Give Yourself A Game You Can Win

Published on January 14, 2014 by in Blog


 Surreal Soccer

Let’s say you head off one weekend to watch a game of football with a close friend (for those of you who are from where I’m from, this game is known as soccer, and is played by normal sized humans, not refrigerators with legs and acres of ballistic padding). But this game is a bit different than the one that you remember. In this game, there are no goals, no lines on the pitch, and there is no defined end point.

Still, you really love the game, so you stick around. The ref blows the whistle, the game starts, and off they go: 22 guys chasing each other around the pitch like little children, everybody on the ball. It’s a bit hard to see them at times, because the lack of lines on the pitch means they can get pretty far away, and – as light falls – finally they become quite invisible, chasing each other around in the dark. As players begin to fall over from exhaustion, the game is finally called off when the referee is found to have departed for dinner in despair after losing the players in the next county.

Unfamiliar with this version of the game, you turn to your friend and enquire, ‘So, who won?’

‘No idea,’ they say, ‘but man oh man did they work hard – they went at it until they were totally exhausted. Amazing game.’

Crazy? Absolutely. Sound a bit like the world of work? Sometimes, for sure.

And how much fun was that? Not so much really, for either spectators or players.

What was missing? Well, it was not possible to win the game, because the way the game was constructed did not make it clear how to do that.

It is this simplicity with regards to winning and losing that – in part – explains the enduring popularity of sports: there are very well defined rules on how to score, the end is the end, and at the end there is a clear winner.

Life’s not like that, normally, but there are things we can do to help it be more like a winnable game, and less like an endless series of interminable endurance tests.

Our suggestion:

Define the game you are trying to win – get yourself a clear outcome in your system, so you know when you have won.

Define the goals you are trying to score – at least the next one, your next action on the way to your outcome.

Then, spend the day scoring goals. Which is fun. Occasionally, if you score enough goals you get to win a game. More fun.

Or you can keep chasing around in the dark until you drop. Your call, it’s kick off time.

  • cathie

    Great analogy! Time to set some more definite goals for my teaching, and parenting (slighter harder to measure a win there, but goals will help determine some successes!) Thanks.

    • Ed Lamont

      Glad you liked it. Re parenting wins, I’m a bit out of my area of expertise, but I’m thinking there are some long-term ones (finalize healthy, happy munchkins, perhaps?), and some short-term ones (support them to a passing grade in x, straight As in y, and social survival through a school change…).

  • Mary Shaver

    Another wonderful post full of food for thought. I think this might be good for some employers to read because often the work situation is set up in such a way that it is impossible to score a goal, never mind what it might even mean to score a goal. Often the job situation is so chaotic (just as the game you described) that scoring a goal is meaningless. So a person could score goals all day, and no one notices or cares.

    • Ed Lamont

      Thanks. Unfortunately, most managers/employers are as much at sea as everyone else, so you can’t really rely on them to do this. One approach might be to agree/negotiate with them what the game is, how to win it, and how to score goals. It might turn out that you are wanting to play different games, but clarity on that might be no bad thing, long-term.

© 2014 Next Action Associates
GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company