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Checkmate! (Or What My Dad Taught Me By Playing Chess)

Checkmate! (Or What My Dad Taught Me By Playing Chess)

My dad is one of the best teachers I know – not by profession, but simply by his nature. When I was growing up, my dad and older brother used to played chess, and when I asked them to teach me, my dad told me he wanted me to watch and see what I could figure out on my own. Although frustrated at first, I would watch for hours as they moved their pieces. I tried to discern the patterns acceptable for each piece and the rules of the game that would guide the process to the desired checkmate.

When I thought I had a rule or movement figured out, I would proudly state my conclusion, and my dad would always come back with, “What makes you think that move is acceptable?” or “What did you see that makes you think that?” He always took the time to engage me in the conversation, even if it meant pausing the match in progress (much to my brother’s dismay).

I never realized it at the time, but my dad wasn’t just teaching me to play chess; he was teaching me to be a critical thinker. He was teaching me to develop hypotheses and collect evidence to support those hypotheses. When I got it wrong, he would ask questions, coach me and replay the moves to see if I could find the more appropriate response.

My dad doesn’t know it (or maybe he does), but he helped me prepare for my current job. Strategy development involves careful analysis – an understanding of what is really occurring in someone’s life or business and the degree to which existing (or non-existing) systems support high performance and the attainment of established goals. It requires hypothesizing about potential solutions to problems that are identified and collecting evidence of whether those hypotheses hold true when the solution is applied.

In the end, the root cause is like the King in a chess match. You can capture all the other pieces (symptoms), but to be victorious, you must stay focused and chase the King, build a strategy that is thoughtful and innovative, approach the King from multiple perspectives and directions, and remove the other obstacles until the King has no place left to hide.

My dad knew that winning a really good chess match could take a very long time. Being persistent and patient are the keys.


PHOTO COURTESY OF: Flickr Creative Commons Moyan_Brenn

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