"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Go Perspective to Management

Go was first mentioned by Chinese text in 548BC. Millenia later, it is still one of the most popular board game in the world. Go gameplay is highly regarded for its strategy and tactics. Many great minds have applied the concepts behind this simple yet elegant board game to their respective fields. These fields, be it war, politics, or business, share the basic Go themes of competition and interconnectivity.

In recent years, Go has gained popularity among academics. Computer scientists especially, are interested in the game's complexity (the number of possible games in Go is easily more than the number of atoms in the universei). Most scientist think it would take years to emulate the success of Deep Blue, the supercomputer who defeated chess world champion Garry Kasparov.


The name “Go” is derived from Japanese, which roughly translates to “enclosing game”. The game's objective is straightforward: occupy as much territory as possible. A standard Go game is played on a 19 x 19 grid with black and white pieces. Two players (called black and white) take turns in placing one piece on the board. Each piece stays on the board unless it has been captured.

Pieces connected vertically or horizontally are called groups. A group or an individual piece can be captured when it no longer has any liberties. Liberties are the empty spaces around a group or piece. For example, a single piece in the middle of the board has 4 liberties when it does not have any piece adjacent to it.

Players try to gain advantage over each other by enclosing regions with their pieces. In the process, a player can choose to attack by expanding their pieces into enemy territory. The whole game is a repeated process of gaining and defending territory.

The game ends when both players agree that there are no more neutral regions to be captured. The winner of the game is the player with the most captured regions on the board. Captured pieces may or may not be counted towards the final score depending on the set of rules being followed (the most widely used are Chinese or Japanese rules).

Interconnectivity in Management and Go

Understanding interconnectivity and interdependence of pieces in Go very important. The key to winning is to keep pieces connected. This is because groups are harder to capture than individual pieces.

A single piece on the board has very little significance alone. Scattered pieces and uncoordinated groups are not much use either. Good Go players keep their pieces connected and try to divide their opponent's. This minimizes their opponent's chance of survival, as the saying goes: “divide and conquer”.

In management, one deals with the handling and deployment of resources. These resources can include human, financial, technological, or natural. Together these resources form a value network, working on a common goal to generate economic value for the organization. The value network of a business organization can be external or internal. An internal value network for instance, can consist of but is not limited to R&D, marketing, and customer support. An external network on the other hand can include customers, suppliers, and intermediaries.

Everyone in a value network is bounded by relationships. Every relationship in the network involves an exchange of a combination of goods, services, benefits, knowledge, and revenue. As a manager, it is important to recognize the interconnectivity and interdependence in business value networks. Marketing, for example, is useless without the customers. One piece in the network cannot function alone. Therefore it is essential to take into account all elements in the value network to maximize economic value for all stakeholders.

Market in Business and Territory in Go

A business is often not alone in their respective markets. Businesses offering similar services or products often operate beside each other. Each business strives to be more efficient in operations and more attractive to customers. Their ultimate goal is to capture a larger portion of the market.

The notion of co-existing with opponents is reflected on the Go board. Players know that it is not possible to prevent their opponents from gaining some territory. Therefore they play in strategic places to increase their own influence and territory. To do that they must understand the concepts of thickness and diversification.

A good Go player generally avoids playing in places where their opponent has “thick” positions, positions where the opponent has well establish positions and hence hard to challenge. In the same scenario, a good business person is always cautious when investing in an area where the competition has a strong advantage. This is because a business person does not want to waste company resources like a Go player does not want to waste pieces.

Diversification is as important in a business as it is in Go. Imagine a Go player building a strong fortress of pieces in one corner of the board while the opponent diversified by playing around the other three corners. In the process of securing one end of the board, the player has given up the chance to establish himself/herself on others parts of the board. This is analogous to doing business at the multi-disciplinary level. By establishing the business across various fields, one can increase the chances of success.

Foresight in Management and Go

The development of a Go game is similar to that of a business organization. In Go, the board starts off empty and the player slowly builds up a network of pieces to conquer their opponents. This process resembles a newly-found business organization, making effective use of limited resources to gain a foothold in the industry. As Go games and business organizations grow into a very complex system, there are many new factors to consider. In Go, a player soon worries about the opponent attacking them or expanding in a new part of the board. Whereas in business, a manager is concerned when the competition unveils a new product or invests in a new technology. In either case, making the right decision involves intuition and foresight.

Go is a game of patience and foresight. Players need to weigh the significance of their options in every step. For instance, capturing may bring profit in the short term. But in the long term, players may lose out because they were too busy capturing while their opponents expanded elsewhere. Business decisions too must be approached in a patient and careful manner. Successful leaders such as Manmohan Singh and Deng Xiao Ping waited many years before the market reforms that they implemented showed positive economic improvement. Today India and China experience almost double-digit GDP growth rates.ii

How Go can Benefit Managers

In terms of operation and development, there are many similarities between Go and management. Mastering one of them will give a strategic advantage in the other. Go trains the mind to function in a complex environment by emphasizing strategy and foresight. It also provides mental exercise because the game involves a lot of pattern recognition and numerical calculations.

Books on Go can be obtained easily at your local bookstore. Former executive of Japan Airlines published a book titled “Go: An Asian Paradigm for Business Strategy”, more information about Go and business can be found there.




[ext] Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China's Strategic Concept, Shi, by Dr. David Lai: Strategic Studies Institute monograph, 35 pg. ISBN: 1-58487-158-X.



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