Leveling Up

Pavones Yoga Center, photo credit: Michelle DeMarziani
Pavones Yoga Center, photo credit: Michelle DeMarziani

A few months ago, I decided I wanted to attend a month of yoga teacher training in the beautiful surf village of Pavones, Costa Rica. Who wouldn’t want to eat delicious vegetarian food and practice yoga in a studio overlooking the sea?

Well, my husband for one.

Maybe it’s because he had never done yoga before? He had zero interest in even trying it and a month away from work would be a big inconvenience for him. But he saw how important it was to me, so he agreed.

That is, with a few stipulations. One of them being I had to learn how to play video games.

Now, I haven’t played a consol game since high school. My interest in learning to game mirrored my husband’s interest in yoga. Zip. Zero. Nada.

The controllers I could recall were far simpler than they are now. Just looking at the PS4 controller gave me anxiety. And who has time to game? We already watch our fair share of TV shows and movies; we don’t need any other forms of entertainment in our lives.

Yet with some encouragement from the husband and some trial and error to find a game I could connect with, I have beat the game The Witcher 3. I even downloaded the expansion pack because I miss my life-sucking friend, Geralt.

What did I learn from giving gaming a chance?

A good game can tell a story better than a movie, series, or book.

While I always knew games require a user’s participation, I didn’t expect the connection I would feel to the characters and the world as a result.

And I think that connection comes from a well-designed experience that is just challenging enough for the user. It can’t be too hard as to frustrate and annoy. But conversely, it’s no fun if it’s too easy. As Geralt went on quests and gained experience, his level increased giving me a sense of pride.

I realized: Isn’t this what we wish we had at work?

Less emperor’s new clothes where we pretend that customers care about our products as much as we do (that’s always frustrating and annoying). The joy of finding a smart answer (because it’s just challenging enough). More clarity about what it is we need to learn (quests). Proof that we’ve mastered skills (experience level).

These are the very same work desires that sent me on a quest of my own. After working in advertising as a strategist for 14 years, I wondered ‘What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I feel like an expert yet?’ I wanted the experience of leveling up that I’d had at the beginning of my career.
So I created a quest of my own. I sought out mages in far away lands.
Well, not really.

Instead of mages, they were marketing people. And while the lands were far, the real exploring was of the edges of what is possible in digital, social, innovation, brand storytelling, and ideation. Oh, and I asked these people if addition to letting me work with them for a couple of weeks each, could I, uh, stay with you at your house?

I still can’t believe that nine people agreed to this scheme. But I’m so glad they did. They invested their scarce time in me. Which made me want to repay them in some way and make sure it wasn’t only me that got something out of the experience.

So I wrote about what I learned: In Hong Kong, I picked up the methods Jason Oke employs to get started on a new project when panic sets in. Phil Adams in Scotland taught me how he explores the edge of what is possible in digital. And I explored why the business of innovation is stealing some of marketing’s brightest minds while working side-by-side with Brian Millar in London. And much much more.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Phil Adams and a few of Blonde's finest.
At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Phil Adams and a few of Blonde’s finest.
rOobin Golestan DJing in Bejing on the night of my arrival
rOobin Golestan DJing in Bejing on the night of my arrival

Leveling up in our jobs may be a lot more like gaming than I ever realized.
We have to lean into the discomfort of what we don’t know. By taking on quests of our own design, we expose ourselves to radically new ways of working, to great ideas that can be applied in fresh new ways (because nothing is truly original), to people who like us and will be there to help us in the future.

Now, more than ever before, nobody knows it all.

Now, more than ever before, we all need to learn how to brain surf.

My new book Brain Surfing the Top Marketing Strategy Minds in the World is now available for pre-order and ships on November 11, 2015. For a limited time, order the paperback on Amazon and receive the Kindle version free.

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