This week I loved learning about Alan Trefler, CEO of Pegasystems who in 1983 at the age of 19 became World Open Chess Champion.

When he entered the competition, he was way back at 115th in the rankings but managed to beat his way up to eventually playing against grandmaster Pal Benko and tying for first place in the championship game – apparently as surprised by his ability as everyone else was.

I’m somewhat in awe of people who play chess and certainly those at the level of world championships.

I can only imagine the smarts you got to have to compete under that pressure, concentrating and learning and reading both the board and your competition. Wow.

But what I found even more inspiring was Trefler’s drive to learn.

Even small things like in this Reuters interview he speaks about how he learnt a lesson about investment when he badly wanted to buy a $240 calculator with his winnings from the chess championship but at the last minute demurred.

Then the following year an even better calculator became available for just $20.

More significantly, in his Fast Company article from last month, which you can also read here, Trefler admits to his failure as CEO of Pegasystems during its IPO launch in 1996 which led him to appoint someone else to manage the company. During this time he went back to basics to learn more about being a more competent leader.

Impressive for sure.

Oh, and he also offers up his 3-step process for making tough decisions honed in chess-championship winning battles.

You can read about those in detail in the article.

In summary, here are the 3 questions you can ask yourself when you’re about to make a decision:

  • What patterns do I recognize in this situation?

  • What are the possible moves and counter moves?

  • Have I missed something obvious?

Your move.