Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Business Lessons from a Video Game

My brother--the fiend--got me interested in a game app. In it, you play solitaire (ho-hum) but against another player (supposedly). You both are given the same card arrangement and then it's a race. You get one point for every card you put up top. You get a bonus point if your opponent hasn't put that card up. That's what makes it a race.

For several days, I kept track of my experience. I won 2/3rds of the time. Half of that time and more, I was able to completely put all the cards up on top. I've typically had 3 or 4 consecutive wins, with a personal best of 7 or 9.

How does this relate to business?

Most players focus on the race. They seem to rush through the draw deck to pick out the aces, twos and maybe a three. With that strategy, they gain some bonus points early. It's a winning strategy only if the game doesn't go very long; that the card arrangement is such that neither player can put but a few cards on top. Most of the time, this player has corrupted their potential by taking the early wins instead of investing them to set up other and more wins. This is like the strategy of trying to be first to market.

A different strategy is to play with a modicum of speed and a lot of smarts. I (and others who have beat me by running the deck) take the time to set up the longer-term, higher quantity plays by smartly making the plays that clear the hidden cards and establish workable chains (supply chains, per se). When all the cards can be revealed, this strategy always wins. Even if all the cards can't be exposed and placed on top, the smart player comes from behind and wins. The smart player gains long-term market share.

In the meantime, the app tries to distract you from the smart strategy by flashing warning signs that your opponent is getting ahead; it tries to hurry you, perhaps causing you to make a strategic mistake.

In business, we know that often it's the second player in the market that has been more successful: Best Buy versus Circuit City; Nokia versus Motorola; Apple versus everyone else; Google versus other search engines; Dell versus IBM in the PC market...and so on. In software, customer dissatisfaction has been created by rushing to market and fixing the bugs later.

So don't distracted by the rush to get to market, no matter how many flashing lights, social media alarms, industry press releases, etc. your competition is putting out. Stick with the smart strategy and get your product or service set up to run the table. Most business start-ups fail. Perhaps you can buck the trend and be part of the two-thirds of the smart crowd that succeed.

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