The Queen's Gambit

5 Geeky Business Lessons for Entrepreneurs & Small Business Owners

If you are anything like us at Geek HQ then you have been thoroughly absorbed with “The Queen’s Gambit” – Netflix’s mini-series centered around child chess prodigy Beth Harmon. As we were watching, engrossed, a few business parallels began to emerge, almost as if they had appeared from the smoky stupor in the ceiling of our dreams (You’ll have to watch it to understand that metaphor). So we thought we’d share them with you.


1. PAssion, overcomes everything (almost)

Beth’s Mother, abandoned by her husband, was deeply tormented and we see her drive into traffic, with an 8 year old Beth in the back seat in the opening sequence. Alone, Beth is raised in an orphanage which in an effort to raise good, obedient, Christian children, perfect for adoption, keep their charges sedated. Beth soon becomes addicted to her daily dose of benzodiazepines and stockpiles them. A serendipitous encounter with a friendly, chess playing janitor, provides her with a means of escape both mentally, as she plays out chess games on her bedroom ceiling in a nightly hallucinatory state and physically, as janitor, Mr Shaibel, develops her chess skills. Within 10 years Beth is a renowned grandmaster, with a jet-set lifestyle.

All this is to say, it doesn’t matter from where we start or even what obstacles we encounter, there is usually always a way our passion will ‘out’. Our passion has almost unlimited power to overcome. It has become a vastly overused word, in business especially, so before you trot out the phrase; “We are passionate about… widgets.” Be sure that ‘widgets’ burn your soul, drives you, girds you and (to jump into the very modern vernacular), provides you with your ‘happy place’. If that’s your base, then your business can AND WILL overcome, because your passion endures!

2. What's the story?

Steve Jobs said:

'The most powerful person in the world is the story teller.
The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come'

Steve Jobs

The Queen’s Gambit is a 7 hour long drama about chess. Good luck selling that!

Except it is so much more than that. It is a sprawling, kaleidoscopic journey across continents. From Las Vegas to Moscow it dazzles us with 60’s style and has so much to tell us about gender politics, drug addiction, depression, the Cold War and much, much more including business strategy. It is a beautiful, seductive, emotional story told with verve, confidence and chutzpah to the point that our 7 hour mini-series about chess has become the most talked about drama of the year, watched by over 62 million Netflix accounts in its first month of release.

That’s the power of a good story.

It’s well worth finding the story of your business and products. Because Steve Jobs was not just talking about the generic power of stories (something that is the leitmotif of Barack Obama, also) but in the selling power of stories. Our story is the life force of our businesses, we should spend time sculpting it, editing it and ultimately engaging people in it. Does your business story, stand up to scrutiny, is it engaging enough or does your customer just see your product as the equivalent of a 7 hour long drama about chess?


Winston Churchill

So said Winston Churchill. This is a truth born out in The Queen’s Gambit. Beth is a chess prodigy. It comes easily to her and she breezes to the USA national championship by the time she is 16, winning all her games to that point and gaining significant financial rewards and recognition. But in her biggest match to date, she loses and finds she doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with failure in the moment. It’s a scenario she is destined to repeat on the largest stage of all, as she falls short in her battle with Russian Grandmaster and World champion, Borgov. However, with age, experience and hard-work she finally conquers her nemesis. And that’s where we leave the story, content that life and the chess board will continue to throw up triumph and disaster but that our heroine finally has the tools to deal with whatever is thrown at her.

Applying this message to our businesses seems sensible. We are fortunate at Sales Geek that we have had quite a lot of success at an ‘early age’ but it would be hubris to think that everything will be always be plain sailing. Indeed it’s not even borne out by our experiences to date. Whilst we regularly communicate our successes, our journey has not always been a smooth one, but people rarely see those bumps. It’s always worth considering the hidden toil others have been through when we look outward for inspiration. Their journey often contain hidden challenges just as our own paths have usually been tricky in parts. So if you are struggling as a business or in life, please trust, as Winston Churchill succinctly identified that nothing is ever final.

4. PLAY your line...

Benny Watts - Queen's Gambit

When Elizabeth finally faces off against the ultimate grandmaster, Borgov, she is faced with a dilemma. Beth’s signature opening is the Sicilian Defence, the solid base she usually creates from which to play her ‘buccaneering‘, aggressive style. But Borgov is known as the “Master of The Sicilian”, his track record proves that he almost always demolishes opponents that attempt this approach. This causes Beth much hand-wringing, she is wracked with doubt and in their first meeting, a chastening loss, she moves away from the Sicilian in an effort to catch Borgov off-guard. It’s an unmitigated disaster, accentuating the feeling that Borgov ‘has her number’.

Ahead of their next meeting, Beth turns to American Grandmaster, Benny Watts for help, support and training. He chastises her “never play to your opponent – play your own line”. It’s worth remembering this, especially when we try to get a grip of our market and understand our competition. Chess, like business is a strategy game and playing our competitors ‘line’ is never usually a winning strategy. What is it about you that makes you unique? Where exactly are you strengths and what is it you have that can’t be copied? Finding the answers to these questions is as imperative in business as it is on the chess board.

Trust yourself, back yourself and level the playing field by playing to your own, unique strengths.

5. plan, then improvise...

Elizabeth is an intuitive chess player, she’s able to see the pieces move on the ceiling for heaven’s sake. That approach is more than enough for her to win locally and even nationally. But she knows on the international stage she needs to study. She has always been drawn to her “How To” chess books and magazines but at an elite level she needs insight into her opponents, she needs to know what they are going to do before they do it themselves. And that comes from extensive research, planning and also mentoring. It’s only once Beth, undertakes this holistic approach that shes able to win at the ‘top table’.

Many of us in business have started out armed only with a specialist product knowledge and our wits. Many of us have created a business plan and researched our market and tried to make strategic decisions for the growth. But how many of our plans for this year contained the contingency for a global pandemic? How many of us are making this up on the hoof right now?

This might be an extremely scary time for your business. It might all be hanging on by a thread. But as Churchill  encouraged us above, ‘failure isn’t fatal!’. This isn’t check-mate!

Now is the perfect time to listen and play to our perfectly honed and unique intuition as we all begin to rethink all of our plans going forward


Good luck and don’t forget – on the chessboard and in business…

Stay Geeky!

The Geek Glasses: A distinctive look for all Sales Geeks

If you enjoyed this article you might enjoy: