accordingly for short gains when needed— all with the long term advantage in mind. They expect challenges to come up at any time, and are prepared to put out the fire with grace. As such, 2021 is the year for us to collectively apply all that we picked up on from The Queen’s Gambit and chess, and apply it towards our general business initiatives with the same fierce conviction as Beth Harmon.

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