By Chuck Violand

August 18, 2014

According to a recent study conducted by Sergio Pellis at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, the “experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain. And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.” Pellis continues on to say the changes that take place in the prefrontal cortex during childhood help wire the brain’s executive control center, which plays a critical role in regulating our emotions, making plans, and solving problems. That sounds like he’s talking about running a business, doesn’t it?

I don’t know whether Mr. Pellis ever ran a business or played capture the flag, but given his area of research, I don’t imagine it would take much for him to recognize the connection between the two.

Capture the flag is not a game you play alone; it takes a team to play. The better the players and the better they can play together, the greater their chances of winning. It’s no different in business—the companies with the best teams and the best leaders usually come out on top.

Too often in business we try to capture our opponent’s flag all by ourselves instead of relying on the trusted people we have on our team. Even if we’re the one with the fastest legs, it’s pretty hard to avoid all our opponent’s players, or to free ourselves from jail if we get caught. At some point we have to learn to trust, delegate, and then hold our teammates accountable to perform their jobs.

In capture the flag there’s only one opponent to beat—the other team. In business our opponents come in lots of different forms and from several different directions.

Sometimes our competitors come in the form of customers who have ever changing needs or who have enhanced buying power that can change the role of buyer and seller and cause us to negotiate our price or our service. Sometimes they come in the form of new companies who are entering our market. Sometimes these competitors have skills or resources available to them that we don’t have. This can force us to rethink how we’re going to compete with them and still win the game.

Of course, there are always the traditional competitors we have—the other contractors or service providers in our markets. In some ways, business can feel like playing capture the flag in the round with us being in the middle.

Growing up, when one team captured an opponent’s flag there was little doubt about who won the game. More often than not, we ended the game tired and sweaty but mentally energized. The same is true in business. It’s important to celebrate our victories, big and small, with the people who make them happen.

Nearly three decades of working with business owners has convinced me that many of us are frequently playing out the lessons we learned in childhood through our businesses. While many attend institutions of higher education in an effort to prepare themselves for the rough and tumble world of business, I think we should shine a new light on the lessons we learned through the games we played as kids. These were our first lessons in learning to play well with others, lead teams, and capture flags.