Change The Rules

I’m a pretty big geek. One of the geeky hobbies I enjoy is board gaming; we’re in a tremendous time for people who love complicated, elaborate board games. Growing up I’d always play anything with a board & pieces that anyone would put in front of me, from chess to Scrabble. If that represents the extent of your familiarity with the genre, let me assure you – board game culture runs deep, and it’s a lot of fun.

I’m a big enough geek about board games that I often do more than just play the finished product; I seek out discussion forums, read play-testing material, and watch interviews with designers. Not only is it solid entertainment for me, but there’s a surprising amount of insight that’s applicable to the business world.

One particular lesson that I found interesting is about when to just give up on a certain rule. The wisdom goes like this: if you’re testing a game (and these games go through hundreds if not thousands of hours of testing) and the majority of your players forget, ignore, or break a particular rule – get rid of it. The answer isn’t to try to reinforce the rule in some other way or to write it in a bigger font in the instructions. It’s to discard it entirely. Let the natural actions of your demographic shape your structure when you can; don’t fight against it.

It reminds me of a story I heard about the parks department in some Swedish town. Every time it snowed, they’d go out to their parks and make maps of where the footprints in the snow crossing the park were. Then, the next time they needed to add walkways, that’s where they would add them.

Otherwise you end up with this:

Desire Paths For Fabric - Mods - Minecraft - CurseForge

That lesson is hugely transferable to most businesses. If you’re trying to get a group of people to act a certain way – maybe your customers, perhaps your employees, etc. – and they simply won’t stay in the lines you’ve drawn? Redraw the lines around where they are.

If you sell a three-pack of e-books but you field a dozen calls or emails a day from people asking if they can just buy book #2, then figure out the price of book #2 and sell it alone. (Or, even better, sell Book #2 at the same price as before, but include Books #1 and #3 for ‘free’ with it. Nothing changes, but your marketing better matches your customer demographic – you’ve redrawn the lines.) Either way, don’t just fight the tide.

Remember that the end result you want is more important than the structure that leads you there. KPIs are only as good as the progress they enable towards a goal, but I’ve had more than one manager who loudly proclaimed that we were successfully hitting every KPI even as the ship was sinking. If the rules structure is working against the goals, it’s the rules that have to give.

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