Why Games Work When Goals Don’t

I'm lucky. I did not play any organized team sports growing up. And I didn't participate in any competitions like spelling bees, dance recitals, or science fairs. And I never quite got the hang of playing the clarinet in 6th grade band. So for me, the idea of playing a game calls to mind a casual neighborhood round of soccer-baseball (a.k.a kickball), or attempting to jump rope for as long as possible without missing, while simultaneously reciting some weird story about a girl with a name that begins with A, then B, etc. and adding fancy steps until I tripped on my sneaker laces. Pretty low risk. No Olympic dreams. No athletic scholarships. And no, sports wise, I really never "could a been a contender." My history leaves me blessed with a rather childlike concept of play. I think playing a game is…well, fun. Your mileage may vary.

With this blessed perspective, here are some reasons why I think games work when goals don't:

  • Playing a game lightens the performance burden. We are "just playing" after all. No one expects to be perfect. We are energized to keep trying new things.
  • Playing begins with, and perpetuates a love of the game.
  • Playing fully engages all of our senses, and thereby unlocks abundant creative resources.
  • We more naturally identify simple, measurable steps. We can make those steps as easy or as challenging as we wish. I'm a big fan of easy — not because I'm afraid of hard work. I'm a fan of easy because an easy task gets me into the game, then my natural curiosity and desire take over.
  • If it isn't working, we can make-up new rules or call a do-over.
  • It's fun to keep score. Is there anyone who doesn't love amassing shiny gold stars? (Please, it's not just me, is it?).
  • A game naturally creates an environment that is designed for success. When we play a game, we think about things like equipment, and practice, and coaches, and fans. We learn or create rules that help us win. We begin to hone in on the actions that really make the difference (Just connect with the ball, don't try to knock it out of the park every time). Pick any game metaphor you like, and you have an instant framework for moving forward on something you want to be doing.

And, hello, we are playing here. It is supposed to be messy and chaotic, and loud, and punctuated by belly laughs. A lot like life.

The Great Writing Game

Have you ever had something you really, really want to do…and find that day after day, you just don't do it? For me, that "thing" is writing. To you.

Perhaps you've "tried" to motivate yourself, inspire yourself, or  egads, "hold your self accountable" (…ick, ick, ick!) I certainly have. I find that I am of two minds about writing (truth be told, I am probably of two minds about lots more than writing…so let's say…writing, for instance). One mind loves writing and sees everything else that gets in the way as a terrible distraction taking me away from my most important thing. If I could just clear my schedule, or my "to do" list, this mind thinks,  I would naturally write both regularly and frequently (and of course brilliantly and perfectly, but that's another topic altogether). This mind is both enthusiastic, and I fear, delusional.

My other mind likes to believe that if writing were important to me, it would show in my strict  discipline: I would put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) every day, until I write some number of predetermined words, or some designated period of time passes, or I pass out from all the blood loss (sweating blood is a real marker of commitment, right?), whatever comes first. 

And just to keep life interesting, I even have a third mind, my inner rebel, that gets all huffy and fights tooth and nail against anything that has even a whiff of "you have to…" or any semblance of "forcing myself" to do what it is I want to do. All these minds can get very confusing.

What I yearn for instead is a loving practice of writing that gives me pleasure, gives you value, and ultimately becomes an easy, natural part of "what I do." But how to get there?

Any practice has to start somewhere, so I've decided to play a game I'm calling The Great Writing Game. By virtue of reading this, you are officially a fan (how cool is that!). The season for The Great Writing Game runs from today through the end of the year. During that time, there are 5 series; each series has 4 games (1 game per week); each game is comprised of 4 plays. A winning play occurs when I write to you, either here or on Twitter. (If I happen to write somewhere else, I'll let you know here or on Twitter). Four winning plays in a week equals 1 won game. I invite you to play along, cheer me on, help me keep score, and most important, help me celebrate! And along the way, I'll share what I'm learning about the power, the possibility, and yes, even the perceived pain of creating a loving practice.

Cats & Marketing – Part 3

In part one I explored Norton’s approach to marketing (attracting sustenance). In part two, we saw how Kramer, my other furry guru, manages his approach to getting what he needs or wants. In each approach there are lots of reasons to conclude that you should not leave the cats in charge of your marketing.

Then again, maybe they’re on to something: These furry little VPs of Marketing are spot on effective. Their approach to the customer is authentic, deeply connected with what is important to them, and only a moderate energy investment. Their action arises in the moment, based on their assessment of the situation (she moved…time to eat!). And while they have preferred individual approaches, they are willing to change strategies a bit if it doesn’t seem to be working. They will often partner strategically with each other (abundance mindset – there’s enough to go around). And, blissfully, sometimes they just let the purpose driven activity rest and hang out for a while enjoying the customer’s company. Because, you know, as long as everyone is getting what they need, the relationship rules.

Norton & Kramer’s Guide to Marketing:

Top 5 things to avoid:

  1. Gray & white cat resting on bench with paws hanging over edgeIt’s best to not wait until you are starving to connect with your customer.
  2. Staring at an empty bank account does not create sales.
  3. Don’t get underfoot, it can really be annoying (and annoying the customer is really not the best way to go).
  4. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get a result after a single action.
  5. Don’t bite.


10 things that work:

  1. Black cat reading newspaperFlaunt your unique style.
  2. Be in relationship with your customers daily.
  3. Be a little entertaining.
  4. Be willing to give a little something (add value), just for the fun of it.
  5. Step back from time to time to get perspective.
  6. Lavish your attention on your “right fit” customers rather than trying to please everyone.
  7. Talk to your customers, and invite feedback from them.
  8. Be creative in getting your message in front of your customer.
  9. Make it as easy as possible for your customer to buy.
  10. Take time regularly to just purr.

Have a Wonder-filled Christmas!

Catching snowflakes on your tongue. Flopping into a drift and creating
a perfect snow angel. Seeing how long you enjoy a candy cane, without
biting. Decorating cookies for Santa and putting out carrots for the
reindeer. Hot cocoa with marshmallow’s melted just right. Total trust
in the power of love and belief (remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas
Tree? And the Grinch’s expanding heart? And the toys rescued from the
Island of Misfit Toys because of Rudolph’s “non-conformity.”)

This holiday season, I wish for you the gift of seeing again with the eyes
of a child. What if…you shifted from being busy, with so much to do
and were instead compelled by wonder. Today forget what you know and let yourself navigate by your curiosity. Let go of expectations and
give yourself the freedom to play and discover. Expect miracles.
Snuggle up for story time. Delight in anticipation. Create new worlds.
Giggle. Giggle some more. If you’ve forgotten how, put your heart in
the hands of a small child. They will lead the way. Clap your hands if
you believe… What’s that? On the rooftop! Do you hear it?