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Tech & Work

10 lessons from video gaming that have helped my career

Mark Kaelin has been playing video games since the 1970s. Despite the typical gamer stereotype, he thinks gaming can teach some important career skills.

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I have been playing computer video games for more than 30 years now—it is one of my favorite hobbies. The interesting thing about playing games for so long is that through games I have trained my brain to process complex, sometimes seemingly unrelated data into actionable information—a skill that has proven invaluable for my career.

As Steve Johnson explained in Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, playing games provides tools needed for a successful career in information technology. Along the way, games have also taught me many lessons about life, work, and problem solving. Here are 10 things I learned from being a gamer all these years.

1: There is no such thing as it can't be done

At one point or another in our interactions with colleagues within an enterprise we have all heard the dreaded phrase: "It can't be done!" Of course, this is a lie because anything can be done. If games teach us anything, it is that anything is possible.

What the "can't be done" crowd is really saying is "We have never done it that way before so we are reluctant to try something new." As a seasoned gamer, I know that attitude is a recipe for failure. The real question is not "can" something be done, but rather "should" it be done.

2: The obvious solution is not always the best solution

When solving a problem, there is often an obvious, safe, and conventional solution. I remember an old saying in IT: No one ever lost their job by buying equipment from IBM. But that doesn't mean the safe answer is always the best answer. Sometimes you have to take a chance on the unconventional answer, on the answer that requires a certain amount of risk. Whether it is a computer game or the game of life, the riskier solution is often the most rewarding.

3: You should observe before you act

This lesson may seem counter to the previous one, but they go hand in hand. Choosing a solution with more risk is advisable only after you have taken the time to observe and study the possible outcomes. Bad things happen when you act impulsively. Taking time to contemplate all the potential outcomes allows you to make informed decisions that have predictable outcomes. Taking risks is important, but they should always be calculated risks.

4: Sometimes it is better to say nothing

Often when playing a role-playing game there is an option to say nothing as another character goes on a rant. In fact, saying nothing is often the best option. This is true in the enterprise environment as well.

Letting your boss or your coworker blow off steam without any input, encouragement, or discouragement from you can be your best choice. In many cases there is no reason for you to insert yourself into the situation. Your wisest choice is to observe, listen, and let it play out.

5: It's important to pick your battles

Just like in a game world, in the enterprise environment part of your worth is measured in your reputation with your colleagues. You spend time and effort every day building up a rapport with the people your work with. This goodwill should be spent only on important battles within the organization.

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Realizing that some battles can't be won and that other battles are not worth fighting in the first place can help you preserve your goodwill for later, more meaningful battles. Swallow your pride and pick your battles wisely.

6: It's best to stay true to your character

One of the first choices you have to make in a role-playing game is how your character will present itself to the world. Will you be a hero with noble intentions of righting wrongs or will you be a brooding anti-hero who solves problems with noticeable indifference?

Working in an enterprise also requires you to decide how you will interact with your colleagues. In the long term, the choices you make for the enterprise should reflect your true personality. If you are the helpful type, you should be true to your character and be helpful. However, if your personality is a bit prickly, you might have to adopt a more appropriate role within the organization—a role that matches your natural predilections.

7: A strategic plan will help guide your decisions

When you play a game there is almost always an overarching storyline, quest, or goal. All the smaller storylines, quests, and goals you encounter along the way are there to move you toward that ultimate goal. There is always a strategic plan.

Enterprises also have overarching strategic plans. All the decisions you make in an enterprise, no matter your level within the organization, should be made with that strategic plan in mind. It doesn't matter whether you are in charge of buying staples or buying billion dollar pieces of equipment—you should always make decisions based on the strategic plan.

8: A tactical plan will help get things done

While keeping the strategic plan in mind is all well and good, actually getting something done requires a tactical plan. When we talk about teamwork and collaboration in the enterprise we are really talking about the implementation of a tactical plan.

By forming a tactical plan, everyone knows what is expected of them, and more important, what is expected of everyone else. The key to any plan is that everyone involved accomplishes their assigned task. Creating a workable tactical plan is the bedrock for getting things done whether in a game or in an enterprise.

9: Plans never survive intact

This lesson tends to cause tremendous amounts of frustration for many gamers and enterprise employees alike. Simply put: No plan, no matter how well thought out, will survive its implementation intact. This is probably the most difficult lesson to accept.

As your tactical or strategic plan is implemented, facts and circumstances are going to change. Results that seemed self-evident at the start will fail to materialize and events that seemed impossible during planning will take place like they were always meant to be. This is how life (and games) works and you must learn to prepare for it and embrace it.

10. Having fun is essential

The last lesson is a follow up to the previous one. Life is going to throw you a curve ball from time to time. There will be obstacles to overcome, there will be hardships, and there will be moments of frustration, but you must keep your perspective. You can't take yourself too seriously.

All these obstacles are what make the game interesting. It doesn't matter whether the game is on your computer or not. Life, real or imagined, is unpredictable. Overcoming life's twist and turns is what makes it engaging. That is the fun part.

Your thoughts

Do you agree that these gaming lessons map to the real world and to your work environment? Share your opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.

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About

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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