7 Lessons in Business Strategy That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Queen’s Gambit (With Templates to Apply Them Instantly)
A prima donna is the chief female singer in an opera who uses her talents to mesmerize the audience beyond expectations. The chess scene of the 2020 pandemic-stricken world needed a prima donna. And Netflix’s hit miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit” gave us one.
Based on the titular novel by Walter Tevis, the 7-episode show revolves around orphaned chess prodigy Elizabeth Harmon (played by the incomparable Anya Taylor-Joy) and her journey to become the world champion. The show, which aired in October, fascinated viewers worldwide with the wonders of the checkered board game while giving us a glimpse into the costs of being a genius.
And it’s not just the entertainment quotient on which The Queen’s Gambit checks all the boxes. The period drama does a marvelous job of persuasive storytelling with thematic visuals and characters from the 1960s’ chess scene in the US. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the series bagged two Golden Globes and a Screen Actors Guild Award only recently.
It is also not unbecoming that right after the show aired, US-based toy company Goliath Games reported a 1000 percent yearly increase in the sales of chess sets and accessories. Equally impressive is the 14-year high volume of Google search for the word “chess”, and the 400 percent increase in registrations on Chess.com.
The frenzy sparked by The Queen’s Gambit is undoubtedly palpable. But also on a par is the relevant inspiration it can provide to budding entrepreneurs. Therefore, we took a closer look at the narrative to dig up 7 lessons in business strategy (subliminal or otherwise) that the cinematic masterpiece has to offer.
And no, we won’t give you a spoiler alert. For if you are reading this, you are probably from one of the 62 million households that watched it on the streaming service within the first few weeks of its broadcast (or from the 100 million who had access to torrent downloads or shared passwords).
Read on and Ruy Lopez!
7 business takeaways from The Queen’s Gambit
The construct of The Queen’s Gambit comprises several sensitive and significant themes. It starts with subjects of tragic incidents, adoption, and troublesome childcare. Beth, 9, who loses her mother in a car accident, is taken in by Methuen Home, a Christian orphanage for girls.
The little girl is portrayed as a curious introvert who gets addicted to the daily dose of tranquilizers (benzodiazepines) that the establishment gave to the children, thus bringing early medicinal abuse to the spotlight. This addiction, as is later revealed, becomes the stimulus for Beth to visualize chess games and learn the craft from Methuen’s janitor William Shaibel at an astonishing pace. We also get to see alcoholism added to the list as Beth grows up.
Among other remarkable representations that we get to see through the episodes are the challenges and gifts of people from the autism spectrum. Defeated by a simple 4-move Scholar’s Mate down at the orphanage basement at first, Beth soon is able to outwit Shaibel with stunning tricks.
The trail of triumphs keeps coming for Beth after she gets adopted by Kentucky’s Wheatley couple at 13. Throughout the episodes, the show serves us different reflections of her talent on the anvil.
But the one reflection that the uninitiated viewers will find truly amazing is the message of mindful strategizing for victories, no matter how big or small. So here’s a distilled account of how entrepreneurs can incorporate 7 such strategies into their business to keep making the right moves. Also in tow are some of our chess-inspired PowerPoint decks to help you organize your ideas and plot the ultimate checkmate. Let’s learn and apply.
1. Make your idea your being
Creativity and psychosis often go hand in hand. Or, for that matter, genius and madness.
— Miss Jean Blake, while interviewing Beth at her house.
From the start, we see Beth falling in love with chess and adding magnificent feats to her name. Powered by her curiosity, Mr. Shaibel’s guidance, and, well, the high from the tranquilizers, she keeps exploring the bowels of the craft day in and day out.
Starting from a book, “Modern Chess Openings” by Griffith and White, she ensures that she is obsessing over the game, playing it, and reading copious literature on it all the time. When she gets adopted, she takes to the “Chess Review” magazine to keep a close watch on all the local and state championships.
Of course, each game she plays sharpens her acumen, and she can even visualize the games on the board (or, for that matter, on the ceiling, as we all loved to see). Bottom line, she has an undying hunger to be a chess wizard, and so she becomes.
Often the parallels are drawn between this and the stellar success of the late world chess champion Bobby Fischer. Generations of chess players and viewers alike have been in awe of Fischer’s aggressive yet brilliant style. Also noteworthy was his ability to leave the opponents scrambling with his knowledge and creative flair.
The lesson and the template
Whether you are team Harmon or team Fischer, a crucial business takeaway from their profiles is to relentlessly pursue your ideas and hone your skillset to the point of world domination. If you believe in your company or startup, make sure you are on top of every little knowledge point.
Read books, get a mentor, and cultivate the best in yourself. Collect all significant data and stuff your mind with everything you can to make it big. And then organize this data in the following template to create the ultimate library. No tranquilizers needed.
