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Don’t Forget to Play

I think that playing games, rather than being a waste of time, can actually teach us valuable lessons in running our business.

Business is a serious affair – yes? So many things to think about – sales, marketing, revenue, employees, taxes, legal issues – and the list goes on! We can get so immersed in the serious side of business that we lose sight of the time needed to play – the thing that creates balance in our lives.

We can achieve this balance in many different ways – going for a walk, spending time with our families and friends, and a particular favourite of mine, playing online games. Whenever I find myself overloaded, I switch off and play a game. Now, I have to admit I’m not a serious gamer – if I was I doubt I’d ever get any work done because it can be extremely addictive. However, what I have found so enlightening is that, by playing these games, I have learned so much about myself and the ways I have of dealing with situations, and it has subtly changed my approach to my business.

These are the lessons I learned along the way.

Lesson One – Perspective

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees. We get overwhelmed and can’t find a solution. I found that doing jigsaw puzzles gave me the added dimension I needed. For instance, how many times have we looked at a puzzle piece and from a distance we think – that will never fit there, it’s the wrong colour and shape, but the closer we bring the pieces together, the more we see that somehow it merges, and we just need to turn it round and hey presto – perfect fit. So I’ve learned not to discount any solution, to look at things from all angles and not to reject it until I’ve actually tested it out.

Lesson Two – Focus

I don’t know about you, but my mind wanders off all the time. One thought leads to another thought and before I know it I’m miles away from where I started. My imagination has taken over and it’s very pleasant, but it doesn’t get the job done. I found hidden object games particularly helpful with this. Some are extraordinarily difficult and take enormous amounts of focus to see the object. Once you’ve found it however, you often wonder how you overlooked it for so long – it just seems to jump out at you. We invariably see what we expect to see and our minds can block things out. For instance, I know that I can read the same paragraph many times over and still miss a glaring mistake, just because my eyes have got used to seeing it and no longer count it as out of place. So learning to focus on one area at a time, and not allowing my eyes to wander, has helped me hone my focusing skills on various elements within my business.

Lesson Three – Strategy

This particular lesson has often had me pulling my hair out. The games where there are deadlines and you have particular tasks to complete. There are a variety of options here – whether it’s running an airport, a supermarket or building a village. If you don’t plan your strategy you can have customers walking out and produce going to waste. These games really help you sort out your priorities and procrastination isn’t an option. These are especially useful related to business as it made me look at what is really important at any given time, and to be adaptable, as priorities are changing all the time.

Lesson Four – Memory

I found the hidden object games really useful in this aspect too. Some of these games repeat certain objects, and remembering where it was last time prevents you from having to repeat that stage of the game again, due to running out of time. The focus required to find the object in the first place helps to fix information in your mind for the next time. I found that even when I hadn’t played a game for some while, when I went back to it, I was still able to remember where some of the objects were. So memory can be one of the advantages of learning to focus.

Lesson Five – Concentration

People who plays games, or know people that do, come to understand the total concentration that is part of it. The outside world ceases to exist and every fibre of your being is concentrated on the game. This is a valuable lesson when running a business – to be able to fully concentrate on the task at hand and not give in to distractions. It is also really important to love what you do, because concentration is hard to sustain when the subject matter is of little interest. Then distractions are sought after rather than being a nuisance.

Lesson Six – Courage

I remember reading these words some years ago and they have always stuck in my mind ‘What would you achieve if you lived your life like a video game?’ Anyone who has played a video game knows that the characters often jump over ravines, climb steep cliffs and fight big ferocious monsters – all without fear of the consequences. Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting risking life and limb, but I’m sure you get my drift. What if we did run our businesses without fear, and just concentrated on making what we felt to be the right move in the moment? All the time knowing in our hearts that we are protected and nothing can harm us. This doesn’t mean that a business which is no longer functional or needed would necessarily survive, but we would know that another direction would be presented to us, and something bigger and better was ahead. Wouldn’t that be liberating?

Lesson Seven – Living in the Now

I found that even with the strategy games, focus was more on the present moment, and maybe just a little bit ahead. There aren’t any one year or five year plans in evidence! Focusing on the present moment impacted the next move in the game, and so on. I only needed to be aware of one or two steps ahead, and then the game itself would dictate what the next move should be. I know that projections and business plans are handy tools, but ultimately they are little more than an educated guess as to where our business is going. If they are strictly adhered to then unexpected opportunities could pass us by. This lesson has taught me to re-evaluate my business on a month by month basis and not to think too far ahead into the future. If I keep my finger on the pulse of my business as it is happening right now, then take the necessary beneficial actions, the future will take care of itself.

Lesson Eight – Delegation

Last but not least, I learned the art of delegation. In some games I’ve played there is more than one character, and you can switch between them according to their skills. Not everyone has the same tools, gifts or talents and some are more appropriate at any given time than the other. There is no ego in the game, no feeling of ‘I know best and it has to be done my way and my way alone’. If the character involved is inappropriate to the situation, then the likelihood is that they will be terminated in some way – game over! Translated into real life, all of us have our strengths and weaknesses, so why not let everyone in the business play to their strengths? That way everyone is happy and nobody is stuck with doing jobs that they aren’t any good at, or have no interest in, which ultimately chips away at their confidence and self-esteem. Not to mention the negative impact on morale and the company itself.

In conclusion

I believe that, in moderation, games are a useful tool for us to acquire self-knowledge and skills. They should never be substituted for human interaction though, and I think that the type of game is of ultimate importance.

There was an experiment done some years ago to test the effects of video games on school children. I think the children were around the early teenage years. They were split into two groups – one group played a sports game and the other group played a war game. An actor played the part of a teacher, and throughout the session all the children from both groups were called individually into his office. He had a container of pencils on his desk and each time he ‘accidentally’ knocked it over. The results were quite dramatic – the children who had been playing the sports game automatically went to help pick them up. However, the children who had been playing the war game ignored the pencils, and didn’t offer any help at all.

There are definitely games that destroy sensitivity and connection with others, but there are also those that can be of real benefit to learning.

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