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Business Lessons from Candy Crush

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a (now out of the) closet Candy Crush fan. For those who know me on Facebook, you’re welcome that I haven’t blasted this in your faces for the past few months. However, during the hours that I’ve been rapidly draining my phone’s battery in front of a brightly-colored screen, I haven’t just been wasting my time; I’ve also been finding lessons from the game that I can apply to life and business. I’ve compiled a few of those to share today. If you haven’t been drawn into the addiction that is Candy Crush, don’t do it just to learn these lessons; and don’t worry, I’ll try to explain the game as far as it applies to learning the lessons that are hidden inside it.

Different strategies for different challenges

There are different challenges within Candy Crush. Each level is color coded to let you know what the challenge of the level ail be. There are five basic challenges within the game (at least as far as I’ve made it). Those are:
  1. Score a set number of points in a set number of
  2. Clear particular spots on the board (jelly) in a set number of moves
  3. Drop particular items from the top to the bottom (ingredients) in a set number of moves
  4. Score a set number of points in a time period
  5. Clear a number of each designated color in a set number of moves
IMG_3222The rest of the game is just variations on those challenges. Success in each of these requires a different strategy.
Similarly in business, there are a discrete number of problems that we can face. While they may not come at us color coded, and neatly defined in various levels, there are really only so many problems that we face. Over time we have developed different (coping) strategies for each type of challenge. These strategies may be healthy, or based solidly in avoidance of our weaknesses; but we have strategies anyway.
IMG_3225Whenever I face one of the timed levels in Candy Crush, I find myself dreading it and wishing there were another way to get to another challenge that I am better at. I find that I have challenges in my business that I want to deal with the same way. On the other hand, I find myself drawn to the challenge of dropping the ingredients, and happily work through all five lives to find the keys to solve those levels.

Focus on the goal

IMG_3224Each level has a goal; that goal is to accomplish one of the five challenges. It is very easy to find yourself clearing a lot of candy in a found, only to realize toward the end that you’ve been just clearing that candy to do something. It is nearly impossible (unless you have a huge amount of luck at play) to clear a level without focusing on the goal. Conversely, the more hyper-focused you are on the goal, the more you learn about the challenge you face, and the better you are able to accomplish it. The only time that it is good to simply clear candies for the sake of clearing candies is in the timed rounds when there is no move limit, and you just have to frenetically jump to get things done.
IMG_3223How many business owners get caught in the busy-ness trap in their businesses? There are too many things to do to take time to determine what is most important and focus on that priority. They end up spinning their wheels and getting overwhelmed because they just can’t seem to eliminate the problems by working on everything at once! Sometime we just have to slow down and focus on what will have the biggest impact. Is it more important to enter a receipt into your accounting software or call that new prospect today? Right now? I’ll bet that QuickBooks will wait until after business hours for your input; your new prospect may not be so patient.

New strategies to progress

Like I said, the game of Candy Crush is a series of variations on the basic theme of five challenges. As you progress, candy bombs, chocolate creepers, and other obstacles come into play. Each of these adds a wrinkle to the basic game play that can take several levels to master. Business changes in a similar way. A new business is focused almost entirely on sales, with delivery of services being a part-time venture in comparison. As the business grows, there are additional complications for a business owner to face, that require new strategies to accomplish. While the main goal may be to increase net profits – a far better focus than increasing sales or revenues – there will be employee issues, tax problems, maintenance breakdowns in the building or office that come up in the course of the day. Left unchecked, these can derail the business, and cut short the drive to the goal. While you have to keep the focus on the long-term goal, you also have to adopt new strategies to deal with the distractions that require responses. This can be a nearly impossible thing for some business owners, who are doing good to even get so far as the focus on a single goal level of self management. But it is necessary in order to move a business to the next level. (Shameless self promotion alert.) This may be one place that a business coach can help out an overwhelmed business owner. Having an outside perspective, and not being knee deep in the weeds of daily operations, a business coach could help to see what is sneaking up ready to explode before it blindsides the business owner.

Failure means a chance to evaluate your plan

While early in the game I was able to move forward with little challenge (see the next header for more on that), I considered getting less than two stars (out of three) on a level as failure. I would often go back and replay the level, despite being allowed to move on, in an effort to get to a three star success. By doing this I was able to see what part of passing a level was luck and what was my own mastery of the game’s requirements.
Later in the game there have been several levels that have required me to fail time and again before learning the secret to a successful solution. I find that the times I just mindlessly plow back into the level give me the same results. The times when I look at what parts of the level work and where it all falls apart, lead me either to success, or closer to it.
Do I really need to spell out that replaying failed sales calls in your mind after the fact to see where you lost the prospect is a key to improving sales in the future? Is it too obvious to say that any successful business needs to look at its failed products (either off the line or new product launches) to see why the failures occurred? I hope that these things are painfully obvious. However, even the painfully obvious is often avoided simply because it is painful. After a failed sales call it hurts less to just jump into the next one. It takes less effort (in the moment) to just scrap out the reject from the line, rather than work back through to see why t happened. But it this willingness to go into the pain that brings improvement. (Self promotion alert, again.) A business coach can provide the accountability to help business owners face this pain rather than running from it. If that is all that you get from a business coach, the relationship is still probably invaluable for the future of your business and your own future.