2. Small goals go a long way
Dear Mr. Shaibel,
There’s a chess tournament here with a first prize of 100 dollars and a second prize of 50 dollars. There are other prizes too. It costs 5 dollars to enter and I don’t have that. If you’ll send me the money, I’ll pay you back 10 dollars if I win any prize at all.
— Beth’s letter
Grandmasters were rookies at some point. Beth is no exception. While global stardom was always on her to-do list, she had to navigate the local and state-level championships before going head-to-head against Russian top dog Vasily Borgov. Each step towards the end goal taught her valuable lessons, emotionally as well as mentally.
From her masterful victory over the Kentucky state champion, Harry Beltik, to her bedazzling beating of American topflight Benny Watts, Beth is seasoned to the levels of hardened players. And along comes a barrage of magazine features, newspaper articles, TV show appearances, and the like.
Amid all the hustle and bustle, Beth is able to celebrate each little victory with her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley, albeit never leaving sight of what lay at the end of the road for her. Her passion and focus, as depicted with theatrical perfection by the show, bear fruit after all.
The lesson and the template
The urge to make the long shot right away keeps hustlers’ heads buried. Sure, setting your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) is important, but that doesn’t make way for undermining the small milestones. As your business inches towards the BHAG, make sure you take the time to give the little accomplishments their due recognition and refine your strategies accordingly.
The moves to applaud the loudest are the ones you make rather quickly. And nothing fetches you louder applause than this comprehensive PPT template on business strategy.
3. A little glam (never) hurts anybody
Reporter: “Miss Harmon, what do you say to those in the Chess Federation who accuse you of being too glamorous to be a serious chess player?”
Beth: “I would say it’s much easier to play chess without the burden of an Adam’s apple.”
The above exchange at a press conference right before the international tournament in Paris is one of the many instruments with which The Queen’s Gambit addresses gender bias. Beth has to face a range of these biases as a female extraordinaire among the crowd of male chess champions.
“They don’t even mention that I played the Sicilian (defense),” comes one of the many remarks from Beth about how her femininity and sex are the determinants of her genius rather than her genius itself. There are plenty of other instances where the battle of the sexes weighs heavy on her.
But does our protagonist let these determinants turn detrimental?
Instead, she stays adamant about showing off her glam with bewitching styles and attires, making her a distinct force to be reckoned with. This distinction was only complemented by the show’s costume designer who picked a checkered theme for each ensemble she wears. In fact, in the final scene where Beth takes a walk after becoming the world champion, her white dress is reminiscent of the triumphant white queen of the chessboard.
That her personalized expression of her female glory made her unique doesn’t seem hyperbolic, does it?
The lesson and the template
Often startups get stuck in an imitation game when they are developing ideas that are on similar lines with their competitors. In the absence of a distinguishable identity, the eventual fade-out of their brand is inevitable.
Therefore, one must learn to be a confident redhead among the crowd of stoic blokes.
That is to say that your marketing plans and strategies must focus on making your brand outstanding. You must make sure that your marketing message and imagery are not only meaningful but also one-of-a-kind. Only then can you claim your rightful spot among the unicorn club.
As for putting your plan into action, here’s an intuitive PowerPoint deck to get you started.
4. Learn to take a pause
Beth’s style of contest, as many publications and chess critics describe, is agile and offensive. But on the other hand, she lets her defeat at the hands of Benny Watts get on her nerves. So much so, that she is consumed by it, getting nudged towards a darker side of her personality. She is able to defeat Benny at blitz chess eventually (with a simultaneous play being a cakewalk for her).
But our mademoiselle Harmon doesn’t always have an elephant walk. Like all of us mortals, she, too, has to face a rather menacing defeat at the hands of Borgov. Riddled with the cocktail of liquor abuse, courtesy of her hedonistic tryst with Cleo the night before, the protagonist scrambles to reach the tournament venue in Paris on time.
The sequence that follows shows us how vulnerable a mastermind is to compromised senses. A few unflattering moves and a couple of water jugs later, our prima donna fights back the tears and concedes her loss with resignation. She goes back to Lexington, only to fall into a downward spiral of liquor abuse.
The lesson and the template
I haven’t the remotest idea what faculties a person needs in order to play chess well, but I am convinced that relaxation can only improve them.
— Alma Wheatley
In a world where back-breaking grind is lauded, entrepreneurs can confuse overbearing hustle with ambition. As the drive to succeed fast starts to eat into their self-care efforts, it is only a matter of time that the consequences start casting a shadow on their business.
Therefore, one must take a step back and take a long hard look at the pieces on the board before continuing. That is to say that business owners must make time to cater to their own well-being and reflect upon their venture’s progress. Not only does it pave the way for better strategizing, but it also serves as an opportunity to foresee and prevent risks.
The following PowerPoint template will help you stay on a healthy track during that pursuit.
