Game on: Playing to win big

As we enter week two of the National Football League season, how many sports analogies tied to winning in business can you think of? Thanks in large part to the late, great coach Vince Lombardi there are numerous catch phrases we can note.

“If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?”

As we enter week two of the National Football League season, how many sports analogies tied to winning in business can you think of? Thanks in large part to the late, great coach Vince Lombardi there are numerous catch phrases we can note. 

But, too often our thoughts about winning or even “playing the game” in business conjure fears of being blindsided, disadvantaged, or even worse – left out of the game altogether. In work, we sometimes feel that we're participating in a game where the rules are hidden – a game where the deck is predetermined and stacked against us. 

Imagine yourself in a workplace where the game theme is “Survivor: PR” or in a relationship where each day seems to be a painful surprise. It's hard to thrive in those environments. Over time, we lose ourselves as we become steeled for workplace Hunger Games. When that mindset becomes the operational culture, and CYA reaction reigns, ethical compasses need recalibrating. However, when the rules are clear and the objectives agreed, games are wonderful pastimes that hone collaboration skills and lead to productive solutions. Game-rule transparency can set in motion opportunities for great shared experiences and group outcomes. 

Throughout my career, I reflect on the recipe for delivering outstanding results for clients. It's a combination of ideas, strategy, strong execution (a bit of luck), and leaders who create an environment where all the players – legal, policy, PR, marketing, and regulatory – feel they are on the same team. Their competitor is the challenge – not each other! 

I have enjoyed working 10 years now at a firm with a clear mission: “To help clients win.” How does that happen? The key is creating an environment where every member of our staff understands the important role he or she plays in helping our clients win. In our business, when our clients win, we win. Together. To enable individuals to outperform collectively, we have to create an environment that allows them to thrive. 

Again to the analogies, it's not unlike playing team sports or even video games for that matter. 

In fact, one of my great clients, who has been a corner-office executive at a number of global pharmaceutical companies, recently sent me a great read. It is a book on gaming titled, “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.” Author and frequent TV guest Dr. Jane McGonigal, seen here in a lighter interview with Stephen Colbert, serves as the director of games research and development at the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research group in Palo Alto, CA. While her long-term aspiration is to make game development a Nobel Prize-level endeavor, there is a short-term practical side to her work – to help us collaborate effectively, stay motivated, be optimistic, and remain resilient in the face of failure.

Tapping into how we react emotionally, intellectually, and intuitively, game designers find ways to make sure we are engaged and happy. Facebook added games to engage users who then began to reach out to their “friends” to join in the virtual engagement. 

Then why do people opt out, leave the game, or surrender to epic failure? During my three decades as part of the PR community, I've distilled that disappointment to three core reasons:  (1) The rules of play are unclear; (2) the coach (leader) doesn't enable fair play among the participants; and (3) the player fails to persevere and think long-term. 

Too often in professional endeavors we are playing against each other – for a better office (or cube), to have our ideas saluted, or to score the next promotion. However, the best leaders know how to use games to inspire and to teach colleagues that winning is everything and how you play the game matters. I believe aside from all the bravado he's famous for, Vince Lombardi understood collaboration and it's why he never had a losing season as a head coach in the NFL. 

Certainly, professionals have challenges and obstacles on the path to success – the complexity of people's emotions and institutional process to consider – that make public relations a thrilling and meaningful sport. Just as in games – whether on the field virtually or in reality – every day we answer the call of potential epic victories that are so often lacking in other disciplines.

As Albert Einstein said, “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”

Gil Bashe is EVP at Makovsky, where he leads the Makovsky Health practice. Follow him on Twitter @gil_bashe or email

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