Casual Friday: Changing the Rules

(It’s no secret to you that I am a geek, but today’s post is really going to push the boundaries.  I apologize in advance for losing my less-geeky readers.  Come back, I promise I’m not always like this.)

Today I’m going to share some life skills lessons I learned from James T. Kirk and Magic: The Gathering.  Yes, really.

Kirk cheated. We all know this, right?  In Wrath of Khan, we learn of how Kirk cheated his way out of a no-win simulation scenario (designed to test character) by hacking the simulation to allow him to win.  Now, I hesitate to call this cheating, as the desired outcome is to test behavior, not results, so the results are irrelevant.  The behavior information gathered was important.  It’s a nice piece of storytelling and a part of why I like the movie so much.

The life lesson here isn’t necessarily that you should break the rules to win, it’s that you should be aware of the supposed rules so you’re able to force a change in the environment.  Then, you have to be willing to make that change and adapt to the result, a risky move but one that can pay off.

I really learned this lesson late in college, when I was hooked on the card game Magic: The Gathering.  On its surface it is a simple game involving cards which are played to cause various effects (dressed up as monsters, spells, magical artifacts, etc.).  Players build their own decks tailored to a specific strategy from their card supply, then take turns drawing and playing cards.

When you first learn the game, you spend most of your time trading back-and-forth hits with simple-to-understand monster cards or direct damage spells.  This is a fun way to play the game, and I was enjoying it quite a bit.  And then I met someone who used a card I never really liked: Wrath of God.  It wipes the board clean of creatures.  Every creature in play is destroyed.  What’s the fun in that?  You just went through a bunch of work to summon those creatures, and now they’re gone!?

There are plenty of cards like this in the game, cards which hurt everyone equally.  There are similar cards which change the rules in some way, making the game more difficult for everyone equally.  When you are first learning to play you ignore these cards.  They are complicated and don’t seem like fun.  Why would you want to make it so every time you play a card you take damage, for example?

Well, the real power in the game comes from using drastic game-changing cards like those and adapting to those changes quickly.  For example, if you create a strategy around starting fast but petering out quickly, you will lose against a balanced opponent … unless you supplement your strategy with a number of “reset button” style cards which keep the game artificially perpetually in the early stages.  Your opponent is ready to crush you in the end game, but you never let the end game arrive.

You can only be so competitive at this card game by being good at playing the “common” game.  At some point, you have to dedicate part of your strategy to disrupting your opponent.  Basically, what rules are you going to change, and how will your strategy be superior in that changed game?

These are valuable lessons for life. You can apply it them problem solving, personal advancement, and market competition.

You can advance pretty far by being good at what you do.  You can advance much further by changing the environment to suit your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

Change the rules of the game, and make sure you can win the new game.

And people say you can’t learn anything by watching Star Trek and playing card games….