5. Competitor perspective is a goldmine
One of the most satisfying games was the one Beth plays against Luchenko in the Moscow tourney. Before facing the oldest player in the penultimate match of the invitational, she had rather distasteful encounters with Hellstrom and Shapkin. So it was all the more uplifting when the masterful veteran enters the match with a courteous bow to our protagonist.
The two demonstrate an inspiring cerebral criss-cross before calling for an adjournment. It is during this pause that Beth spots Luchenko with Borgov going over her game, preparing a strategy to drub her. At this light-bulb moment, she rushes back to her room, perfects her strategy, and serves Luchenko an incredible defeat with 25 minutes still on her clock.
“You are a marvel, my dear. I may have just played the best chess player of my life,” says Luchenko as he resigns with relief, leaving her with another bow and the much-needed catharsis from the sexism she had endured throughout her journey.
The lesson and the template
Tomes after tomes lionize the need for competitor research for entrepreneurial success. There is advice aplenty on studying your competitor’s business approach and finding their Achilles’ heel. But what very few (or none) emphasize is the significance of understanding your competitor’s perspective about you.
Yes, the POV of your nemesis is a better eye-opener than any other business review conducted at your organization. Not only does it help you prepare for a calculated attack, but it also reveals chinks in your own strategies. A small shift in your approach to competitor analysis will prove to be a masterstroke for the long run.
The following template ensures that you have no weakness that your competitors can exploit.
6. People matter
We weren’t orphans as long as we had each other.
Another significant theme that the show touches upon is that of friendship and mutual understanding. To the naked eye, one may assume Beth to be a one-woman army. Her stack of achievements as a prodigy pads that notion so. But that assumption doesn’t factor in the bits and pieces of consistent and caring support that she received from her peers and mentors alike.
You’ve got Mr. Shaibel, who funds her first entry in a competition. Then there’s Jolene, who not only was her partner in crime at the Methuen, but also became the succor she needed to get out of the abyss she had dug up for herself.
Also in the support group are Harry Beltik, Benny Watts, and DL Townes, all once Beth’s competitors now turned advisers. Some warned her of her compulsions, while some were at odds with her processing her worst impulses. It is only with their heads put together that they are able to arm Beth with the right vision for her final match.
The lesson and the template
Lone wolves seldom survive without a pack. No matter how tenacious an entrepreneur is, they will always fall short of excellence if they don’t invest in the right people. The need is to associate with motivated individuals who bring in several diverse ideas to augment your vision for the company.
When the brightest minds are part of your think-tank, your success is as radiant. Also, when the following complete deck is part of your human resource strategy, your decisions are as ingenious.
7. Your demons are opportunities
The pills. The booze. I need my mind cloudy to win. I can’t visualize the games without them.
— Beth to Townes before her final game
It’s a vivid portrayal of trauma and addiction in The Queen’s Gambit. Having suffered a terrible loss against Borgov in Paris, Beth gives in to her demons and sinks into debilitating benders of drinks and dance. The drug dependence raises its head again and punches her down to rock bottom.
Her brief happenchance with Harry does little to convince her, even as he outlines how her obsession was driving her insane. Thereafter, Jolene’s visit gets her back on her feet, and she decides to compete in the Russian invitational.
Recalling the snapshots of her troubled childhood in between the games, Beth flushes away the tranquilizer pills she had brought with her to the tourney.
Though her apprehension still stays, the move is symbolic of her getting rid of the knots that bind her to her unsettling past. And while she maintains her streak of wins throughout, it is during the final match with Borgov that her resilience is put to the ultimate test.
It almost seems like Borgov has her locked into a particularly ghastly trap. It also seems like her demons have got the best of her. But the tipping point, and also the most resplendent sequence in the series, unfolds in the form of this deus ex machina.
“It’s your game. Take it,” says Borgov as he resigns gracefully and embraces Beth amid thunderous applause that seals her fate as the new world chess champion. Good for you, cracker!
The lesson and the template
Entrepreneurs are wired to chase the high of early success. But too much of this high can uncover a lot of troubles along the way. Beth amplified (and later distorted) her intellect and gifts with drugs and booze. We find out in the last match that those impediments couldn’t stop her from giving her best against the Soviet stalwart.
Therefore, one must find a way to turn every negative in their business into something positive. An impediment is, after all, an opportunity only if we care to switch our perspectives. The following template will get your newfound perspective into action.
Capture, captivate, conquer…
Fans across the globe got a kick out of the fact that it took 30 years, 8 different directors, and 9 revisions for producer Alan Scott to finally get The Queen’s Gambit on screen. The overnight success that followed is a testament to why perseverance matters for ideas backed by immense zeal and creative flair.
Entrepreneurial success is a mix of intuitive decisions and the ability to bounce back when all hope is lost. Now, we all may not be castling through life like Beth. We win some; we lose some. But intuition and persistence are the ingredients we all need to turn our dreams into reality.
And one thing is for certain; with SlideTeam templates, you won’t need madness to achieve greatness.
So what are you waiting for? Just set the board and…