in life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate


“In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate.”
Isaac Asimov


“A golden ray of sun. Rebellious, it seeks out a storm / As if in storms it could find peace.”

Mikhail Lermontov


Most things in life are much more like chess than we like to admit. Things rarely happen in straight lines, moves are not always straightforward, there are multiple players on the board with a variety of skills, and there is almost always something playing against you (seen and unseen). What we possibly understate, however, is that life is more like multiple chess matches happening at the same time. Its kind of a different way of suggesting the world is complex, dynamic, and more like a system than a machine. What it also means is 99% of the time life continues even after checkmate because that is one game and there are numbers of other games still doing on.

Which leads me to doing the right thing.

We tend to view ‘doing the right thing’ as the path to growth at scale. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that doing ‘the thing’ is less often a ‘thing’ but things strung together, i.e., a pattern. And patterns are tricky bastards. What I mean by that is groups are notorious for identifying patterns thru consensus and build up general concepts from experiences (agreed shared experiences in this case) creating less-than-optimal growth – its just mediocre if not dangerous as it is oblivious to future contexts and/or consequences. We all have this ability to identify patterns, make associations and use the knowledge to navigate life. The tricky part is this ability is dependent upon patterned experiences as well as the environments in which those patterns were identified and that, often, stratifies some bias. What I mean by that is it creates an implicit assumption that whatever is will continue to be. As a corollary, this creates an implicit assumption that one game is just like another game and avoiding checkmate in one game is similar to another game. That is a dangerous assumption.

I will say that business’s (and, increasingly, individual’s) unhealthy marriage to data analytics tends to reward this type of dangerous thinking. It is dangerous because it fundamentally extrapolates the ‘patterns of what is known’ and offers what is commonly seen as a sensible set of assumptions. Well, that is, they are sensible until they run into unforeseen or ‘what was unknown at the time of the analysis’ and they either just don’t work or work less effectively than what was planned. Suffice it to say that once we have learned a pattern for something and have experiences, the usefulness of the identified patterns (regardless of the environment/context and regardless of whether it was optimal usefulness or simple usefulness) makes us stop learning. We do not seek to ‘re-learn’ anything, but rather actually seek out that pattern (or what could be construed as something close to that pattern) as a default bias to thinking as well as behaviors/solutions. This is pattern recognition and just as with almost anything good, it can also be bad. Bad because, well, if life is a series of chess matches played at the same time, not all games will follow a pattern you may know; let alone like.

Which leads me to Follett’s theory of integration.

Mary Parker Follett’s theory of integration suggests the person as continuous with community and that things are in constant relation to each other – acting on and being acted on at the same time. This is a pragmatic and possibilities view of Life. Pragmatically you are part of a system, a community of people and matches, wherein “the group and the individual come into existence simultaneously” offering possibilities that as an individual one would struggle to reach without the community of matches. Follett suggested our being in the world as a process of “progressive integrations” with others and with the world around us – a process of “ceaseless interweaving of new specific responding”. This means life is an ongoing process of moves and countermoves each integrating experience, knowledge and attitudes into decisions and behaviors. Well. That sounds like chess, no? Anyway. She understood that whenever one engages with others, the person as well as the other have been mutually influenced. She also stated: “our happiness, our sense of living at all is directly dependent on our joining with others. We are lost, exiled, imprisoned until we feel the joy of union.”

And maybe therein lies my point for today. While we may seek patterns to lean on and data to offer us easier answers than Life typically demands, maybe we should feel the joy of the chess match, the matches, the checkmates, and seek out the storm for maybe, just maybe, true peace comes from within the storm or, well, the chess match. Ponder.

Written by Bruce