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The Games People Play

As I stand in an office high above the streets, looking out the window on a beautiful sunlit day, I look below and see an evacuation and fire drill at the building across the street. I’m pleased to see the orderliness in which the staff files out and moves to an assembly area. I’m pleased to see that they seem be serious about the exercise. It reminds me of the old saying from sports that “you play how you practice.” A sloppy and care free attitude in practice leads to sloppy performance in a real event.  That can lead to lives lost, and unnecessary losses in revenue from down time that could have been prevented.

I began to think about the games we play, and how we can sharpen our attitudes and behaviors. What kinds of “quizzes” or tests, can we set for ourselves and others that can sharpen our abilities? As I put that question to some co-workers, a number of ideas came out. As we continued to talk about it, we set some guidelines. For example, the “game” had to be relevant to our work. The game had to be challenging, but we also had to be able to “score.” If we could do so, we tried to develop a game that could be played with one player, or multiple players.

One set of games we developed focused on our memory, and our attentiveness, or attention to detail. For example, as we walked a site such as a hallway, when we were out of sight of that place but still near, we’d pick a detail and quiz each other.  The questions ranged from “How many cameras were present?” to “What color was the word “EXIT” on the sign?” to “How wide and long was the hallway?” or “How many windows were there and can they be opened?” We’d challenge each other to recall details that were clearly present but weren’t always obvious. We discovered that we often see, but don’t pay much attention to, details that may save lives.  At first, we’d often have “heated” discussions about certain details, and “return to the scene” to sort things out. Then after awhile, I noticed that it was increasingly hard to think of questions that my “co-players” couldn’t answer correctly.  I also noticed, that our memories for details had become more sharp, and this had a positive effect in dealing with clients, and even during contract negotiations.

Another “attention to detail” game that we “played” involved describing the people around us. We would challenge each other to describe someone who just walked past us, or to recall – without looking at him after the challenge – if a man who was nearby had, for example, a moustache, or other detail.  This game evolved to involve other details about people. We discussed the behavioral traits that may be “tells” of people who carry concealed weapons.  We then set out to challenge each other to “identify” people who exhibited such behaviors. We were not in a position to “stop and frisk” anyone to confirm our hunches, but it was a fun exercise in any event, and it sharpened our eyes, I think.

The “What if…” scenario “game” encourages discussion of different courses of action in various situations. The key is to keep scenarios short and relevant. It starts with “What if…” followed by a statement of some kind of occurrence. For example “What if that guy walking by right now pulls a gun and starts shooting…what would you do?” Or, “What if that guy in the jacket over there opens his jacket and is wearing a bomb vest…what would you do?” The key is to answer with concrete and appropriate actions quickly, in the setting in which one finds oneself, and not a classroom academic setting, and then be able to explain why that course of action is best. The other participants are challenged in the same way, and agree or disagree with the first answer given. This has produced some very lively discussions, and learning.

Our imaginations can find many ways to challenge ourselves, to open our eyes, and ears and other senses. Even more, we open our minds to new and important ways of receiving and processing information. Supervisors can “play” these “games” with staff to encourage attention to details in surroundings that may affect the site, and reduce boredom and lackadaisical performance.  Games like these cost nothing for materials, can keep people sharp, and improve our ability to perform well. Remember, you play how you practice.