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Five things I have learnt about running my business
by playing Space Invaders

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I overthink.  On top of over-thinking, I also have lots of ideas.  So, then I have lots of things to overthink about.  It can be overwhelming and is not conducive to getting things done in your business.  I downloaded a classic Space Invaders game to my phone so that I could distract myself with the mindless game-play when time, location or weather meant that wandering aimlessly outside with the dog wasn’t an option.


Space Invaders has become almost meditative to me.  The retro-familiarity is comforting – harking back to my worry-free 80’s childhood, and I have to clear my mind if I’m going to beat my personal high score.  It has also taught me, or reinforced, some simple lessons about running a business more effectively.

1.  Focus on the task in hand
If I concentrate on simply clearing each wave of invading aliens without being shot, I do well.  Anytime I allow random thoughts, phone calls, conversations or email alerts to distract me I invariably get shot.  I either don’t achieve my target score or take multiple attempts, and much longer, to get there.

2.  Stick to your system
Anybody familiar with Space Invaders will know that the invading alien spaceships move across the screen, with the speed of transit increasing as their numbers diminish.  They also get lower each time they reach the edge of the screen and turn back in the opposite direction.  The lower the ships get, the more difficult it is to avoid the missiles.  If an alien ship gets to the bottom of the screen this also wipes out your fighter ship.

I have a very methodical way of picking off columns of alien ships, from the edges, so that they do not reach the sides and drop a level so quickly. The spaceships start much lower as you complete different levels.  It is much harder and puts the player under more pressure.  This is when my system used to go completely out of the window.  Instead of targeting the columns at the end I would frantically take out the lowest rows of spaceships.  They seem like the most pressing threat at the time.  I would swing across the bottom of the screen, picking off the lowest spaceships, and often end up actually running into a stray enemy missile.  Once I convinced myself to stay calm and stick to my proven system, I scored more highly.  I have to focus a little harder, move a little quicker, and really be on my game for a short period of time, to get me through the tougher level.  It is easy to abandon your usual methodology when things get tough but, if your system works, stick with it – just double-down your efforts.

3.  Mystery points
At random intervals a mystery spaceship transits the top of the screen.  There are random points available and these are worth much more than the spaceships in the main cohort.  The only problem is that, while chasing them, I often get shot or, with my focus distracted, run into an incoming missile.  This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go after them though.  I have reached my goals much more quickly, and with less effort, by picking off some of these mystery point ships.  The lesson I have learned is not to go after all of them.

I have two strategies for getting these bonus points without sacrificing my ship:
i) I blast more missiles out, more quickly, while shooting my columns and occasionally a stray one hits the passing mystery ship or
ii) I make sure that everything is under control with the main body of invading ships and move out of the way of any possible stray missiles and wait until the mystery ship is in my sights. 

From a business point of view this means that any bonus, lucrative opportunities should be seized as a pleasant by-product of your day-to-day operations.  Or that you are well-prepared in advance to make sure that your day-to-day operations can continue uninterrupted, while your focus is momentarily taken by the bonus opportunity.  Like ‘lying in wait’ for the mystery ship, you should be well prepared so that there is little chance of missing your target.

4.  Safety blocks or bases
On a classic Space Invaders screen there are four blocks that provide a safe haven.  These are systematically destroyed by both your own and enemy fire. At times these will save you, and at others they hamper your mission.  I have found that blasting these away and learning to move quickly and assuredly has better results than playing it safe and hiding behind them.  They can also be deceptive.  Sometimes I have sought the safety of these blocks only to lose a ‘life’ when an enemy missile gets through a barely perceptible crack in the block.  This has taught me that comfort zones and playing it safe can be more dangerous than exposing yourself to difficult situations.  If you take away the safety refuge you must quickly develop the skills required to survive, succeed and excel.

5.  Take breaks and review
If I play game after game, obsessed with beating my high score I eventually find it counter-productive.  My play gets sloppy. My scores are lower, and I get frustrated.  Taking a break helps. Taking a break and reviewing my play helps even more.  It was thinking about why I wasn’t getting through more levels where the Invaders start off really low on the screen that made me realise I was panicking and straying from my proven strategy and system.

As business owners and senior managers, we all know that regular, frequent breaks and review make for a more efficient workplace.  Stepping back and ensuring this happens is a different thing.  Sometimes, something seemingly out of context, can remind us that this is true of anything we do.

These 5 simple lessons help me to work more efficiently, more of the time.  I’m only human and still forget, or go back to old habits, sometimes.  I have walks with the dog, and Space Invaders, to help me get back on track on a daily basis.  Hopefully, these tips may also help you to achieve your goals more efficiently and with less stress.

READY PLAYER ONE!

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