While everyone compares business to chess, only a few people can teach the game’s most profound lessons. Here, Justin Moore, CEO of the cloud company Axcient, does just that.
Justin Moore is the CEO of Axcient, a rapidly growing cloud services provider. Moore, now 31, is also a former star of the youth chess circuit. At 10, he found a chess book in his mother’s cabinet; by his teenage years, he was one of the 20 top-ranked youth chess players in the United States. With the seriousness of an athlete, Moore played chess for several hours every day for half a decade.
Moore doesn’t play much competitively anymore; by his college years, he was “probably a bit burnt out,” he confesses. Even so, the kinds of thinking that his days as a chess prodigy taught him has deeply informed the way he runs a successful startup. In a sense, Moore does still play chess every day–by running Axcient.
We caught up with Moore to extract a few lessons about how to apply the grandmaster mindset to the world of business.
Seeing All Possible Futures
Of course, it’s a business commonplace to recommend forethought. But in chess, the metaphor is literalized. “You’re constantly looking two, three, four moves ahead,” explains Moore. “If you do this move, what’s the countermove? What are all the countermoves? And then for all of those, what are all of my potential countermoves? Chess is constantly teaching you to think about what comes next, and what comes after that, and what the repercussions could be.”
In a chess game, your mind is constantly running permutations of decision trees. In business, your mind should be doing the same.
Eyes On The Endgame
A chess match is a war of attrition. If a soccer match is egregiously lopsided at halftime, the game still progresses, but if White accidentally loses his queen a few moves in, it’s likely he’ll resign. This means that a properly matched chess game is often fought out to a point where only a few pawns, pieces, and the opposing kings remain–a bare-board state known as endgame. In a real sense, the entirety of a chess game is all a prelude to endgame.
“Chess is about getting to endgame,” says Moore. “What happens between the start and then doesn’t necessarily matter. You could lose more pieces or a more valuable piece, and at the end of the day, if you capture the opponent’s king, you win the game.”
So, too, in many sectors of business, in which many competitors vie for one or a few dominant, winner-takes-most slots (pending SEC approval).”You’re looking out a year, two years, three years,” says Moore. “Sometimes that means in the short term you make sacrifices.” You might make a tactical decision that appears to put you behind, but actually strengthens your position for when the smoke clears, and each side’s knights and bishops have fallen.
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– GM Susan Polgar