Weiqi/Go/Baduk ,You, the world 围棋,你, 世界

I promised that eventually I would have shared something on Go/Weiqi/Baduk, and here I am 🙂

Incidentally, if you don’t know what I am talking about, have a look at Wikipedia|

As I previously shared on wodeshudian, I first read a book on Go (the Japanese name) in the early 1990s, as, while attending a pre-sales negotiation (i.e. “solution sales”) in London for my Italian employer, I had been part of a team including a Japanese, and I had seen how, despite my experience on cultural differences within Europe and readings on the cultural side of other religions, the boundaries of my cultural awareness were still too narrow.

Since then I read probably more than a dozen of books on the game itself, and few books on the side-effects of a business and political culture aware of Go strategies vs. one built around Chess or Poker.

Obviously, in multicultural environments sometimes it is easy to play the “cultural jujitsu”, i.e. using somebody else’s cultural awareness of your own culture and assumptions made on the basis of that awareness to use it as a lever, e.g. by pretending that you are playing according to your own cultural “framework” that your opponent is aware of, while instead you are using your own awareness of their cultural framework and their own rules against them.

Ok, I will stop now talking about general games and strategies, you can read an essay that I posted (in segments) in May 2009, while living in Brussels (the post specifically on games, with links to documents, courses, etc is here).

Over the last few years, I posted articles where, more than once, I had to compare our Chess-based culture with what could be the side-effects of an alternative set of strategies, Go-based.

Frankly, I think that you cannot really understand the logic of Go, with what is really “fighting on multiple fronts” unless you have at least a grasp of the history of wars in China (e.g. the “Warring States” period).

Once in a while, somebody writes few lines on that cultural difference as if the author were the first to write about it (e.g. this morning I had a look on Google- look at this short article on Wired blogs Understanding Enterprise Gamification: Is Your Business Strategy Like Chess or Wei Qi?).

I prefer something with more depth, and I retrieved (I wanted to check if it was reachable, as I have other reports and essays or books on the same subject that aren’t available anymore) a paper from 2004, David Lai’s Learning from the stones: a Go approach to mastering China’s strategic concept, Shi (39 pages- if you prefer something shorter, keep reading this post).

Obviously, Go associations and Go schools have a vested interest in trying to replicate with Go/Weiqi (as it is more known in Western countries with the Japanese name than with the Chinese one) the editorial success of Sun Tzu or Machiavelli (I still have to find a “Sun Tzu in the Kitchen” or “Dish-washing Machiavelli”, but otherwise I think that I saw once in a while somebody publishing any variation you can think of).

As a quicker reference, maybe Benefits of Weiqi could be useful, if you are unwilling to read Dr. Lai’ paper.

What is interesting, and I found useful across my business life in organizational change, inhering also concept that I learned in political activities in the early 1980s, is that Go does not assume that you have just one front and one enemy, and actually prepares you to work on multiple fronts.

Yes, you still lack the “dynamic alliances” that are common in business or other contexts (including Chinese history: if A is stronger, and B and C weaker but still too strong to be attacked at the same time, you end up with something like what is happening since February 2013 in Italian politics, where it is often a case of two trying to push a third out of the game, only to swap alliances when one of the parties gets too strong or too weak).

Nonetheless, you can have the equivalent of multiple chess games going on at the same time, and the focus isn’t just one individual target (the king, in Chess), but the overall territorial control.

In Chess, you advance, feign retreat, but eventually have just one aim: dethrone the king, or make it impossible to move again without producing the same effect.

In Go/Weiqi, your attacks and retreats can actually be part of the final result, as wherever you move, you add territory to yourself, or deny it to your adversary.

Anyway, I think that playing a game once in a while is useful to keep your “thinking about the larger picture” skills, and, in business, sometimes it makes sense to consider what you are doing not just a game of Go/Weiqi, but multiple games on intersecting and overlapping territories, where a third player, from another board, joins the fray, either to support you, to support your opponent, or to carve a slice of territory (or at least make it mess for both you and your opponent).

Personally, in few cases I saw that adopting Go/Weiqi like approaches could actually lead for all the parties involved to a massive “war of attrition”, a lose-lose, or at best a “trench warfare”: no advance, no retreat, just sitting and scheduled exchanges of volleys to remind each other that you are still there, and keep those up in the feeding chain happy while minimizing risk.

If this characterization seems excessive: I saw in many cases in consulting how aggressive “push” from the sales&marketing side was matched by pipes of peace episodes between the consultants from competing companies who were working on the customer site (sometimes including football matches), as, in the end, they would be sharing the same environment (and need to cooperate) with their competitors

There is one element in which Go/Weiqi is probably better than Chess: having multiple clusters around the board that eventually have to converge to a shared purpose (territory), you have a better appreciation of the volatility of prioritization in business activities: what might seem a priority now, may be of lesser importance once something else happens.

Actually, an article quoted within one of the books that I re-read for this article contained a picture that wasn’t reused in that book, but is worth sharing: the War in South East Asia represented as if it were a Go/Weiqi game (from Life May 18 1942, GO Japs Play Their National Game The Way They Fight Their Wars):


Obviously, it is not just business that is multilateral: also if the USA is the only superpower left, we live in a multilateral world where we are getting closer to a “transaction-by-transaction within a dynamic framework of alliances” approach to negotiations, where the overall balance of interests (not of power) might dictate a continuous re-assessment of the best options available in each transaction- again, more Go than Chess, i.e. spheres of influence when overlapping might compound into a constructive force (i.e. the sum is greater of the components), instead of being a zero-sum game.

Another visual representation: Go is more relevant as a business and political approach when you have information-intensive environments, e.g. Big Data (or even just business intelligence or the humble Excel spreadsheet and Access database), and the associate distribution means (email, Internet), as you are at last able to have each “cluster” of your resources to alter on demand how they operate in a specific condition, instead, as in Chess, having to assign specific “hierarchical” rules.

On this side, I usually suggest to read an old but still useful research from RAND, Swarming and the Future of Conflict: if you have just a basic understanding of Go/Weiqi rules.

You can also find online free computer games to play against, download from online websites the “record” of actual games from present and past masters, and watch the game unfold (and maybe try to see how you would have played).

No, I will not suggest a specific software: I found free games on Mac, PC, Linux, Android, and even my old Blackberry Playbook, so I am quite confident that you will be able to find one of your liking.

Actually, on both Linkedin and Facebook I connected with groups that are focused on Go/Weiqi, and usually most include a “learning” section; start by going on https://www.gokgs.com/, where you can also download saved games (SGF format) and learn the basics- for free.

For the time being… have a nice week!

PS Please read the introduction to understand how to use this website 🙂


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