3.11 – What is Winning?

Here’s a thing; I keep wondering if this project will resolve itself in a game.

The approach is certainly playful, but will it be a game? I’m trying not to prejudge it, and be open to all possibilities. But I keep looking at it, and it seems like it might turn out to be a game, one that folk might use to determine the right thing for businesses to do.

What’s the difference between ‘games’ and ‘play’?

This article by Bo Kampmann Walther (which I’ve just found today) offers up a definition I like:

“Play is an open-ended territory in which make-believe and world-building are crucial factors.
Games are confined areas that challenge the interpretation and optimizing of rules and tactics – not to mention time and space.”

I have some good friends who are much (much, MUCH) better versed in this world than I, and I haven’t read ALL of that article yet, so I’m neatly going to park this deeper question, and most of the implications for the project, save for one; What is Winning?

Winning seems very important for companies. There are lots of different ways in which they talk about ways to win. Sales. Share Price. Fame of Leadership team. Units shipped. Number of Employees. Number of Customers. Size of Offices. Quality of the corner offices. Value of Modern Art in the foyer. And so on.

They all sit on the Matrix, though, all these different win conditions. So let’s look at that again.

The latest versions of PEOPLE and SPACE are as follows:

11 - People

CULTURE – The work of all people. It’s really slow-moving, the sum total of everyone’s relationships with everyone else.
LEADERSHIP – Those we look to. Now, this is not a small group of people. It is the people we look to within a large group of people, be they formal or informal leaders.
CUSTOMERS – Who we do this for. No customers, no business. How much ‘surface area’ a company has when it comes to customer contact is an interesting way to look at this.
COMMERCE – What makes this sustainable. The quarterly motions that allow us to keep doing this for customers.
ACTIONS – The way we work together. In teams, in ones and twos, informally in canteens. In hours, minutes and seconds. The granularity of how we roll.

(I’ve noticed that it’s interesting, perhaps useful, to think of the faster stuff as happening between fewer and fewer people, and the slower stuff being ‘everybody’)

11 - space

SURROUNDINGS – Life outside of our walls. Are we in an industrial estate in Slough? A distillery in the Highlands? A co-working space in Shoreditch? What else is here?
STRUCTURE – Where our work calls home. The building itself. The entrance, the approach, the way in nestles into the street when you look at it.
INFRASTRUCTURE – The OS of the Office. I’ve borrowed this from Simon Jordan of Jump Studios, who has a compelling metaphor for this… I’ll go and talk to him as part of the project.
SERVICES – The things we pipe in. Both hard and soft services; utilities, technology services, agencies to help, charities to volunteer for.
MATERIALS – The bits we get our hands on. The physical and conceptual objects between us; cards and computers, PowerPoint documents and proposals.

The reason I’m wondering about the game thing is as follows.

As you lay both the PEOPLE and SPACE layers, it begins to look like a game board.

With PEOPLE down the side, and SPACE along the top, the things in the middle of the Matrix become the WORK. And the work is the game. What more do I know about ‘the work’ today?

Ian Mitchell in a comment on a previous post suggested that the diagonal line through the middle, where slow powers slow and fast powers fast, is a ‘line of least resistance’, which I like a lot. Perhaps the game is how you deviate from that line to get better solutions for your problems?

11 - title

I’ve started going through all previous Smithery Projects, as outlined in 3.09, to draw out the right sort of strategic questions that I’ve asked previously (or should have asked, in hindsight) to make a pile of cards to start stacking up against the rows and columns of the Matrix.

That’s going slower than I’d like, but is proving really worthwhile; it provides lots of test cases to shift around the Matrix and ask ‘what if…’

11 - line

Let’s go back to that question though to finish off today’s entry; What is Winning?

If this were Monopoly, or Risk, or any of the great map board games, there would be various ways to win, but one clear way that makes you the clear champion.

So I wonder if that’s the top left square; is winning about having the best possible CULTURE in the most amazing SURROUNDINGS?

11 - winning

If you make it to the top left, is it a sign that over the short, medium and long-term, and for whichever measure you wish to look at, you’re winning?

And if so, can you set your own versions of ‘winning’ like this over various different time spans? What does winning look like in three years versus thirty?

I’ll leave you to think about that for a bit. As always, all comments, builds and complaints most welcome.




13 responses to “3.11 – What is Winning?”

