Leadership: Apps, Games and Punishment

I play solitaire.  A lot.

I play when I'm on planes, trains and automobiles (not when I'm driving, I promise).  I play when I'm listening to music.  Or podcasts.  Or television shows (which somehow come out better as radio than television).

It's a distraction, yes - but more than that, it's a thinking mechanism.  It gives me space to let my brain do what it wants and needs to do while I'm doing other things.  Or, at least, as I let myself pretend I am - because I know full well exactly why I'm playing.

To think.  To ponder.  To determine what's next and how I'm going to get there.

Only, just the other day, I found out that built into my free little app (I recommend the Solebon Solitaire game apps from the iTunes App Store very highly) is a punishment tool.  Yes, I'm being punished.

And it's the game designers' fault.  Please allow me to explain.

One of the capabilities in the game allows players to undo a move.  Now, depending upon how sensitive your screen is or the size of your fingers, you may need to do this simply because the game did something you didn't want it to do.

Or, because the capability is there and you realize that you could have made a better move had you played it differently, you hit the "undo" button and there you have it.  A fix!

Granted, if I were playing with a deck of cards, that would be absolutely wrong.  Unacceptable.  Never to be considered.

But if you're playing on the app version and they give you that capability, why not?

Ah, because you're going to be punished.  Just a slap.  A little "reminder" - but punishment, nonetheless.

It occurs when you check your stats (another handy-dandy button they provide).  As you win each game, a counter tells you how many you've won.  When I got to my first hundred, I thought, "Okay, this is interesting.  I'm a stats sort of person.  Let's see what else it can tell me about my wins."

So I hit the Epsilon and it told me all sorts of interesting things.  It told me my percentage of games won versus played (that part was okay), the average time of my games, etc. - but then it had that extra little line entitled "Wins Without Undo."

There it was.  The slap.  The congratulations on the one hand with the seemingly gentle reminder, on the other, that I couldn't have done it without breaking the rules.

Because, as stated above, if I was playing with an actual, physical deck of cards, I wouldn't have done those undos.

And this is where the leadership lesson comes in.

Your people are doing amazing things every day.  They work in a system (as do you) that was created at some other time (whether last week or last century) that was built for a purpose that was understood at that time.  With operating instructions to match.

Even if yours is the most high tech, innovative organization in the universe, you have a history with policies, procedures and operating instructions that were built using the best information - and the most necessary emergency reactions - that was available.  Then.

And the organization built on it.  Piece by piece.  Decision by decision.  Procedure by procedure.

All of which is the miasma within which you and your people operate every day.

The fact is, in far too many cases, organizational systems are designed to fail.  But the good news, as a result, is that your people are performing miracles every day making their way through that history and wading through the muck that is that miasma of all the decisions of the past.

Your employees give you a higher ROI every day than even you know - because they know all the obstacles they encounter and workarounds they use to conquer them.

Then there comes a moment when some management type says, "You can't do that.  That's not allowed."

There's the slap.  It doesn't matter that what they did was because of your systems.  (Think the "Undo" function and finger size.)  No matter how gently the slap is given, that's the end of that employee's commitment to finding ways to fix your organization and do what you need done.

The happy part about leadership is big picture.  Everyone wants to be what is known in the business as a "big idea / big concept" person.  That way, all the little deets that take up so much time can be overlooked and left to someone else.

In fact, that's what you're counting on.  At least that's what you're counting on if you're getting it wrong.

Because if, while you're playing strategy and vision and competitive landscape, you have people in your organization who are, with all the strength of the historically correct and rarely updated procedures manual at hand (for which read, bureaucrat par excellence) telling your folks to stop doing the things that are making your organization a success, you've got a much bigger problem on your hands than what your vision is.

Your problem is that you're not going to be able to execute and deliver on it.

So, in your role as leader, make time - all the time - to help train and mentor your people at all levels to contribute their ideas.  Get them out on the table.  Talk about them.  Discuss their trajectory, consequences and potential.  Consider the organizational context.  Make sure you've got adequate measures in place.  Try things.  All the time.  New things.  Old things.  Things.

Save the slaps for those who really are hurting the organization...including, very often, those bureaucrats who muck up the works and create obstacles of their own to your and your organization's success.

Then you can safely go back to the big picture - knowing you're good to go on executing and delivering it.

And, if I may, I recommend you play Solitaire while you're figuring out what, exactly, that beautiful, successful picture is.