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:

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


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.