Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How I Acquired My Vast Set of Business Skills Without Using Video Games

A week or so ago, The Washington Post had an interesting article on how video game players are acquiring valuable business skills in the course of, well, playing video games.

Since my personally held belief has long been that they – unlike the mind-enhancing, senility warding-off, intelligence-affirming computer games like TaiPei, WordZap, and FreeCell that I play – will be shown to be the ruination of our youth, the principal culprit behind ADHD, and a major contributor to the end of the written word, I was somewhat taken aback to find that so many core business skills are enhanced by playing video games.  And these findings are backed by research.

I stand (or, rather, sit) corrected.

Memory. Planning. Problem Solving/Creativity. Teamwork. Concentration. Situational Awareness. Multi-tasking. Reading the Market. Management.

All have been shown to be developed through video gaming.

…those playing first-person shooter games did a better job of judging what information should be stored in their working memory and what was no longer relevant to the task at hand.

…Multiplayer titles such as Team Fortress 2 may encourage players to contribute individual skills toward a common goal.

…Massively multi-player online role-playing games that draw millions of players from around the world into a fantasy universe of their own often have in-game marketplaces that benefit those who can read the supply and demand of finite resources.

So how was it that, BVGE (before the video game era), some of us actually managed to acquire these skills without benefit of XBox, PlayStation, Wii, and massively multi-player online role-playing games.

Memory I actually don’t know where my quite excellent memory came from – it may run in the family; my sister Trish has a pretty darned good memory, too - but I’ve always had a very good one. Admittedly, I can’t remember what I walked downstairs for or whether I unplugged the iron, but I do remember:

  • My newborn brother Tom’s coming home from the hospital (I was two and a half; Tom wore yellow: after three girls in a row, my parents were hoping for a boy but not taking any chances by betting on blue),
  • Exactly how I felt walking out of Gates Lane School after my first day in kindergarten (terrified: the patrol line went out a different entrance than the one I came in through. I was panicked that my mother and the famous Tom would not be there waiting for me, on the one and only day that anyone was going to come down to school and fetch a not-yet-five year old kid home; after that day, I was on my own).
  • How guilty I felt – and still feel – about having left my friend Susan a note that said “You stink” and signing it Ginny. (I was seven at the time.) Sorry, Susan. Sorry, Ginny.
  • Etc.

I don’t know whether my memory actually held me in good stead during my business career, other than being able to recall every inconsistent or stupid thing anyone ever said at a management meeting I was in on. (On reflection, my business memory probably did not serve me particularly well.)

Planning In truth, if I’d been any good at planning, I never would have gone into business to begin with. But, absent an alternative, there I found myself.  Yet I did get to be a pretty good business planner. I guess it helped that, an innate worry wart, I could conjure up and think through just about every possible contingency and outcome. Which is probably why, if the business plan writing got divvied up, I always got the risk analysis section.

Problem Solving/Creativity I must say I don’t see that these two attributes are necessarily coupled. You can actually be a pretty good problem solver without having a shred of creativity in you. Or does the very notion of “problem solving” imply that there are no easy answers?

In any case, for problems with answers(if not completely easy ones), I honed my solving skill at Our Lady of the Angels grammar school, where we did daily mental arithmetic drills. You had to be fast and there was no way in front of 49 other kids I wasn’t going to be right.

As for creativity, I wasn’t always the paragon of creativity I am today. In fact, I once challenged my cousin Ellen because she had colored Santa’s cap in with blue crayon.

Santa cap incident aside, I do believe I can claim some creative capacities, and they were likely developed by having to develop an alternative reality to the general boredom (combined with sheer terror) that I lived through during grammar school, in the 99% of the school day that wasn’t given over to the pep and challenge of mental arithmetic drills.

What else was there to do when Sister Agnes Aloysius insists that it would take everyone an hour to complete a multiple-choice history test? And she wouldn’t let you pull out a book and start reading at minute three when you were actually finished? What else was there to do, other than to make up stories in your own little head. (Well, there was one other thing you could do. You could use your pencil eraser to clean the grunge off your desk. But a little of that went a long way.)

Teamwork. Concentration. Situational Awareness. Multi-tasking. Reading the Market. Management.

I could go on, and I will, for just a bit by noting that growing up in a large family honed my Situational Awareness capability (watch your back, alrighty), and that Multi-tasking was an absolutely essential skill to have if you wanted to be able to simultaneously eat vanilla ice milk with Hershey’s syrup (out of a yellow melmac bowl), set your stick straight hair with Spoolies, watch Flint McCullough be handsome and manly on Wagon Train, and read a Nancy Drew mystery. All the while honing your Situational Awareness skills, in case someone darted over to the TV to try to change the channl.

So much to do, so little time.

You’ll just have to trust me that, when it comes to all these business capabilities, I did manage to develop my skill set without ever touching a video game. Still, it’s heartening to know that some good comes out of them. There are plenty of reasons to fear for the future, but I guess the prevalence of video gaming isn’t one of them.

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