After Hours

Improve critical skills through gaming


I have written numerous times in my blogs about critical skills that managers need to be successful and to enhance their careers (see Soft skills in a hard world). In these blogs I often talk about obtaining these skills through traditional methods such as studying and practicing. While this may work for a section of the population, there are those who learn better through non-traditional methods.

The most critical skill in my opinion for a manager is the ability to communicate. The majority of managers communicate through writing and speaking. Both of these skills depend heavily on vocabulary. Enhancing one's vocabulary is one way to strengthen communication skills. So how do we do that and have fun at the same time? Play a word game of course!

One of my favorite games growing up was the "Word Power" pages in Reader's Digest. These pages are still available in Readers Digest, but we're tech folks right? We don't need paper! <grin> No worries, you can enhance your word power on line with Readers Digest Super Word Power. Spend some time playing the game and you'll increase your vocabulary.

Another source of vocabulary games is Sheppard Software. They have a variety of vocabulary games for all levels. For adults, the ones designed to improve your SAT/GRE scores would be better - these are geared more towards the words you will find in the workplace and in management. Another way to improve vocabulary is through the daily newspaper - crossword puzzles. That's another way of passing time while improving yourself without realizing it.

Besides vocabulary, grammar is another important building block in our ability to communicate. The BBC comes through for us here with the Skillwise section on their website. This site is an excellent starting point for improving all areas of written communication. It's worth a look.

Besides being able to communicate, a manager/leader must have critical thinking skills. One way to improve these skills is through logic problems/puzzles. Again, revealing my age, I used to get these types of books at the supermarket in the checkout aisle. They were packed full of logic problems and their answers and you could spend days and weeks figuring them all out. I think these are still available but you may have to find them in your drug store or bookstore. If you don't want print, here are a few electronic links that will get you some logic exercise for your brain:

Brainden.com

Puzzles.com

Then there is speech or speaking. For this, I have a game of sorts but it can't be played online. The only requirement to play is that you need another human being that will play along with you. It's pretty simple conceptually but harder to do than you think. Take a topic, ideally IT-related, and explain it to a non-IT person. Here are the rules:

(1) You have to be able to explain the entire topic in 10 minutes or less.

(2) You must try to avoid jargon and technical terms. If must use them, you have to explain them.

(3) You have to explain to the person you are talking to why the topic is important, why he should care, and convince him to take some kind of action.

(4) You can't use visuals of any kind and you must not stutter, stop, get noticeably frustrated, raise your voice or come across in a condescending manner. This game will prepare you for those moments (I had one of these two weeks ago) when a senior executive calls you out in a staff meeting and asks you to explain your complex data conversion project in two minutes and tell him or her why it's important to the organization and to the legislature. I failed miserably - note to self - don't doodle and day dream in staff meetings.

Understanding strategic business concepts is important to anyone in IT who needs to understand the enterprise as a whole. Many IT managers are often confined to the world of IT and have little knowledge of how the rest of the business works. Therefore, having at least a basic concept of business strategy gives one a better sense of how the enterprise and business operates. I used to play a game many eons ago called the Harvard Business Simulator. I doubt that it's still available (this was pre-Windows) but I think I have found some new on line equivalents:

Business Strategy Games

Industry Player.com

The Business Strategy Game

I am still a big proponent of reading and believe it's becoming a lost art. Therefore, I recommend that you have The Elements of Style and What NOT to Say! as part of your library and that you make some critical reading (not the newspaper but something written at a higher grade level) part of your weekly ritual. In the meantime, spending some time with the games I suggested above will provide you with some self-improvement opportunities that aren't dumbed down and are fun at the same time.

7 comments
Jeff_B
Jeff_B

I played the Business Strategy Game but found it was undermined by kids in the class using guides like winbsgonline.com.  A whole lot of controversy in our class formed around it. Especially, because these guides teach you the way to think... they don't just give you predesignated answers.  People aren't required to use the decision making skills that this article suggests.... they just need to read the cheat sheets. These games might increase your decision making skills in a vacuum... but realistically don't. Instead, they just incentivize students to get ahead because of heavy competition. 

Histrion2
Histrion2

Toni: Who's the author of "What NOT to Say?" There appears to be more than one book by that title.

Fredz
Fredz

Yes, a good article. I would add joinging a Toastmasters club to get your main topic down to 5-7 minutes and actually have people who will support you while you are learning. In addition, games like Halo, require you to think tactically and be prepared for various scenarios depending on how well prepared you are. In Toastmasters, you learn how to be prepared by practicing, just like any sport, before you have to communicate with your boss or group.

casey
casey

While I agree with the authors basic premise, an essential element is missing from the piece - the audience. One can improve their vocabulary and logic skills to beyond the PhD level, but failing to adjust your delivery and message to match your audience will doom your presentation every time. Reference-wise, I've found On Writing Well by William Zinsser to an easier (and more grounded) read than Elements of Style. I'd also recommend How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds - or Less by Milo Frank and William Ury's books on negotiation - Getting to Yes and Getting Past No as excellent primers on effective communication.

djl4fzw
djl4fzw

It's a Scrabble-like card game. With each round, you have a different number of cards with which to make words. Your strategy gradually changes with each hand.

Inky960
Inky960

I agree with what you're saying here. However, I think the emphasis should be on reading, reading, reading. Novels, newspapers, IT-related stuff, software manuals, short stories, EVERYTHING! This is how you *really* increase your vocabulary and become comfortable with higher levels of the language. Read and write. Games and flashcards, all these things are part of it, but they take the words out of context too often. When you read, and then especially when you WRITE, you can force yourself to use the language at higher and higher levels. I also agree with you that (so sadly) reading, and especially writing, have become things that this generation believes it can get by without. And I agree that these mighty things will for a while be lost. But I think they'll come back out of necessity, because there's no satisfactory replacement for them. Their absences will be the sorest of thumbs. And somewhere, perhaps twenty-five years from now, educators will be in the business of re-acquainting youngsters with those simple old things called books, and paper, and pencils. Finally, I think that "communication" is a skill acquired through emulation and practice. Having a large vocabulary doesn't hurt, but it isn't absolutely necessary. Ernest Hemingway said, in all his writings, just about everything one can say about human beings. But his vocabulary was that of a fourth grader. Of course, when we talk about IT matters, we need that terminology; but knowing the meaning of "insouciant" probably won't help all that much. If we've mastered the basic vocabulary, plus the IT lingo, and can use it all for clear communication, we're far ahead of most.

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