A month ago, I found myself at the dinner table asking my son for the fourth or fifth time to put down his electronic device and join the family for dinner. He explained that he was busy with Clash of Clans -- one of the latest in a series of addictive games available on iTunes that involves creating a village, developing warriors and defenses, and battling with other players. He also begged to be able to continue his current battle before joining us for dinner, asserting that he was learning valuable lessons for a future career in business and life.
Confronted with my deep skepticism, my son challenged me to take a week to see for myself whether the game offered any value. As a competitive former litigator and current challenge-seeking entrepreneur with a secret appreciation for video games, I reluctantly agreed and began building my own Clash of Clans village. What I found was that, in fact, the game offers a few useful lessons for leaders within the business world.
1. Invest in your people to build a strong team. The central mission of Clash of Clans is to build a strong village that houses a powerful army that can both defend itself and conquer other villages. To do so, you must harvest resources to build different kinds of buildings and, ultimately, train an army. Once your army is powerful enough, you can begin battling with others. As I began harvesting resources and building various structures, I quickly got the itch to do battle. So, I threw together a rag-tag army of soldiers and sent them off to fight another village with little thought or preparation.
As my son will happily tell you, I was a horrible failure in battle. I had invested far too little in my army, and they were ill prepared to do battle. A much better strategy in the game would have been to take my time gathering additional resources to invest in my army, to increase their strength and skill and improve their odds of success. The same strategy is critical in business, and many of us in roles of business leadership forget the importance of investing in training and the materials necessary to improve the odds of success. No amount of investment guarantees that you will win in battle or in business, but developing your team generally cannot hurt.
2. Team up with good partners. Once your village is sufficiently mature, you have the option to join a clan that comprises villages managed by other players. As a clan, you can then find other clans to battle and thereby collaboratively pursue greater riches for all of the members of your clan. Once my village had a large enough army and sufficient defenses, I joined a clan managed by one of my son's friends. As the oldest member of the clan by at least 30 years, I assumed that my own battle preparation and strategy would assure victory for the entire clan in our first official clan war, and I would be crowned Clan King, as well as coolest dad in the neighborhood. I was mistaken.
My lack of experience and some poor in-battle decisions led to a miserable failure of my village during the clan war. I watched in deep shame and frustration as a horde of barbarians battled through the walls of my village and started stealing all of my gold and other resources. But as it turned out, my son's friends are quite the underrated squad of brilliant clan war strategists. And despite my appalling display of battlefield incompetence, we won the war handily. I was both deeply grateful for my clan's help in bailing me out, as well as inspired to a better job in the next battle.
In business, as in Clash of Clans, having the right team can make all the difference. Even the best and brightest business people have an off day (or month or year), and having a team of capable colleagues not only helps to share the load but provides a motivating force to push you to be better. And while you can't always choose your colleagues, spending time thinking through whom you want on your corporate team -- who can help you pick up the slack and keep you motivated to push your own limits of success -- is generally time well spent.
3. Pursue balanced growth. As I began nearing the end of my first week of Clash of Clans, our clan continued to thrive, and my own village steadily improved. My army was getting stronger, my buildings were increasing in number and size, and I quickly became emboldened by my growing stature within the Clash of Clans community. I had arrived, and it was time to flex my Clash of Clans muscle. I abandoned slow and steady improvement in all of the elements of my village and began dumping all of my resources into my army, attacking several villages a day and neglecting my village infrastructure.
Initially, I had quite a bit of success. I trounced several opponents in glorious fashion, and the game rewarded me with access to an increasingly tougher series of opponents, whom I remained able to attack and defeat, but with more difficulty each time. However, what I failed to recognize was that as the strength of the villages I attacked increased, so too did the strength of the villages permitted to attack me. It did not take long for stronger villages to begin invading my village, and I soon made a troubling discovery. In my haste to build a powerful army, I had left my village with a woefully inadequate defense. And so while I was having some success on offense, I was being slaughtered on defense, and the net impact on my status was decidedly negative.
This lesson from Clash of Clans is an important one in the business world, as well. Like a Clash of Clans village, a business is a complex entity with multiple elements that require attention. Putting all of your attention into one and neglecting the others is a recipe for failure. For example, as any salesperson will tell you, a great sales effort is nothing without the ability to deliver a quality product or service. Pursuing growth in a measured way that keeps the elements of a business in balance can help minimize major disruptions and increase the likelihood that the business stays on the intended course.
While playing Clash of Clans may not give you all of the skills that you will need for success in business, it certainly offers a few lessons that translate well for anyone in a position of corporate leadership. As my son can now tell you, investing in your people, teaming up with good partners, and pursuing a balanced approach to growth can make life easier in business, as in Clash of Clans. However, it is also important to make time for dinner, which is one lesson that I'll likely need to teach my son myself.