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  2. Nice thinking.
    Here’s a challenge: ‘winning’ implies that there is also ‘losing’ i.e. zero-sum games.
    What if the game wasn’t zero-sum but win-win?
    Creative and magical.

    1. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      That’s interesting – by ‘winning’ who are you playing against? Or is it ‘winning’ as in patience, or solitaire – you’re playing yourself, and the system. Is losing about struggling around in the bottom right; people pushing around materials on a daily basis with no greater sense of anything? Perhaps Winning and Losing are the wrong frames?

      1. Tracey Camilleri avatar
        Tracey Camilleri

        This is from Joseph’s Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’ and describes the boss of the central station seen through Marlowe’s eyes –

        He was commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold. . . . Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it, but I can’t explain. . . . He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. . . . He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him—why? . . . He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that’s all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause.

        ‘He could keep the routine going………’. I would say this treading water kind of leadership is the case for many organisations now where the focus is on discrete tasks, process, incrementalism, turning a blind eye to tomorrow in order to pay dues to yesterday. To your question about winning – I’d say the crucial difference lies somewhere in that distinction by Kampmann Walther between games and play. Sustainable winning in my view depends on the kind of leader who understands the game, yes, but is confident enough to turn a blind eye to, give permission for, encourage, step out of the way of – free play at the edges. This sort of leader leads an organisation (even that word assumes too much) that can reinvent itself, that is in conversation with a constantly evolving context and with itself. It does more than simply ‘keep the routine going’ – its a learning organisation, not one that knows.

        1. john v willshire avatar
          john v willshire

          I love this Tracey (read the book at University, but not since). The learning organisation is key in this, I think – how does the leader create platforms for that, rather than simply let the routine keep on going around them…

      2. The zero-sum idea is basically about having a cake and sharing it (fairly or unfairly). Fundamental to Thatcherism 😉
        Win-win could be baking a bigger cake … moving to a new territory… reframing the ‘game’.

    2. I agree Sandra ( nice to meet you, by the way)
      ‘ Winning ‘ is too stunted and binary an idea.

      Is it about increasing your share of relevance?

      1. Nice to meet you too, Tracey.
        You’re right about the binary nature of ‘winning’. I’m constantly “battling” against the militaristic (and thus masculine) language of marketing – nb ‘battling'(!) but also targeting, campaign, launch….
        I’m working with a lovely brand at the moment on their strategy and positioning. The discourse of ‘marketing as war’ is so inappropriate for the team and their culture. We had fun the other day trying to not say “kill the competition”. In the end, we used ‘make the competition irrelevant’.
        So – ‘share of relevance’ might work.

  3. Hi again John.

    A few thoughts on your latest post, and comments.

    This is probably going off brief, but I wonder whether the matrix has an application for brand planning.

    It feels that there is the potential for a wider impact when ‘winning’ is related to achieving change on a broader canvas.

    I’m thinking brand purpose here, and its equivalent for organisations that may not necessarily express it in the that way. Brand purpose often implies having an ambition that impacts in the wider world/culture (Pepsi Refresh, Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, Patagonia etc.) In this sense perhaps ‘surroundings’ would move beyond the physical location and environment of workplace, to some expression of the wider world in which an organisation and its purpose lives.

    It feels that the likes of Zappos have ‘won’ by deviating from the line of least resistance across the horizontal/vertical layers of the matrix and enabling their customers to ‘win’ through their exceptional service and special culture. There staff ‘win’ and Amazon win. So is their approach a form of ‘zero sum’.
    Certainly the they have excelled in an all areas of the “people” matrix by deviating from the line of least resistance virtually every other retailer follows. In this example most of the “Place” matrix elements come into play too.

    I think the potential attraction and strength of using/adapting this approach for brands, is that it encourages us to ask practical questions around what the brand/organisation/people should ‘do’, how they should behave and the implications for the ‘place’ elements of the matrix, that help achieve this.

    1. Yes, this is the type of idea that changes the game.

    2. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      Hi there Ian – funnily enough, that’s what Grant McCracken discussed this afternoon, using ‘purpose’ as a replacement for ‘culture’. Might also chime with not being as binary as winning, and into Tracey’s ‘share of relevance’…


    1. More on the limitations of the zero-sum game.
      “A bigger prize” comes from collaboration rather than competition.
      Timely interview with Margaret Heffernan in today’s FT.