Marvin, chief technology officer of a large software company, shuffled cards as he explained the game to Robin and Alya, his newly hired directors of engineering. Kenneth, Marvin’s director of product, Sara, the chief marketing officer, and Donna, the chief revenue officer, were old hands at this Monday ritual and so listened without paying much attention.
“The game is Pit. It models the commodities exchanges. Where a standard deck of cards has suits of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades, this deck has suits of hay, corn, wheat, and the like. Trade one, two, or three cards at a time. All must be the identical commodity. We’re all doing this simultaneously, just as in the exchanges, so it can get a bit noisy. When you get all nine cards alike, call out ‘Pit!’ and the round is over.”
“Do the numbers on the cards mean anything?” Alya asked.
“No, because Marvin is too weeny to play for points,” Sara interjected.
“No, because Marvin grew up never playing for points and doesn’t see the point,” Marvin replied sternly, but smiling so that everyone knew he wasn’t really grumpy.
“Deal ‘em out, and let’s get this partay started!” Kenneth declared.
Play brings insight
Thirty noisy minutes and many rounds later, Marvin collected the cards and put them back in their case.
“This game is amazing,” Alya marveled. “I never ended up collecting what I thought I would. At one point, I had eight—eight—corn and yet wound up winning with hay. Unbelievable.”
“It’s always like that,” Sara confirmed.
“I don’t even try collecting what I have the most of, anymore,” Donna said. “I just assume it’s not going to be what I end up with and get rid of it first.”
“That’s rather pessimistic,” Robin teased. “I ended a round with what I started with as often as I ended with something completely different.”
“And you never knew which it would be at the start, I bet,” Kenneth asserted. Robin nodded assent.
“Well, I still try my darnedest to end up with what I start out going for,” Marvin said.
“And that’s why you always lose,” Sara and Kenneth mocked simultaneously.
“Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates,” Donna said musingly. “It just occurred to me that my career has been like a game of Pit.”
Play can end up anywhere
“How do you mean?” asked Sara.
“I started out studying architecture. Building architecture, not computer chip architecture. That took me into software, writing line of business applications for the facilities management department of a big corporation. Then I became a product manager. That led me into customer support. And the last several years, I’ve been focused on sales.”
“That sounds like my last hand of Pit,” Alya laughed. “I swear I was collecting every single suit at some point during that round.”
“Exactly. I’ve never known where my career was going.”
“My experience has been exactly the opposite,” Marvin said. “I’ve been a geek and a nerd right from the start. I double-majored in computer science and business in college. And I’ve focused on leading within technology ever since.”
“You’re proving my point,” Donna exclaimed. “You just told us that’s how you play Pit, too.”
“Remind me not to make metaphors about how I play poker,” Marvin said with a grin.
“It’s an analogy, not a metaphor,” Robin corrected. “And maybe a statistically significant one: I’ve known where my career is going about half the time, and the other half it’s been a complete surprise. Which matches my experience playing Pit today pretty well.”
“Well, then I’m the exception that proves the rule,” Sara said. “I never know where my hands in Pit will end up. But I’ve known I was a marketing genius since I won awards for my marketing campaigns growing up.”
“Awards for marketing campaigns in primary school?” Kenneth asked skeptically.
“Yep! Everyone loved my posters for the school plays and bake sales and such. They awarded me with cookies and books.”
“Those are awards I could get behind,” Donna said. “So much more useful than plaques and trophies.”
“More tasty, too,” added Kenneth.
Play incites new perspectives
“Is this the point of these Monday game breaks?” Alya asked. “To give us new perspectives?”
“Marvin will tell you the point is to get our minds off work for a bit and get to know each other as people rather than roles,” Kenneth said. “However, I’ve noticed we often end up with insights like we have today.”
Everyone turned a theatrically-questioning eye toward Marvin. He took an innocent pose and stayed mum.
“I guess we’ll never know,” Robin said. “If every Monday game break is like today, it’s my new favorite part of my week. I’m going to institute this with my team.”
Everyone turned back to Marvin, wondering whether this might break his silence on the true reason behind this practice. It didn’t and he didn’t. He did, however, bring out a spinney wheel that looked like it had come from a kid’s board game and had each of their names written around the edges.
Schedule play into your life
Marvin handed the spinney wheel to Robin, who spun. Everyone waited for it to come to a stop. “Me,” Robin said.
“That means you’re on the hook for next week’s game,” Sara explained.
“Any constraints on my choice?”
“It has to be safe for work, and playable in this room,” Kenneth said, mostly serious for once. “Otherwise, no constraints. If you bring in Hi Ho Cherry-O, that’s what we’ll play.”
“I feel like the pressure’s on to bring a game rife with metaphor. Or would that be ripe for metaphor? Both work, I guess.”
“No pressure,” Donna said. “As Kenneth said, almost anything goes.”
“Okay,” Robin said, not looking very convinced. “Maybe I’ll have my cat choose.” Everyone laughed as they gathered their things and left.