[Dialogue] ‘Go game must be included in a corporate learning for Russian top managers’

Sergey Gorkov, the managing director of “Rosgeology”. Photo: WAGC press service.

Pan Pacific Agency continues a series of publications about ancient oriental game Go on the eve of the World Amateur Go Championship (WAGC), which will be held in the city of Vladivostok in 2021. The press service of the championship interviews the key-note “Go people” in Russia, and then we introduce these people to the Asia-Pacific audience (see endnote for more details). In this feature of the series Sergey Gorkov, a managing director of “Rosgeology”, told Mikhail Yemelyanov, the 41st WAGC Director, why managers at the any modern enterprise must know the game of Go rules.

Jujitsu and Go game are two things that help you in your life, you said in another interview earlier. An oriental wisdom states that in order to be successful one should develop their physical skills, that is learn martial arts, their fortitude and the mind. Does Jujitsu help you take a punch, and does Go help you develop a strategic vision?

This is quite a big question indeed. I was thinking a while back what let me become successful and fulfil the tasks that I am given. And I made a conclusion in one of the articles, I think it was in Forbes Magazine, that there were two things that helped me.

Jujitsu is an oriental combat sport, originated in China, and later it became the main self-defense system of the Japanese samurai. Jujitsu teaches you being one-on-one with a problem. When you start a fight, there is no way to slack around, it’s not football, it’s not hockey, basketball or volleyball. You have to handle not just one position, but every position. Any victory is your victory only, and every loss is your loss only. This teaches you to position yourself solidly in life when aiming for the result.

So, Jujitsu helps me to be tenacious. Go helps me apply different ways of thinking to different tasks which arise every day, every month and every week.

I think it’s a very important combination of two similar and yet very different things. They both originated in China around the same time, they got assimilated in Japan around the same time. Those common roots are quite obvious. Judo was born out of Jujitsu, another form of martial art. Go game as a traditional game of politicians and businessmen in Japan reached its peak in the 20th century, when it became almost a national heritage.

Is it so important when you doing business to train your mind regularly?

Certainly, developing mental skills is very important too, because being only physically strong doesn’t let you solve all the tasks. It’s very important to develop one’s own intellectual abilities. It often seems that if you are always busy with production problems at work, there are lots of decisions to be made, so there is no need to train your brain. I think that’s incorrect.

There are always more and more new problems coming and if you don’t train this muscle, the brain is like a muscle in this case, it also becomes focused on one type of tasks, little by little it gets weaker. Go is the type of multifactor, multi-combination game that lets you always be in the state of brain development. It lets you think about several tasks at the same time, and solve one problem while solving several subtasks. All of it in turn helps achieve the main purpose.

In your book about solving unsolvable problems you wrote that there is a modernist concept of “multimodal strategies”. There are many examples of such multidimensionality in Go when we operate on many layers with a single touch so to speak. Maybe you are using some Go stratagems in modern business strategies?

You’ve asked a very good question. The world is developing rapidly and dynamically, and what’s more important, with a great deal of uncertainty. The problems that emerge always require creative thinking. On the other hand finding the right approach, I tried to form this approach, the one that was in the book is called multimodality. Multimodality means that you can’t think about just one way.

In western business schools they used to teach you, and probably they still do, to use only two approaches when choosing a strategic method. These are the ways of the best scenario and the worst scenario. In my life I built four strategies, that can be used for large companies, and I can say that there wasn’t a single time when a strategy worked exactly how it was written.

Whatever you write in your strategy, you can’t get into that vector precisely. You are always going to be better or worse, you will always be somewhere in the middle. And this position of determining the best and the worst means you never get to determine where you will be. And why? Because there was no multimodality.

Go is, on the contrary, a multimodality, right?

Chinese incorporated the idea of multimodality into the game of Go. It means that every action you take influences the whole board, the whole company strategy or the situation within the company. I think multimodality is very important for building the strategy of any company: big, small, medium, all of them. And it’s very important to determine the bifurcation point, which might happen once a year, for example. A new technology emerges, a new situation appears, with the oil prices for example, or a new legal requirement is issued. Understanding the bifurcation point, you have to always adjust the possible development vector, so the strategy has to be multimodal.

You know, the way a strategy was built in the past — if it’s not realized, then a new strategy has to be made. But what are the odds that the strategy will be realized and nothing unpredictable will happen in three years? The odds are quite small right now. So not using a multimodal strategy will lead to setting the strategy aside on the shelf and not using it.

