How to Use Video Games to See Patterns

Over the past few weeks, I started playing Stardew Valley –a farming life simulator (or what I would fondly call, an errand runner – where I do the tasks I SHOULD be doing in real life).

Life simulators, like Stardew Valley and the SIMS, are agreat way to see patterns that you might miss while living life.

For example, as I played Stardew Valley – it became very clear to me that I am a workaholic and, when I feel I have a bunch of stuff to do, I will neglect social relationships to get things done. I suspected I had this pattern, but it was interesting to see it in my avatar.

I also noticed that, as in life, I got much further, faster
in the game by focusing on a couple of skills for a period. In my case, during the
early game, I focused on foraging and mining. 
I de-prioritized fishing, social interaction, and much of the farming
outside of chopping down trees and scything weeds.

When I first started, I had a go at everything. This helped
me evaluate what would be the most productive area of focus.   I tried fishing – and learned that trying to
do that on a touch-pad was next to impossible. 
I socialized with the community – and found that when I was in the early
game that I didn’t have anything anyone particularly wanted.  Farming outside of chopping down trees
required coin and resources I didn’t have. 
Once I learned that I needed to get resources quickly, I focused my
attention on that – and let go of the other activities … for now.

Later in the game, other activities become more useful.  That’s the adjustment part and something that
can get neglected. It’s easy to continue doing things that worked before long
past the point the point where it stops working. It’s also easy to write off
previously difficult activities as “too hard” forever. But, as in life, you get
more skills, practice and resources. And, almost magically, what was “too hard”
before suddenly becomes easy if you just try it. 

During this Stardew Valley play-through – I hit a point
where I needed to start mastering fishing. 
I picked up a new resource (in this case, a wireless trackball mouse), found
a wiki for the game that told me where the different fish were and when they
hit, used my prior knowledge of the game map to find decent fishing spots, and
focused my attention on getting good at fishing. 

It would have been easy to drop the game, or ignore fishing
altogether. The experience would have been partial. 

Same thing with any other endeavor in life – fitness,
building a business, learning a skill. We hit mastery milestones where the
early activities don’t provide nearly the impact they did before. Our challenge
is to make the adjustments, try activities that we may have previously written
off as “too hard,” and spend some focused time getting good at those
activities. That focused time builds our skill base and tool kit. 

It’s also not simply a matter of adding on or replacing. We
integrate our prior knowledge as we build our skills.  Sometimes, the old ways work. Sometimes, we
need to go all in on a new way. Sometime, a hybrid of the two ways provides the
best result. 

Video games provide a way to externalize patterns.  What’s your favorite game? What patterns do you see as you engage with that game?


Dan and Carrie Floyd at PlayFrame introduced me to this game.  Unlike many video game play-through YouTubers, the Floyds work in the industry and point out creative and design details that your average gamer ignores. 

A Reiteration of the Importance of Safe Spaces

For real learning to occur, you have to have a safe space to practice.

To create a learning organization, the organization has to be a safe space to practice.

If you want a coaching culture, coaching interactions need to be safe spaces.

These safe spaces can’t be “separate and apart” from the day-to-day work.

Google discovered during their research into high-performing teams that the #1 most important predictor of team success was psychological safety. Is a team a safe space for risk-taking in the face of seeming incompetent, disruptive, negative or ignorant?

You can’t have your only “safe spaces” be the training room. Or the 30-minute “coaching conversation.”

If you have a culture that fears failure, is highly competitive, and has no patience for experimentation – even those “safe spaces” aren’t safe.

Most employees know this. No wonder they resist – unless you have spent months (and, often, years) proving that you can be trusted.


I’ve written about this before: Reskilling Prong 4 – Safe Space

Resources – Google’s Project Aristotle, Research on Teams

What Google Learned (NY Times)
Results: Google Project Aristotle

I have some free resources available that you may find useful. Each button will send you to a video and supporting PDF after requesting your email. Check “I would like to receive future communications” if you would also like to subscribe to my newsletter.

If you are looking for a safe space to practice new skills and you would like some help defining and creating a plan to implement important changes to the way you work or your career – go to  .

The First Step to Strengthen Your Foundations


The one thing that we can do to strengthen our foundations.

When I sleep well:

  • I make better food choices
  • I am more inclined to exercise or, if I force myself, I’m less likely to dog my workouts
  • I am better at practicing positive interpersonal skills
  • I have more resilience when things don’t go as planned
  • I have the energy to get things done
  • I feel I make better decisions overall.

I’m not alone.

In case you need the research:

Our culture, however, expects a 24/7 “always on.” attitude.  How many executives, business leaders, and other “successful” people tout how they can function on little sleep?

Sleep deprivation, however, has disastrous consequences:

The one thing that I feel will improve our working lives and make our workplaces more humane is prioritizing our personal sleep health.

And avoiding any manager who claims that they don’t need sleep.



A Plea from Your Best Employees

Dear Senior Executive / CEO:

We understand that you have tremendous pressures put on you.

And that’s just the stuff we know about.

