In tenth grade, my English teacher told us the best way to prepare for an English essay-writing exam. He said, “Think of a question that covers many of the books we read this term, such as “What is the role of death in our readings?” and think of a concrete, wonderful answer.”

Then he tricked us. Or he gave us a lowball. Depending how you think of it.

We walk into the exam, and there were three questions – each worth 33%. The last question was, “Write the question you wrote to prepare for the exam (unless it was about the role of death), and write the answer you wrote to prepare.” !!!!!!!!! Exactly!

Sure, I’d prepared, and done as he had suggested, but I could have put more time into that pre-exam!

That’s what today’s game is about. Penelope Trunk writes about media training that she took in preparation for the radio and TV interviews for her book. She excerpts a section of the training manual from Clarity Media Group:

“Don’t try to prepare for every possible question that could arise. Determine the 6-8 topics that are likely to come up during your interview and then:
a. Hone a key message for each topic.
b. Identify anecdotes you can tell that illustrate each message.
c. Prepare specific examples or compelling data to prove your point.
d. Think of clever analogies if appropriate.
Think of these interviews as the equivalent of a good movie trailer, in which your quest is to independently drive to the very best scenes, anecdotes and newsworthy revelations in the book.”

You know when Joan Rivers or Carson Daly have come up to celebrities on the red carpet with the big microphone to ask one pointed question? That’s you – the celebrity! And that’s you – Carson Daly! You’re both the interviewer and the interviewee – you’re on both sides of the mike.


* When preparing for a job interview

Goal of the Game:
* To prepare well for a job interview – just like for that English final.

How Long to Play:
* 20 minutes. Play by yourself to prepare, and later potentially run your answers by a friend.

1) Prepare 6-8 questions that the interviewer might ask you (“Tell me about yourself,” “What is your greatest professional accomplishment?” …)
2) Prepare stories for each answer.
3) Prepare specific examples or SARI (situation-action-result-interesting thing) answers.
4) Run these by trusted advisors and friends.


This game is about being in-the-moment. Being in-the-moment produces positive emotions. Positive emotions during savoring “create an upward spiral in our experiences, emotions, relationships, mental capacities, etc.,” according to Mirium Ufberg in this article.

Most, Best, First!Have you ever been around a person for whom so many things feel like a new experience? “This is the first time I’ve seen a flower that color!” Have you ever been around a person who tastes an apple pie with you at a restaurant, and says, “This is the best apple pie I’ve had in the past year!” And doesn’t that somehow feel good? Just that experience that you are with that person when she is tasting the best apple pie of the year. That’s a small example, but suppose someone says to you not only, “you made my day,” but “that’s the most wonderful thing I’ve heard all year.” Or what if you’re speaking with a colleague and he says, “Hey Senia, that’s the first time I’ve ever thought about this work situation that way!”

Being around people when they experience their MOST, BEST, FIRST is envigorating. It’s alive. And as Czsikszentmihalyi says, the question he would most want to ask all the people in the world is, “To what degree do you feel alive?”

The Most, Best, First GAME

When: At any time – home or work.

How Long to Play: 10 seconds.

Players: Alone, with one person, or with many.

Materials Needed: None.

Goal of the Game: To savor and find those items that are the “most, best, first” experiences for you. Aim for one per day.


  • “Last week in Milan, I had the most delicious gelato I had ever tasted – caramel flavor!”
  • “Today was the first switch-tables-for-each-course dinner networking meeting I’ve ever been to!”
  • This is the best book I’ve read all year!”
  • You can even just think it to yourself: “This might be best business advice I’ve ever heard on NPR!”

Recognize when you are with someone (or by yourself) and are experiencing a “most, best, first” moment – say it out loudly, celebrate it. Invite that person to realize how incredible it is for you in that moment. You and that person are making history this day, as Seth Godin describes it. You will look back on this day and say, “Remember when I tried pomegranate tea for the first time?”

Did you ever read The Most Dangerous Game? (Here it is if you want a fun 10-minute action-packed story).

Well, today, we’re all about the MOST MOTIVATING QUESTION. What question will get you excited, get you moving, and get you pumped?

In fact, if we want to look at it cynically, we can ask, “What is a question that well-polished motivational speakers ask the audience in order to get audience members convinced to follow the motivational speaker’s system?” I.e., this is an effective question because it can change the mood, expectations, and actions of the listener.

Let’s look at the components of such a mysterious question:
1) It will fill you with positive emotions such as happiness, awe, engagement – which is important because when you’re on an emotional high, you are more open to looking at broader solutions, according to research by Barbara Fredrickson.
2) It will energize you – important because then you can turn the question into action. “People who are persuaded verbally that they possess the capabilities to master given activities are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it than if they harbor self-doubts and dwell on personal deficiencies when problems arise,” says Albert Bandura.
3) It will make you feel confident – important because confidence is just about a mix of self-esteem and personal control, and these are two of four inner traits of happy people according to Ed Diener and David Myers.

So…. what is such a question?

The Most Motivating Question GAME

When: When you want to motivate a person or people.

  • At the start of a meeting
  • In setting up a healthy mindset for a close friend or family to take action on his/her issue
  • In starting to work with colleagues on a project

The Players: You and one or more people.

The Rules: Ask the question in a warm, open tone. If everyone if is a rush, preface the question with, “Before we figure out this particular solution, let’s see…”

The Question Itself:


Variations: “What are we doing right so far in this project?”
“Before we figure out this particular solution,
let’s see what we’re already doing right.”

You don’t want to lose what you’re already doing right when you move to do something else. Additionally, this creates:
1) a positive tone and gets everyone to think about the situation as a team,
2) energy because something something is already not-broken, and
3) confidence because without any didactic explanation, you’ve shown the team that they have already done things right before.

