Leadership Lessons From "Dungeons & Dragons"
The first time I played "Dungeons & Dragons" (D&D), I hated it. My friend Ben, the so-called "dungeon master," and I sat at a round table in the back of our fourth-grade classroom. Young Ben described a world worthy of Tolkien. Then he articulated my place in it. "You're in a dark cave. You have no weapons, and you're surrounded by Orcs," he said.
After we discussed my options, he gave me a 20-sided die (singular of dice) to roll. I forget what I rolled. But the result was bad. "You're slain," he said. "But you can resurrect yourself."
While I never quite "got" D&D, thousands of people still offer praise for the decades-old game. D&D turned 40 years old earlier this week with a decided amount of fan fare. For entrepreneurs, D&D has long been a favorite pastime, providing reified conditions in which they can create, build, and problem-solve.
I hated D&D because Ben, the dungeon master, controlled the outcomes. All I saw and felt was a lame, real-time version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I was too young to see how a game like this could provide an escape, not to mention an overall metaphor for perseverance.
1. In our digital, device-driven world, don't underestimate the value of pencil, paper, and conversation. Especially in its early days, D&D was a talking game. The tools involved were dice, graph paper, maps, and pencils. These analog tools can help you in business, too. For HubSpot's UX division, for example, pens, post-it notes, markers and whiteboards are an essential part of the way ideas get illustrated, captured, and ultimately shared and revised.
Going analog for a bit--and giving your devices a rest--can also help you tap into a different, resourceful, creative part of your brain. "We spend so much of our time tethered to devices and screens looking at visual representations of things," says Gilsdorf. "I think we need a break. D&D lets us imagine, lets our minds wander, lets us focus on a creative space that has not yet been co-opted by Apple or Microsoft or Google or any of the other elements of the corporate technological complex that we live in. And for that reason, it's a really sacred space."
2. There is no end. There is just the continuing story, the next adventure. Every leader and small business owner knows what I didn't grasp as a fourth-grader: The dirty little life secret that hard work toward a larger goal tends to beget only more hard work.
This is actually a sign of progress, rather than something to chafe at. In the big-picture of an organization's life story, seldom is "mission accomplished" an applicable phrase. It's more accurate to say that the mission continues or evolves. Milestones are just that: You pass them, then try to reach the next one.