Thursday, April 1, 2010

Board Games as Metaphor for Life

One Thanksgiving weekend at my Cousin Amy’s house in Maryland, several of us were playing games in the living room. One table had a game of Spades under way, and I was playing a new game with my young cousin and my Aunts. None of us had ever played this game before, so this was going to be a learning process for all of us.

The game was Blokus, which before that day I had never even heard of, let alone played. Put as simply as possible, it kind of reminded me of a board game version of Tetris. Each person had a series of colored blocks that resemble Tetris configurations and your goal is to place as many of your pieces down on the board, corner to corner, while blocking your opponent (s) from placing theirs.

The first time we played, I was completely blocked from placing any more of my pieces within about four turns around the table. I realized quickly my Aunt and cousin were not allowing for a “getting up to speed” round of the game. That was okay. I used the rest of my idle time at the table studying the remaining two players and learning the strategy of the game.

After that, the addition of another Aunt to my list of opponents and one more game found me in my “game zone”. After one win by my young cousin, not only was I hooked on this game, I knew I had unlocked my strategic energy…I never lost another Blokus game that night.

The Game Master

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am very competitive when it comes to games. I love playing board and card games, especially those that require intense strategic thinking to win. And oh yeah…I HATE TO LOSE.

I look at the average board game a lot like I look at life. It drives me crazy in games of partnership like Spades, when my partner doesn’t think strategically, but simply plays cards without thinking of future consequences to the game. When I play cards or a board game, I’m not just thinking about the card I play or the move I make at that moment. I’m usually considering the impact of this move on the next, third or even fourth move thereafter.

To win the game, you cannot play cards or make moves in isolation. The same is true in this far more complicated game of life. The choices you make in life are never in isolation. The choices you make today will always have impact on the choices you make tomorrow; or are impacted by the choices you made in the past.

As in that game of Blokus, you must take every opportunity to learn from your mistakes. I could have sulked away from the table after losing that first game so quickly, but I took it as an opportunity to learn the game better, to learn my opponents and how they played the game.

You must do this in life. Whether it is your marriage, your business or your profession, no one comes in knowing all the rules and the “ways of your partners and opponents”. You will make mistakes. But the bigger mistake would be quitting after your first loss or misstep.

By the third game, I was in serious strategic planning mode. As others were taking their turns, I was coming up with two or three options, in case one got blocked by another player. I was also looking at my pieces and figuring out how I could link two or three pieces based on the current board configuration.

Have you ever been in an experience where a new person comes into a company or organization and immediately wants to change everything? That’s a person who hasn’t learned a valuable lesson in life…before you can “improve” something, or put your mark on it, you first have to understand it. True understanding takes time. And true understanding sometimes takes a few tries and mistakes.

Some of the best inventors in the world had hundreds, even thousands of mistakes before they “got it right”. They were able to ultimately reach their level of success because they didn’t see those failures as just failures, but as opportunities to learn what doesn’t work.

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed.”

– Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison -- perhaps one of the greatest inventors of all time -- contended there were no such things as mistakes so long as you learned from them. For him, “Every wrong attempt discarded is just one more step forward” toward success.

So, in this game called life, I advise you to think like Edison and learn from your mistakes. Take the time to seek understanding of the people and circumstances you are surrounded by before you jump toward making decisions. Think strategically. And don’t ever volunteer to be my spades partner unless you know how to play the game.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you think of life, and the things in life, as a game. We all ought to have objectives in life, and think strategically in order to accomplish them.