This is a plea from us to you – the executive.  We have determined that there are 5 steps you can take to help you be a better leader and to help you retain us, as your best employees. We recommend following these recommendations in order. At least, give this a try for a quarter.

1.Take care of yourself. 

We need you to model this. We need you to understand the value of self-care at a very deep level.  We need you to be healthy.

This may be the hardest step.  We understand that there are many barriers and pressures.

But for your health and ours – please take care of yourself.  The other 4 steps won’t happen as effectively without it.

2. Be mindful as you engage with others – particularly your employees.

We are the people helping you succeed. And, if you have taken care of yourself, it will be easier for you to model the behavior that leads to an innovative and positive corporate culture.  That culture (built on the foundation of your actions and behavior) retains and attracts the employees you wish to have in your organization.

3. Deeply listen to your front-line employees.

They hold the key to your success and the success of your organization. They hold the most accurate insight about your customer. You will also find that, as you listen, you are building trust, getting more accurate information, and gaining influence – among other benefits.

4. Develop a vision that we can all get behind.

One that goes beyond making your numbers this quarter. If you follow the first three recommendations, creating that vision and having your employees get behind you in that vision will be easier because you have developed the personal and interpersonal foundation for success.  That vision will help us help you succeed.

5. Provide a framework that allows us to make decisions ourselves.

If you let us help you develop that framework, give us your support and guidance, and help to create an environment that provides some safety to make mistakes, you will have a more innovative and agile organization that will help you better serve your customers, grow your organization and provide your shareholders with consistent, longer-term returns.  By giving us the framework to make decisions, we won’t be bothering you or your direct-reports over small, day-to-day stuff. This will give you the time to do the deep work that will help move all of us forward.

We feel that your success and the success of the organization depends on you executing these 5 steps.

We want to be engaged. We want to do good work. We want to do that work towards making your compelling vision a reality.

Thanks for listening and, if you really want to try this, let us know how we can support you.


Your best employees.


Further Resources

The Spark, The Flame, and The Torch

Real Influence

Tara Brach – The Capacity for Deep Listening (8 minutes)


Toxic Cultures

“Love it, change it or leave it.”

It is, fundamentally, the situation many of us find ourselves in within our workplaces.

I’ve talked about it before.  And all you have to do is look up “employee engagement” in Google to see what is happening.

As Karen Kollenz-Qutard points out in her TedTalk – you have a fighting chance of changing your organization if you have

I’m at a point in my career where I don’t have the time or energy to bang my head against that wall if any of those three elements are missing.

We can talk all day about what is wrong and what “leaders” (read – others) should do about it.

I’m going to assume that anything that “leaders” and “others” will do is out of our control.

Furthermore, I am also going to assume that the “leaders” will not change their mind, change the way they operate, or be replaced anytime soon.  Often, the leaders are isolated from the impact of their behavior. Furthermore, keeping things status quo benefits them.

Assuming that the leaders aren’t going to change and the system we work in isn’t going to change – it means that it is up to us, individually, to make the change.

We need to take care of ourselves, even if it means removing ourselves from toxic environments.

If you are not in a position to remove yourself from the toxic environment right now – I have the following insights from my own experience:

  1. Disengage or distract yourself.  Psychopathic bosses do not deserve your energy or effort. You might as well put that energy and effort into something positive that empowers you. And in getting away ASAP. You won’t change them, no matter what your ego tells you. I learned this the hard way. Many times.
  2. Recognize the source of your insecurity.  Remember, they WANT insecure over-achievers.
  3. Spend the time getting very clear on what you want your life to look like and why. You will need that information to help you make decisions and evaluate options as you plot your next move.  (I can help you with this – click here for a free 60-minute chat).
  4. Find your tribe and be extra mindful with your colleagues, even the ones you don’t like.  Chances are, you are ALL suffering. If your leaders won’t model the behavior, you can.  Those individual interactions make all the difference.

It is imperative that, as knowledge workers, we focus our energies on creating supportive environments for ourselves and stop tolerating toxic environments.

Our health and our lives depend on it.


Donald Miller’s 40-minute interview with Dr. Lee Norton on mental health in the workplace.

Harvard Business Review: Evaluating Company Culture

First Round: Practical Frameworks for Beating Burnout

Tara Brach: The Capacity for Deep Listening (8 minutes)

Video: Experience DURING Projects

(Transcript – minus the “so….” )

There’s another consideration when planning projects that I think gets neglected quite a bit and that’s the question of what experience do you want to have during the project?

We get fixated on the destination, what will get fixed, and on why we want to do what we want to do at the end of it all.

I invite you to consider what you want the experience to be like during the process.

Is it an exercise in how fast can we do this thing? Which is great. It’s good to at least make sure that that’s clear now.

Or …is it potentially an exercise in how do we improve our teamwork?

Is it potentially an exercise in what do we want to learn during this process?

Is this an exercise in observation?

Now all of them are valid, but I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we’re just focused on the end game and not at least considering what the process is going to look like. Hope that helps.

Much of the conversation around the “employee experience” has been around the greater organizational environment.  Deloitte has been doing some great work in this space.

