In the last five years, I can safely say that the majority of what I have unlearnt and relearnt, as far as strategy is concerned, comes from Gaming. I have learnt many things about strategy from the world of work and higher learning but Unlearning and Relearning have come from a different place. When I understood that the rate of change was happening faster than my ability to respond to it strategically, I started looking for another place - somewhere I could dismantle my well worn paradigms and see with a fresh pair of lenses. I think this desire to find an alternative space to improve my strategic capacity was also the need to embrace a way of thinking which was far more collaborative in nature and one which could take me as far away from Strategy as War as possible. I started losing my interest in beating the competition and all the metaphors tied into strategy as something which assumed generals on a battlefield planning the mighty overthrow. It didn't feel real anymore and was certainly not what I was seeing playing out in the markets I operated in.
Frankly, I am no longer that interested in the idea of competitors as a thing to study. Not because they don't exist but more because they come from places I am finding less likely to fathom. I believe that Executive Education is learning as a lifestyle. If I were to think about who my competitors really were, I would be more inclined to think of travel agencies offering exotic destinations or the hard choice our customers have between a homeloan or a student loan. For these are often the choices people are faced with when decided what to do with their hard earned cash and its relationship to their own personal development. I love the story about SABMiller and their realisation that their competition wasn't just Brandhouse but Vodacom because both of them were hustling for the same R20 - a prepaid voucher or a quart of beer.
Games have given me an extraordinary place to experiment. I would like to share the insights I have gained from four games I have played and unlearnt and relearnt from.
The first is Fable2. I have a particular fondness for this game because up until then I had been playing mobile games. A games console was not something I had ever considered owning and it was only after my partner and I decided that it would be amazing to play together rather than alongside one another on our phones that we bought an XBox. I genuinely believed it was something I would do intermittently to relax and never believed that it could add real value to the work that I did.
What Fable2 taught me about was the need for kindness and generosity in commercial exchange. The more of this behaviour I showed the cheaper the weapons became from traders who liked me, the more followers I could call on to help me battle all manner of dragon and rascal and the more accessible and affordable the potions became. A far cry from holding your ideas close, going it alone and screwing your competition.
Next is Dragon Age2. This taught me about the importance of Agility and the capacity to change course mid direction. As long as I was prepared to move off the well worn path and try other alternatives I would be rewarded with surprise treasures and at times rare weapons. It taught me that being adaptable wasn't being wishy washy and that it in many casees saved my life and that of my team. Here, too comaraderie played a role and the value of building trust in a team.
Lego Batman showed me that if I wasn't prepared to work with my partner that we would get nowhere. As the game doesn't allow you to move too far from one another, my partner and I had to focus on what we were trying to achieve together. It created a real trust in one another and we became sensitised to always checking whether the other party was okay or whether we needed to help them get to the place we both needed to be. This I think is an invaluable lesson for teamwork.
Final Fantasy XIII taught me about Grace in Failure and the power of persistence. So much of our fear of failing is the belief that if we make a choice that the consequences will play out for the rest of our lives. I learnt here that choices, sometimes brave choices would result in me dying but that I could always respawn. In the real world this means that the risks I take might not always play out the way I want them to but that the possibility of reinvention is a real and energising one.
To my mind, strategy is inextricably linked to leadership development. The time I have spent gaming has genuinely helped me to develop as a leader and I think as a result, a better strategist.