Gradually increase the challenges

This lesson applies more to bringing on employees than to a business owner’s own growth. Candy Crush sucks you in with some amazingly simple levels. Then, somewhere around level 30, things start to get challenging. Gradually rather than clearing each level the first or second time you try it, you progress on to levels that run through all five lives without success. Somewhere around level 50, I determined that I wouldn’t worry about getting three stars on every level; instead I would call a win a win with the minimum passing score.
When bringing on employees, try to make their experience similar. Start them with simple tasks at which they can excel to get them hooked on working for you; then gradually add responsibilities as they have interest and ability. While it is harder in business than in gaming, it can also be important to provide spaces wherein employees can fail at new challenges without fear of repercussion. I am not saying to allow this on your mission critical tasks, but finding ways to encourage growth (even with its pursuant failure as part of the process) will help employees take on more and more responsibility and gain greater skills over time.

Time to reflect helps us move forward

Every so often in the Candy Crush Saga, you reach a point where you jump from one “land” to another. At these times you are presented with three options: buy your way forward; drag your friends into the game; or solve three earlier levels, one per day. I have always chosen the retrospective option. I find that in the game and in business, it is nice to occasionally have the opportunity to pause and look back to see what you’ve learned before forging forward again. The game forces these opportunities on you. In business you have to create your own. These times are often best served by using the past as a way to create a better future for your company. Do you have a vision of what you want your business to be like in 3 or 5 years? If you don’t, this is a good time to develop one. If you do, then are you on track, or have you gotten distracted from that goal over time? Is your product or service still as competitive as you want it to be? Do you still appeal to the customers you started out to serve? Get out of the daily grind of moving forward as quickly as possible; and, to use a metaphor made popular by the late Steven Covey, make sure the ladder you are climbing is going up the right wall.

Let your friends know

The next way to get past these points in the game where you change “lands” is to let your friends know. If you’ve even looked at your Facebook home page and seen an invitation to play Candy Crush, it most likely came from a friend trying to jump lands without waiting for three days and working through the retrospective challenges. I take a slightly different lesson in the game than I do to business in this example. I base that difference on the desired outcome.
In the game, the desired outcome is to simply get to the next level faster. Why? Just to get to the next level faster. It benefits only you. But it works.
In business, the desired outcome of talking to your friends is to increase your business. That does benefit you, without a doubt. But, hopefully, there is more benefit than just that. Do you believe that what your business offers benefits your customers? Are their lives made better – in some way – from interacting with you? If so then you have a compelling reason to talk with your friends about what you do in your business. If you have a compelling story, they will be interested. If you’re lucky they’ll tell other people. Now that’s a good outcome.

You can buy help or figure it out on your own

IMG_3225 - Version 2Candy Crush offers the ability to buy help not only at these “land” changes, but on every failed level. You can buy boosters that make solving a level easier; you can buy a few extra turns or the ability to freeze the clock while you pick up a failed level where you left off. It’s not cheating because the game’s developers integrated it into the fabric of the game; it is a way to speed up your progress, and make up for a few mistakes you may have made in a level. Your other option is to continue to butt your head against the wall of the level until you figure it out on your own.
Have I spent the money on this? No. I hesitate to admit that because my business model is based on people spending money on getting help, but let me explain why I think there’s a difference.
The expected return on my investment in Candy Crush is at best zero and at worst negative. I don’t make a penny from what I spend on the game. And, by allowing myself to buy my way forward, I am probably encouraging spending more time in the game and away from productive pursuits. Therefore, I don’t “invest” in boosters.
In business, buying help has (hopefully) a positive return on your investment. If you put money into advertising, new equipment, business coaching (yes, I did have to mention it again), joining the local Chamber of Commerce, or any number of other possible expenses, you do it with the hope that you will get more back from that investment than you put in. Does it always work? If it did, then I wouldn’t need to provide business coaching. But, in business the only reason to put money out is to get something back. Can a business owner do it all on his own? (I considered putting “her” own in that last question, but I think that in general men are more stubborn, so I applied my own gender stereotype there.) You certainly can do it all on your own, and eventually learn all of the lessons to reach the level of success that you desire. But, what is the cost? What business do you miss out on along the way? What customers do you alienate while you’re struggling to figure out what your policies are? What are your not able to do, personally or professionally, while you are solving a problem that countless others have solved before you? There is a cost to every decision; the goal of every business owner should be to minimize the costs and maximize the returns from those decisions. That may mean choosing the more expensive option that gets you to your goal faster.

Maintain your time management

I am grateful to King, the developer of Candy Crush, for putting a five life limit on players. That means that no matter how lost I become in a level, after a little while I will be kicked back to real life because I ran out of lives in the game. I can’t then just hit the reset button and go again. No, I get to wait for new lives to regenerate. Thank goodness.
Small business owners often get themselves sucked into tasks that turn into a vortex of time consumption. We probably shouldn’t have taken the task on in the first place, but it was so tempting to satisfy the need to be important or to have a project, or whatever. The bad idea that got us going doesn’t help the situation in any way. But that bad decision is made worse as we plow deeper and deeper into our day or week with this project at the expense of all else. All of that highly important else. I delay returning a client’s call because I’m designing a new logo. My desk is at the wrong angle in the office, but moving in starts a cascade of cleaning that takes half a day while employees are standing around wondering what to do next. You’ve had the project. Unfortunately life doesn’t naturally require us to stop a project and evaluate its importance. We have to do that on our own. Learning and maintaining this time management is critical to success.
Well, those are the lessons that I’ve learned from squandering too much of my free time on a cute game. Hopefully now you won’t have to waste those same hours to get the same lessons. And, if anything that I’ve talked about has made you think that business coaching is a good idea for you or a friend, you can learn more about the EMyth business coaching curriculum at EMyth.com or call me and we can talk about your questions.

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