A few days ago, I got Chris Brogan’s email newsletter, where he talked about games we play as kids being preparation for skills we’ll need as adults. The examples he gave, like tag and hide-and-seek, were for more primitive skills like hunting and, well, hiding.
It got me thinking, though, about how many of the games that we start out playing as kids but continue to enjoy as adults utilize the same skills that help us in the business world.
I’m thinking of games like Monopoly, which requires skills like risk analysis, recognizing opportunities, cooperation with competitors, and a lot more. Chess is another obvious example, since it requires thinking many moves ahead, trying to anticipate your competition’s moves, and patience.
The funny thing is that even though these types of games aren’t nearly as overtly fun as kids’ games like tag and hide-and-seek, we still get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction out of them. But if you sat someone down at work and said, “I’m going to have you do an exercise in risk analysis and patience,” do you think they’d be excited about it? Probably not, unless they’re some kind of masochist.
This idea got me thinking that we should start trying to recognize the challenging and rewarding parts of our work, especially when they reflect aspects of games I enjoy. This seems pretty doable, whether you’re working for yourself or somebody else. If you can get excited about kicking ass at an ultimately meaningless game like Monopoly, why wouldn’t you get excited about equally kicking ass at a much higher-stakes game like your business?
One important but empowering difference between business and the kinds of games we like to play for fun is that business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically just means that one person wins, one person loses.
For me, zero-sum games are a paradox, because I’m uber-competitive while at the same time prone to feeling guilty about winning. So I get pissed if I lose while giving it my all, but I also won’t play to the best of my ability if I feel like I have an unfair advantage or think the other person isn’t having fun.
The beauty of the game of business is that if done right, everybody can win. You end up happy with getting paid, your customer ends up happy with getting something of value, and maybe even the world at large gets improved a little bit by your knowledge or product.
In my mind, it’s pretty cool that you can have all the enjoyment of challenging your brain to find ways to succeed, without having to worry about the crappiness of someone losing. Time to get out there and have some fun!