In the hit Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, Beth Harmon goes from an orphan to a renowned and well-heeled chess champion thanks to luck, moxie, and talent. Her character’s arc resembles the kind of personal and professional growth that many entrepreneurs work toward.
Watching the show may have you wrapped up in the drama. But if we take a step back and consider the bird’s eye view, a few lessons for entrepreneurs can be parsed from the plot.
Learn from your mentors
Although Beth is a prodigy, she still needs someone to teach her how to play chess. Her first mentor, Mr. Shaibel, is the janitor at her orphanage. She sees him playing and wants to learn how the game works. He refuses, but Beth is persistent.
As Beth’s success takes off and she begins to travel, chess becomes her life. But even at the top of her game, she still needs mentorship—which she finds in the former U.S. national champion, Benny Watts. It’s Benny who helps her understand weaknesses she’s become partially blind to because of her talents.
Even when Beth is playing against Vasily Borgov, the best player in the world, she turns to her mentors to talk through her moves. By this point, Beth has surpassed them in terms of what she is capable of, but she still needs advice—in much the same way that a successful executive might have a team of mentors and advisors on speed dial.
Although she’s an expert in a game that requires players to think from their opponent’s perspective—and try to plan for distant moves ahead—Beth needs to draw on more perspectives than her own.
The lesson? You’re never too successful for mentorship.
Prepare for financial challenges
More than once, Beth encounters financial challenges that almost sink her. Her adoptive father, Allston Wheatley, tells her she can keep the house after his wife’s death. But at the last minute, he reneges on the deal, forcing her to blow through most of her savings.
At another moment in the show, Beth loses funding to travel to the Moscow Invitational—where she could play against Vasily Borgov—from an anti-communist group that wants her to publicly endorse their beliefs. This time, she receives a loan from a friend.
Either of these events could have drastically altered Beth’s financial security and career. Challenges can do that—they catch us unawares. A savings account and luck carried Beth through. But luck doesn’t always see us through—preparation, on the other hand, usually does.
For business owners, this means making sure that your business plan has rainy-day contingencies—so that a bump in the road doesn’t halt your forward progress.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Although Beth’s character sometimes wrestles privately with her own demons, there are times—especially as she’s getting started—when she needs to ask for help. Not only does she ask Mr. Shaibel to teach her the game (repeatedly), but he’s also the one who sends her the money to enter her first official competition, the Kentucky State Championship.
Sometimes Beth is rebuffed. Notably, after she refuses to publicly denounce communism and loses her initial funding to the Moscow Invitational, she asks her mentor, Benny Watts, for help finding another funding source. But he’s furious and won’t help her.
Still, Beth finds help from another friend. And later, Benny comes through for her in a different way when she needs his assistance.
Asking for help is particularly important for business owners. It can energize you, build your network, and encourage others to feel invested in your success (which is always a win).
It’s the people around Beth who create the mold for her to pour her raw talent into. Without them, she never would have been able to get started. So take stock and consider potential mentors or guiding lights in your own professional life—what lessons do they have to teach you?
The first steps
We may not be chess Grandmasters or prodigies in your particular field of business, but we do bring legal and strategic experience to the table—and that’s a good place to start!
If you have questions about contracts or business planning, contact us to schedule a consultation. Our experienced attorneys can guide you through the process.