Play Chess, Not Checkers

You want my king, you got to come get my king. All these other pieces are just the means to do it.


I can’t remember where I first heard the concept of “playing chess instead of checkers”, or even where the quote came from. Perhaps it was Kobe Bryant:

These young guys are playing checkers. I’m out there playing chess

Or, from the film Training Day

or from the book Chess, Not Checkers by Mark Miller

If you want to build a high performance organization, you’ve got to play chess, not checkers.
When you see recurring problems, the methods you’ve used successfully in the past have to be reevaluated.

No matter where the true origin is, my own experiences with inversion is that you want to surround yourself with the people on your team, your co-workers and with your relationships who have the ability to be proactive instead of reactive.

These are the people who see the end game, they know how to spot high degrees of noise, they know how to navigate it (and take it for the little it’s worth), and will be able to plan past the next move.

In many situations (at work, in life, whenever) strategies and goals are treated as simplistic problems — much like “checkers” — you move one piece at a time to accomplish the single task: eliminate the other player’s pieces.

I’d offer you a different choice — context.

You see, in chess, you have to understand how each piece works; thinking forward to the effects that each move and counter-move is made, working smarter than your opponent. Predicting outcomes and navigating the problem from the higher ground.

Oddly — you’ll find that it’s often a simple choice to work smarter, not harder.

Establish context to problems. Understand that context before jumping head first into simple solutions (that’s where most go). Ask yourself — ‘what am I missing?’ Or ‘what is missing?’

Play chess, not checkers my friends.

You’ll find life to be a much more interesting game.