Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Game of Go as a Leadership Training Tool

GO is a popular board game in Japan and China akin to chess in complexity. Fans say it is more complex. The rules are simple. Players alternate placing white and black stones on a 19x19 grid trying to surround and control territory. While marking out territory, players also surround their opponent's stones to capture them and remove them from the board.

Note in the first diagram how the black stones are surrounded by the white stones. They won't be completely surrounded though until the "eye" in the middle is filled by a white stone. When white plays a stone in black's eye, white removes the black stones, essentially capturing the territory occupied by black. In practice, black's stones are considered "dead" and left on the board.

Now consider the second diagram where black has two "eyes." In this example, black is considered "alive" since there is no way white can fill in both spots before black would have a chance to remove the newly surrounded white stone. Play alternates until both players agree that there is not territory on the board that is uncontested. The player with the most territory and captured stones wins.

While the rules are simple, how games play out is anything but simple. Each turn presents a choice of strategic placement or tactical attacks on smaller regions. There may be many unresolved battles on the board at the same time, which often turn out to influence each other. Players trade off losses in one are for greater wins in another.

GO is more than a simple metaphor for leadership concepts; it is a way to practice leadership skills. Playing GO gives you an opportunity to exercise many of the skills you need as an effective leader. GO allows you to:

  • Practice looking at the big picture
  • Practice making trade-offs between strategy and tactics
  • Practice seeing how distant elements can impact each other
  • Practice trading off a loss for a more important gain
  • Practice learning when a tactical position is lost, and move onto something more important
  • Practice learning how being less aggressive can give you bigger victories
  • Practice stepping out of the task of the moment to look at everything else going on

In real life, opportunities to practice these things come up occasionally, but in GO they happen dozens of times each game. And unlike in life, when you make too many mistakes you just lose the game. Now that's a deal: you can play a game and become a better leader.


Ryann said...

Hey!!! I love Go :D
Do you play on KGS?

Ken Flowers said...

I haven't yet. Thank you for the pointer.