You've likely heard it before, the poker/business metaphor. Business (especially entrepreneurship) is like playing poker.

You know--it's a gamble, you need to know how and who to bluff, when to hold your cards close, and your success is measured by how much money (or how many chips) you have at the end of the game.

There's more to it than that, of course, and many business owners and entrepreneurs swear by the belief that poker skills translate to boardroom skills. Certainly there are parallels between the two, such as learning to calculate risk, dealing with pressure, adapting to strong personalities, and more.

When you sit in a poker game, you end up finding yourself using a lot of the same skill sets in both situations -- anticipating moves and playing cards perfectly without giving away your hand.

Clearly the metaphor is apt: playing poker is a stratagem that can help you in business. But what if you're not into poker, or can't sit for hours at a time building those strategy skills? Well, there are other ways of using games to learn strategy and more.

Playing Games

What small business owner or start-up entrepreneur has time for playing games, right?

Well, it turns out playing games are good for keeping both mind and business skills sharp--including brain games.

According to Scientific American, it's pretty simple: Brain games exercise the brain performance and enhance intelligence.

Do brain and video based games improve cognition? Research says yes. And improve business-savvy skills? Yes. Recent studies show people who play action-based video games make accurate decisions 25 percent faster.

Strategy games

Martin Reeves is a co-author of the book, Your Strategy Needs a Strategy, and Georg Wittenburg created a companion game and app designed to act as a hands-on learning tool for business execs to choose and execute strategy approaches.

They say it is "unfortunate" that more business leaders don't use games to improve their own strategy skills, and further, don't implement them as tools to teach others.

Games bring something to the table that books and coaching and mentoring cannot: interactivity and scalability. They also appeal to digital native generations who are much more likely to engage in and appreciate sophisticated apps and experiences.

Don't despair if you'd rather not go to the poker table or internet for your strategy games.

The Technorati of Silicon Valley revere the German board game The Settlers of Catan because it so closely approximates real-world entrepreneurial strategy. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman is such a fan he created his own version called The Startups of Silicon Valley.

Whether you play it on the coffee table or online, The Settlers of Catan can shed insight on planning and strategy. Lessons like how to quickly analyze the data (the board changes every time you play) and neutralizing your opposition early are effective strategies to take back to the office.

Business simulation games

Business simulation games are hot, and they come and go quickly, but the good ones stick around.

One of the stickiest is the Capitalism series, which launched in 1995 and morphed through several versions. The most popular, Capitalism II, was updated to Capitalism Lab in 2012.

While avid game players have called it boring because of its depth and complexity, many educators use it as course tool and Business Week said, "It can be a fun and useful exercise for anyone who wants to test their entrepreneurial mettle, without, for once, taking any risk."

Simulation games exist for practically every interest, from stock trading to real estate to retail and restaurant operation. Play them--without risk--on your desktop, or your tablet, or your phone.

You can found a corporation, build your own city, and manage a theme park. You an even become a hipster start-up CEO or grow a microbrewery.

And you can play alone, or all over the world. Virtonomics is an online business game that allows you to play with millions of others eager to share their experience. They're all building and managing start-ups in various industries, in an open world with endless scenarios. It's free, too.

So take a break, find a game, and do a little work that won't make you feel guilty about taking a break.

Published on: Sep 14, 2016