I think there is value in doing the same thing, but smaller – within the individual work teams and projects.

Though we interact with the greater culture, the bulk of the day-to-day is housed within the work teams, projects, and operational activities.

Let me know if you want to chat about this further.



How to Evaluate Lessons Learned

A while back, I did a series on using historical methodology during project initiation and planning.

The steps I use during analysis can be found in the posts below:

I Love Documents

The Benefits of Historical Methodology

Document Analysis

Synthesis – or Finding Trends

Individual Interviews

Observing Behavior

Using What You Learned in Your Project

During my final analysis, I focus on two areas:

  • People –  Who gets along with whom, the stakeholder RACI matrix (both what the stakeholder says they want AND their behavior when faced with a similar project), and any cultural norms that will impact how the project is run and the chances of project success.
  • Processes – Where does scope creep tend to occur (and from where)? How accurate were the time and cost estimates on similar projects?  Is there a pattern of schedule and cost over-runs at the organization across ALL projects?  Do you see any causation trends – Unrealistic expectations? The same 5 people being put on ALL projects? Lack of organizational focus? Add your favorite to this list.

Most project managers focus on process issues and lessons learned when they do their project planning preparation.

I would argue that cultural analysis, and getting a solid read on the culture around the project will have an even more powerful impact on the success or failure of your project.  I’ve seen too many projects fail because of people-issues, despite planning, careful controls, or even well-run Agile methodologies.

  • Misunderstandings
  • Lack of clarity around roles
  • Lack of clarity around why you are doing this project in the first place
  • Lack of trust
  • Unclear acceptance criteria
  • Political games – at all levels
  • Unclear priorities
  • Overworked individuals pulled in too many directions by management – usually your most competent people
  • Misaligned rewards
  • Disengaged (or actively hostile) leadership
  • Add your favorite people issue here…

Take some time to discern the historical and current state of the people and culture and how people-issues can potentially impact your project’s chances of success.

Despite assurances to the contrary, these issues will pop up during your project whether the individuals involved mean to or not. Old habits die hard.


#52books The End of Power

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#52 Books – The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be

Format: Softcover

It’s not really the END of power. More the end of the effectiveness of a type of power that prioritizes scale and concentration.

Moises Naim has had a front-row seat to this transition, between his tenure as Venezuela’s trade minister, serving as editor-in-chief for Foreign Policy magazine, time as an executive director at the World Bank, and his scholastic work with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He sees three big trends that change the way power is held:

  • More – “When people are more numerous and living fuller lives, they become more difficult to regiment and control.”
  • Mobility – These people move around a lot more and have access to faster, less costly ways of moving information, money, and values.
  • Mentality – As a result, people’s expectations have changed as they see the possibility for more prosperity, freedom, and personal fulfillment and start demanding changes.

As a result, Naim argues:

  • Automatic deference to authority can no longer be assumed since jurisdictions are now porous and the populace is more numerous, healthier, and better informed.
  • Moral claims and dogma are challenged and universal values begin to take precedence.
  • There is a growing awareness of alternatives and ability and propensity to switch
  • Niches become profitable
  • The incentives to accept the status quo become weaker and the cost of loyalty increases.

The bulk of the book further details how this works in various areas: business, religion, politics, and the military get particular focus.

Naim also speaks to the ever-increasing amount of information and the growing challenge to filter and sort that information.

Essentially, power (as we traditionally understood it) is decaying, spreading, and becoming more ephemeral.  Naim is of two minds about this trend. On the one hand, “The undeniably positive consequences of the decay of power include freer societies, more elections and options for voters, new platforms for organizing communities, more ideas and possibilities, more investment and trade, and…more options for consumers.” On the other, Naim fears that these trends have “simultaneously made our problems bigger and more complex and weakened our mechanisms for addressing them.”

Ultimately, he seems to want the old forms of power back.  He fears disorder, alienation, impatience, de-skilling and loss of knowledge (because, Naim argues, no small firm can match large internal R&D), and the banalization of social movements (because we can “participate” with just a click of a mouse).

Naim’s solutions to mitigate the risks involved in this new de-centralization of power include:

  • Stop ranking each other. Focus on interdependence.
  • Be on the lookout for the “terrible simplifiers.” We need to be skeptical of those who loudly offer “easy” solutions.
  • “Bring Trust Back” Naim sees this as changing the way political parties organize and operate and in how they screen, monitor, hold accountable and promote/demote their leaders.


Personally – I see this as a pattern throughout. Are you trustworthy? Is your organization (no matter what type) promoting the trustworthy?

I was a little disappointed to see that he concludes his book by focusing on strengthening the political parties and political system.  Naim, maybe inadvertently, spoke to a much larger move towards networked, agile societies that rely on collaboration and interdependence to thrive.  I’m not so sure he meant to do that.  I would have liked to see a more robust discussion of ways to work with the More, Movement and Mentality revolutions he identified.

My sense is that he sees this re-defintion of power and how it works as a bad thing. Naim at least made a go at providing “solutions” to what may not necessarily be problems.  If nothing else, it starts the conversation around how best to maneuver in this new world.