Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's Life Got To Do With It?

Great Aunt Gracie kicks the bucket. 
Her garden supply store is now YOURS. 
Collect $200! 

What if you were suddenly faced with the challenge of taking over a small business in midstream? Let’s say you’ve had no management training or experience. Oh, and you need to report for duty first thing Monday morning. How would you go about getting control of the situation? How would you gain perspective? And – 

Would you seek advice? What would be the most effective way to bring yourself up to speed on short notice? 

Well, in case you’re not aware, there’s no shortage of BUSINESS EXPERTS out there who’d be more than willing to give you their two cents’ worth...for your ten. To give but one example, David Allen would recommend that you take his advice, which he’s been offering since ‘01 in the ready-made form of his Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. (I’ve borrowed the deceased-aunt scenario above from his 2009 book, Making Things Work, wherein he takes GTD theory to its loftiest level. Come to think of it, too, you can borrow this book from a library and avail yourself of his two cents that way…for free.) 

One thing you might like about Mr. Allen’s approach: he views work as a game, a game that can be played either well or poorly. His contention is that not only will his methods help you play work well, i.e., be as productive-and-therefore-as-successful as possible, they’ll also help you: minimize stress, increase your sense of freedom and spontaneity, and make work FUN. 


Interesting to me that those are some of the same things Milton Bradley was after when, in 1860, he introduced The Checkered Game of Life

Young Mr. Bradley – he was twenty-three – sought to create a board game that would simulate an individual’s travels through life; something that would present life as a series of choices. The way to win? Choose the good over the bad. From Jill Lepore’s 2007 New Yorker essay, The Meaning of Life, “The wise player will strive to gain on his journey that which shall make him the most prosperous (things like honesty, industry, and bravery) and shun that which will retard him in his progress (poverty, idleness).” Notice the moral intention. Many games of the day were designed to instill virtue. 

Why use a game to encourage folks to lead exemplary lives? Why – to use a newly invented term – “gamify” life? 

In Mr. Bradley’s words: to entertain “both young and old with the spirit of friendly competition.” I s’pose he also did it for the same reasons we still devise and play games today: 
  • game play can be compelling and rewarding 
  • it can stir positive feelings, like “urgent optimism”
  • complicated concepts are more easily understood and retention is better when participants are actively engaged in an activity. 
Everyone likes games. 
So, in a clumsy attempt to tie this back to the beginning – 

WHERE ARE THEY TO BE FOUND IN THE BUSINESS WORLD? More specifically, are board games being used for business advisement or education or training? Milton Bradley gamified all of life itself. Is it that far fetched to imagine that the same could be done of work (a mere subset of life)? 

Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life. To the best of my knowledge, David Allen hasn’t yet re-presented his approach as a game. Couldn’t he, though? I don’t know why not. And, what about any other of the comprehensive management approaches out there. How ‘bout gamifying them? 

I did some checking. As it turns out, there are indeed companies that are utilizing business board games for educational purposes! Paradigm Learning, for example, “combines the power of business board games and business simulations to create classroom-based learning experiences that are fun, challenging and content-rich.”  Prisim Business War Games, Inc. seems to be doing similar things. 

Cool, huh? 

I hope to be able to investigate one or both companies & their offerings and report back in a future posting. I want to keep the comparisons with THE GAME OF LIFE going, too. It has taken a lot of interesting twists and turns over the years, and its makers have addressed many challenges. Not long after the initial board game made its debut, for example, Milton Bradley’s understanding of how to succeed in real life was shifting: 
…he came to reject the notion that where you go in life is simply a matter of where you steer yourself. There were such things, in Bradley’s mind, as lousy starts, rotten luck, and bad cards. ‘The journey of life is governed by a combination of chance and judgment,’ he wrote in 1866. (Lepore)
To be continued.

I’ve compiled from various Web sources four (4) pretty nice pictures that show how Life’s game board has evolved over the years – and posted them here: (linked)

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