First 'Chess and Corporate Strategy' prize awarded in Rome

0 | Chess Event Coverage

The first 'Chess and Corporate Strategy' Prize was awarded in Rome on Saturday, Novemer 26th. The prize went to three leading representatives of the Italian and international corporate world who distinguished themselves for an innovative and successful strategic approach. The prize was awarded by the association Chess and Corporate Strategy in collaboration with INSEAD Alumni Association Italy and NOVA Italian MBA Association.

It was the first edition of the Chess and Corporate Strategy Award, which took place at the prestigious Villa Lazzaroni in Rome. Managers from different companies attended the event: Accenture, American Express, Amonix, Enel, Forminpresa, KPMG, Metaenergia, Sogin, Terna, etc.

Because the prize would go to business people who distinguished themselves for an innovative and successful strategic approach, the winners were actual testimonials of the innovative methodology Chess and Corporate Strategy developed by Luca Desiata. The prize winners were:

  • Francesco Starace, ENEL Green Power CEO, for the international expansion strategy and for the largest European IPO in the last 5 years;
  • Melissa Peretti, VP Marketing American Express, for the significant strategic repositioning of the American Express brand in Italy.

The prize consisted of two paintings of pptART® commissioned specifically for the event: an artistic interpretation of the chess theme, based on criteria and forms of Neo-Plasticism. The prize of 2011 edition was awarded in the presence of Professor Gabriele Gabrielli, Director of Luiss’s Executive MBA, and Lexy Ortega, 2009 Italian Chess Champion.

Luca Desiata, founder and President of Chess and Corporate Strategy, opened the event highlighting the correlation between the logical categories of strategic thinking in chess and in corporate decision making. According to his Chess and Corporate Strategy formulation, strategy is 'any form of thought that aims to modify the reality'. According to Desiata

The great chess champions, contrary to common sense, do not calculate variations any deeper than beginners. They just apply, from the very beginning, the most appropriate winning scheme. It is the same mechanism that distinguishes great leaders from execution managers.

This statement might be debatable, but in any case it's good to see developments like these in the (Italian) business world. Having the royal game presented to CEOs and VPs as the ultimate strategical battle, is something chess can only benefit from.

Prize winner Francesco Starace, Enel Green Power CEO, said:

This prize confirms the importance and the success of the renewable energy sector in the world. (...) Since the beginning Enel Green Power‘s business strategy was planned to have an international and technological diversified presence. Incentives policy is changing and Enel Green Power is adapting itself to work even in contexts where the incentives are decreasing.

The other prize winner, Melissa Peretti, American Express VP, said:

Changing is always a risk. A risk that American Express has decided to take on, evolving  its communications strategy to reach new targets such as women and young people. The latest American Express advertising campaign marked a clear strategy change: no more testimonials, but a return to the American Express’ key identity. A joint communication with the customer, not imposed by an advertisement.

Lexy Ortega, 2009 Italian Chess Champion, focused on the comparison between chess and business:

In chess, like in business, there are different levels of strategies. I always start a game setting the first level (or long-term) strategy. During the middle game, however, "second" level strategic targets become more and more relevant  and determine the result of the game, although the two levels are linked.

For example, in the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, White usually aims to gain a pawn’s majority on the king’s side, which is a sufficient advantage to win in the endgame. During the game, however, “second level” strategic targets such as control of center and outposts, king’s position, become more relevant for the final objective. Indeed, it is statistically demonstrated that most of these games are won due to the prevalence of second level strategy rather than the first level.

When asked “How do you qualify a good strategy?”, Lexy answered:

A bad strategy doesn’t take feedback into account. That’s a mistake because the opponent’s reply represents a verification of our strategy. Indeed, the beginners implement their own strategy without considering the opponent. The game ends up with the frustration of both players and with a randomized outcome. I evaluate the improvements of my students when they consider "non-cooperative" opponent’s moves.

The idea to develop the link between chess and corporate strategy came in 2010 to Mr Desiata, who himself is a corporate strategy expert with a passion for chess. In the press material that we received, it says about him:

An MBA from Insead and several executive programs (including Harvard), several years with the strategy consultancy Bain and, more recently, as Head of International Strategy in Enel, allowed him to develop the contents and methodology of Chess and Corporate Strategy.

We don't get the impression that Mr Desiata has mentioned Garry Kasparov's How life imitates chess in his material. There is a certain basis for his approach, though. Here are some relevant examples of the course’s content:

Advanced strategic thinking:
In the 50’s and 60’s of the last century, experiments were conducted on the functioning mechanisms of the greatest chess champions’ minds. Chess Champions were asked to verbally expose the process of strategy elaboration behind a move. A team of psychologists observed and described some categories of strategic thinking that are surprisingly similar to the business strategic thinking. Awareness of these mechanisms allows to correct decision-making biases and to avoid pitfalls in the process of strategy elaboration. For example, the simplified process of strategy elaboration which is normally used in corporate life, is divided in four distinct steps: (1) analysis of situation A; (2) schematisation of situation A (strategy is defined as any form of thought which is superimposed to reality with the aim of modifying it); (3) Schematisation of target situation B; (4) implementation plan to move from A to B. In the first phase of the analysis of a chess problem (or of a corporate situation) our mind follows a process of problem schematization including the identification of its character (difficult, challenging, easy, complicated). The identification of the character allows to cluster and quickly discard alternatives that do not match the character identified. From these experiments on the chess champions, we draw some useful indications on the optimal length of this “orientation phase” which, depending on the character of the situation (chess position) and the experience of the manager (chess player) should be limited in time in order to allocate mental energies to the subsequent phases of: strategic planning, analysis and transitional phases, abstraction of means and trying out, the role of intuition and creativity, etc. All these phases are analysed in detail during our courses, through the help of the above mentioned study “Thought and Choice in chess” and through the help of ad-hoc business cases. One “quick-and-dirty” result from this study contradicts a commonly believed myth: chess champion are powerful calculation machines. From the protocols collected by the psychologists, it appears that chess champions do not calculate any deeper than chess amateurs. Chess champions simply recognize the character of the position and immediately apply the correct scheme, thus analyzing the right variations from the beginning.

Negotiation tournament
Like in a chess tournament, participants are divided into pairs to negotiate on a business case. The negotiations are repeated by changing the pairs until, after a certain number of runs, the winner of the "tournament" emerges. The tournament dynamics highlight the transaction prize forming process, which in the last rounds, tends to converge towards an equilibrium value determined by different elements such as negotiation techniques, motivation and preparation of the negotiators, information provided in the business case.
Approach to risk and uncertainty management
Risk-return matrices applied to chess and to financial and industrial portfolios. The risk attitude of a chess player for choosing a variation is compared to the risk attitude of an investor:  a quantitative parallel between chess and finance.
Decision Theory
Decision trees, game theory, matrices, in their qualitative, quantitative deterministic and statistical features: these are some of the tools used to study the theory of decision-making including its controversial St. Petersburg paradox.

The event took place at the prestigious Villa Lazzaroni in Rome

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