A Powerful Lesson from Netflix’s ‘Queen’s Gambit’

One of the few truly great things to come from the Pandemic Age is Netflix’s incredible new mini-series, The Queen’s Gambit. The show tells the story of Beth Harmon (brilliantly portrayed by actress Anya Taylor-Joy), who transforms from orphan to world champion chess master. The binge-worthy show was so gripping that within four weeks, it had been watched by 62 million households, becoming the most-watched scripted mini-series in Netflix’s history.

I’ve always been fascinated with the game of chess. Both sides have equal force, and each move is made in complete transparency. If tossing dice is the ultimate game of chance, chess is without question the definitive game of skill. While countless life lessons have been extracted from the game, including the mini-series’ namesake, there’s a lesser-known chess strategy known as Tempo that can help us all, both personally and professionally.

In chess, there’s a scoring mechanism whereby each piece is worth a certain number of points. A knight is worth three, a meager pawn’s value is one, while the mighty queen is worth nine. So it would follow that trading two pieces of equal value would be an even trade.

Enter the notion of Tempo. If you and I were to exchange even pieces, one of us may actually win the battle. If I blow five moves to make the trade but you only expend three, you win the exchange and gain a “tempo of two.” Or if you advance and then have to retreat, thereby wasting a move, you’ve “lost a tempo.” While not technically part of the chess scoring system, Grand Masters use tempo to win championships. The more they can accomplish in the least number of moves, the better their odds of success.

You don’t have to be a chess nerd like me to see the parallels in business. In our highly competitive world, tempo can propel you to new heights when harnessed or doom you to shortfalls when squandered. It isn’t only your ability to deliver an outcome; seizing your potential can lie in the number of moves it takes you to get there.

Finding the most direct route from point A to point B, eliminating as many steps and diversions as possible, will fuel your performance. Does it typically take you three meetings to close a sale? How could you cut it to two? Are there 18 steps in your production process? Remove a few and you’ll expand your capacity. Simply put – if you’re taking twice as long to reach the same outcome as your competition, you’re losing ground.

Since they started tracking chess statistics way back in 1851, the player who moves first wins 55.3% of the time. In other words, having just a tiny tempo advantage drives victory over the long run. If you’re looking for a new line of attack in your own game, use tempo to drive progress. Do so, and you’ll be on a direct path to success, one (highly efficient) move at a time.

Now that’s a gambit worth the gamble.