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You learn a lot about business studies.
I've been teaching design and working in the toy industry for over two decades. One of the biggest realizations I have is how universally important gaming is. In my humble opinion, we have turned the truth upside down. We equate children with games through a hierarchical lens. We see play as a fun and potentially helpful learning phase that children grow up out of. It's like the training wheels for real life. But the truth is the opposite. Children play not because they are "unformed" or "unenlightened" adults, but because they are drawn to the most natural and beneficial activities for humans.
Regarding adults, I would argue that gaming has the greatest ROI of any activity I know of. Here's why.
The game teaches you to be creative with obstacles
Businesses (especially entrepreneurship) can be described as an ongoing process where you encounter an obstacle, evaluate your options, and find a solution. Often times, the best solution is the unexpected. Think of Eureka moments that you experienced in your own work, when you realized the importance of a particular pivot, or when you thought you had solved the x problem, but the value really lies in solving y.
How do these magical moments happen? What's the optimal mix of all of the tiny factors (who you talked to, what you focused on, what was on the news that day) that led to Revelation?
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The truth is that there is no way to perfectly systematize how entrepreneurs can creatively solve problems. Every situation will be different (the dynamism of entrepreneurship is, after all, why many of us are in it). However, it is possible to train the muscles of creative problem solving outside of the area of business where much is at stake, and a number of factors can affect our most creative selves. This arena is – you guessed it – game.
There are all kinds of games. We can play artistically, we can play games, we can play physically. Regardless of how we do it, gaming creates a safe and open landscape in which we can approach problems or challenges in new ways. The more we examine this in other contexts, the more comfortably and effectively we can apply it to the arena of entrepreneurship.
Playing opens your imagination to what is possible
In one of my favorite TED conversations, Jay Silver talks about how to make a keyboard out of a banana. (Yes, you read that right). Why? Because it perfectly shows how the game opens the arena to innovation. Nobody who uses a linear mindset to find a particular “problem” and monetize a particular “solution” would have thought of turning a banana into a keyboard. But the invention that Silver creates throughout the process is awesome and something that people around the world have picked up and used in their own creations and innovations. In other words, he created value for others. Isn't that what we all strive for at the end of the day?
The banana keyboard is a crazy example, but I implement all sorts of tasks in my design classes that force students to develop new neural pathways and reconsider their opinions on things. I asked the students to use the jack-in-the-box concept, but at the moment of the reveal, let something completely unexpected happen. I asked her to think of a way to move clouds from New York to London. I asked them to make creations out of brooms and buckets. In each exercise, students have to throw out what they think they know and what all their previous associations are with an idea or object and create something new. Are the creations always ingenious or useful? Of course not, but that's not the point. The point is, by allowing to play, we defend ourselves against the ever-invading boxes and categories of thought that hinder innovation.
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I like to think of the game as the muscle of the imagination and the imagination as the material of innovation.
Play teaches good leadership
Entrepreneurship is not easy from an interpersonal point of view. History is littered with the famous breakups of co-founders, teams that have gone from passionate collaboration to mutual hatred. It's a fast-paced, stressful arena where people's best and worst selves can be seen 24/7.
I've never worked in more traditional or "old" lines of business, but I suspect that part of all the rules and structures regarding roles, hierarchies and professionalism is an attempt to ensure that the employees are at work themselves, however in a somewhat filtered way. In other words, the old school business understands that a person who brings who they are – the good and the bad – to work can be chaotic, emotionally charged, and difficult to manage efficiently. But in the start-up arena (and, as I will claim, the game arena), people appear completely unfiltered as themselves.
There are wonderful aspects to this as well as challenging aspects. But just like playing provides a safe space to expand your imaginative muscles, it's also a place to practice your leadership and collaboration skills. I don't know if you've watched kids play together lately, but it's quite a magical sight. Children seamlessly fall into roles, interact and adapt to one another without ever trying to hide or change who they are. They speak honestly and also have some sort of sixth sense of how to be in a constant state of flux by changing the scenario, overcoming obstacles and using the traits they have (or want to have).
We would do well to replicate this behavior as often as possible in our own adult lives. Imagine how much healthier and more balanced we would be if at the same time we could take our situation seriously (if you've ever disturbed a child's play, you know how deadly serious it is), while still having intellectual, resourceful, and emotional flexibility to deal with to go with the flow, to work with others and not always be in control of everything.
When I preach to motivated entrepreneurs about the merits of gaming, they often try to approach the game as if it was something that they can be productive at or optimize. If you do, you have completely missed the point. This does not have to be quantified or qualified. This is something that goes deeper into our systems and affects not just one area of our life, but everything.
In this case, I don't have a prescription for you. I can't tell you how to play, how long or anything. All I can say is that in my own life and in the lives of the most fulfilled, creative, and successful people I know, there is always a healthy appetite for gaming.