A multimodal strategy is a key factor, I think, that should be used within the global strategy of every company. Even smaller companies have multiple complex factors that influence them. They are affected by a larger number of factors than bigger companies. But even bigger companies, we know all of these stories about Kodak for example. They found themselves out of business fairly quickly, once a prosperous, multi-billion dollar company. And why did that happen? Because Kodak didn’t find the bifurcation point, their strategy was built around one product, which it brought to the top world-class level, but it turned out to be useless.

If something doesn’t work in this case, there will be many products, many situations. It’s important that it stays mobile all the time, and multimodality allows you to do that. Go is based on that as well, Go is a multimodal game. One more important thing that Go gives us, if you work on several markets or if you only have one.

This is how we play chess — you have one competitor, the board, here it is — fully outlined, everything seems transparent and simple. In Go you might have several markets, you can have one corner, another corner, three or four corners, you can have the center, you can have some local situations elsewhere. There might be a crisis somewhere and in some other place on the contrary you might be ready to make some concessions, but all of that is interconnected within this world.

Chess is only dealing with a separate part, and if you operate on several markets, then you should be playing on 4 or 5 chess boards at the same time. The question is, how are they going to influence one another. The chess pieces can’t fly from one board to the next one, right? These interconnections are lost, and the game of Go realized them perfectly, regardless of its thousand-year history. If you have multiple factors or you work on several markets and these markets are all in different situations, you really should play Go, because no other game is going to help you, even Monopoly.

How do you estimate the prospects of the company’s participation in the big event that awaits us next year, the World Championship?

First of all, this is an important event for Russia. For the first time in its thousand-year history it goes out of this Korea-Japan-China triangle. They are the main founders of the game, even statistically speaking, there is an enormous amount of people playing Go in those countries, especially in China. It’s important for us that for the first time ever it will happen in Russia. In my opinion, the fact that it will be held in Vladivostok is also quite significant, as well as the fact that it happens before the Eastern Economic Forum. It also means that Vladivostok and the Far East are starting to develop rapidly.

In order to understand the ways of the Far East and the South East Asia, one has to know the laws of those places. Go gives us this understanding, how countries think and interact with one another, how they make their political, economic or social decisions. As we remember from history, Mao Zedong was in charge of the famous Long March, which essentially brought the Communist Party of China to power. Mao Zedong played Go very well and his Long March was built on the principles of Go.

Henry Kissinger wrote in his book about China that in order to understand China one has to understand Go. When I met him, he told me about this phrase and that’s how I got interested in Go, because there is a whole big section dedicated to it there. When I worked in Sberbank, my task was to understand what we were going to do in China. I tried to work it out, I had very interesting partners and mentors who told me about China. At that time I had little to no experience working with the People’s Republic of China and that Henry Kissinger’s advice actually helped me. I got interested and started learning this game.

On my part I’m grateful to the Russian Go Federation for organizing the 5th Go Cup that attracted a great deal of attention, not just from our international guests, but most importantly from our Russian companies and the Russian participants. The game of Go came to our country around the 60s, right?

Yes, that’s right.

It came to us only in the 20th century, so it is quite limited in its development, I’d say. These limitations are understandable but for the Far East, for Yakutiya, for Siberia as a whole, understanding the region is very important, and to understand it one has to start learning Go. I’m glad that entire regions are joining in on this — Magadan region, Yakutiya, Primorsky Krai, and I hope that other regions of Russia will also join this movement of Go development. I am sure that the World Championship will lead to a major boost in Go development.

In my opinion, the game of Go should be made mandatory to be learned by every company manager and the fact that we don’t have this yet is a big loss for us. Chess is taught at some schools now as a mandatory extracurricular subject. It’s understandable, since our country is traditionally associated with chess. I think at the school level it’s all fine, but at the level of corporate learning and business schools, it’s important that Go is included for company CEOs for example, or their deputies. After that they would view the Eastern market differently.

China is our biggest economic partner with more than 100 billion dollars turnover, and if we add Japan and Korea, that’s even more. Under these circumstances the mentality specifics of this megaregion should be definitely taken into account. I think it’s very important that this game becomes more than just a fun activity, that it’s included into professional development courses or a class for company leaders, for instance.

The 1st interview of the series “Go people” was with Vitaliy Nesis, Russian businessman, the 2nd – with Aysen Nikolayev, a governor of the Russia’s Sakha Republic (Yakutiya), the 3rd – with Sergei Nosov, a governor of the Russia’s Magadan region.

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