Too Many Ways to Win

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about lessons on adaptability I was learning from a new board game our family enjoys. The post generated lots of interest (including eliciting requests for more board game recommendations, which of course I was happy to provide!), so it’s stayed on my radar.

One insight has taken up residence in my mind since then:

There are lots of ways to win, but if you try to win at all of them, you’ll lose.

Playing to Win is a classic reference when it comes to defining the game you’re playing and how to win it. I’d add a few more observations to Lafley and Martin’s wise advice:

  1. Particularly in complex, community-benefit work, there are lots of possible wins, but “winning” may not even be comfortable or appropriate language to use. So, we need to be especially clear about what we’re going after and to make sure that understanding is shared across our teams. To use my Scythe example, the winner is the one with the most points at the end. Points should be our focus.
  2. It’s easy to get distracted by good things that look like wins, but aren’t. Or are wins of a lower order. In Scythe, you can gather stars to get points. There are multiple ways to get stars. But you can get points in other ways too. The game is actually about points, not stars.  
  3. Not only do we need to choose how to define our win, but how we’ll pursue it. There are lots of routes to get to a single destination. But travelling all of them at once might mean we don’t get there at all. In Scythe, the instructions even warn against trying to win in all the categories at once.
  4. Having clear instructions isn’t enough to secure a win. Similarly, writing down our strategy is less powerful than implementing it, and course correcting as we go.
  5. In making these choices (which is really what strategy is), we need to understand the times. Read the room. Pay attention to shifts in context. Staring only at the board (which is the same every time) and not at the cards we’ve been dealt (which vary, within limits) will rarely lead to a win.

Who knew a single game could be so much fun?!

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