It’s that simple. What are we doing right already?
See Doug Turner’s article on using this question to open meetings.

This question leads to productive discussions:

  • “You want to become a better salesperson. What are you already doing right? What if you did more of that?”
  • “You want to race in the Master’s class cycling track finals. What are you already doing right in your training? What other things can you do to complement this training?”
  • “You want to spend more quality time with your kids. What are you already doing right? How can you add to what you’re doing while keeping what you’re already doing right?”

What are you doing right today? :)
Enjoy the game. Play often, see how people react.

I read over at Phil Windley’s Technometria about these great fun games that Jane McGonigal is creating using Positive Psychology principles. Some of the Positive Psychology ideas that Phil says Jane mentioned in her talk are (from Phil’s site):

* Quality of life is the primary metric for evaluating everyday technology
* Positive psychology is a principle influence for design
* The public expects tech companies to have a clear vision of a life worth living

* To succeed, a brand or product must increase real happiness, the new capital.

I’m especially interested in this because playing games increases your positive emotion, and we know from Fredrickson and Losada’s work that a positive emotion to negative emotion ratio of 3:1 contributes to increased world view, a broadening of intellectual resources, and a building of intellectual, social, and physical capital (meaning that you have more reserves to do what you want to do in life). Here is Jane’s site and some interactive games she’s created.

Do you guys have suggestions for how games can influence your day-to-day life or your weekends or your interactions with friends?

Let’s talk about games.

That’s already an oxymoron on some levels! The point of games is to play them, not to talk about them. Still, why are games so hot? Why am I so big on games? You’ve seen me write about games. You’ve seen me talk about the feeling of being alive when you’re playing games.


  • The Thrill
  • The Competition
  • The Speed
  • The Creativity Needed to Win
  • Winning
  • Possibility of Affecting the Outcome
  • Not Knowing Until the End
  • Knowledge of Possibly Improving Each Time

I can tell you all these above, and yet. And yet! Those are WORDS! As Hamlet says, “Words, words, words!” There’s no point for words. Games are about action!

You think you can smack-talk your opponent? Go ahead, but let’s see if your skill holds up to your smack-talk. Larry Bird was always known for his smack-talk, and maybe priming his opponents for failure was EXACTLY what he was going for because it may have worked (so suggests the latest research). But even better, Bird’s skill ALWAYS held up on the court. ALWAYS.

Games are about using our best self to beat the competition.


Have you? Sure you have! Everytime you’re on deadline and you need to make a specific time. Everytime you want to complete something faster than you did it last time. Everytime you want this quarter to be better than last quarter. Everytime you count how many clients your company has. You’re always playing games.

But sometimes they feel like work. What would make those same games that you are right now not calling games and are possibly not considering as fun – what would make those games fun and productive for you and improve business for the company?

Sure, I know that’s a leading, rhetorical question…

I refer you to my favorite Simpsons quote of all time:

Lisa: Dad, do you even know what “rhetorical” means?

Homer: Do *I* know what “rhetorical” means?


Look, I’m not advocating going crazy with happiness juice, and just saying blindly, “Oh, let’s turn our work into fun.” I’m advocating asking yourself or your colleagues, “How can I get more of these components into my work?”

  • The Thrill
  • The Competition
  • The Speed
  • The Creativity Needed to Win
  • Winning
  • Possibility of Affecting the Outcome
  • Not Knowing Until the End
  • Knowledge of Possibly Improving Each Time

Remember, being wealthy is about having money and time. How can you enjoy your time at work more, leave more time for yourself outside of work, and show that “play” can get improved results? How can you put those elements in, and put them in in such a way that they improve the bottom line?

I know I’ve asked more questions above than I’ve answered. This week and next week, I’ll be writing a lot about GAMES and BUSINESS!

And today, I’m asking you: how do you think you could make work more like “play” and do so in a way that strengthens the bottom line?

The February 23rd challenge!

I challenge you today to book yourself for an event in the next 30 days (by March 23, 2007) that is just a little more difficult than you are used to. An event where you need to perform just a little more than you are used to!

I challenge you to challenge yourself to play the Book Yourself game with a specific goal and time.

I do my BEST work when I put a goal in front of me – a goal that is just a little higher than I am used to, and then I strrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeetch.

Streeeeeeeeeeeeeetch A woman named Laurie that I know is an amazing volleyball player. She played competitively in college, and I played with her several times in grad school. When she played with us, she was many leagues better than our grad school intramural team, BUT…. but she played as if her life depended on it. She played as if every block, every serve, every hit was the one. Was the one that would make us win. Was the one that would count.

And the single best thing that she did when she played with us was that she would shout out just in time “streeeeeeeeetch” to the person at the net going for a spike. It didn’t matter that more than half of us didn’t jump up when we spiked – we spiked from the ground. It didn’t matter if it was the best player on the team or any player. Laurie yelled “streeeeeeeeetch,” and each of us stretched!

That’s what I’m talking about. Streeeeeeeeeetch yourself. Do that one thing that seems just a little bit above where you are! Streeeeeeeetch and GROW!

Some examples:

  • Exercising a certain number of times a day (that’s self-regulation), and doing a workout that’s just a little harder than is comfortable (that’s streeeeeeeeetching).
  • Booking yourself as a speaker at a conference before you have the full outline prepared (that’s streeeeeeetching). Then working regularly, repeatedly, deliberately on creating a superb presentation for that day (that’s self-regulation).
  • Expanded your business in a direction you’ve never tried before (streeeeeeeeetching), and preparing for each new milestone in the new direction by creating a process (self-regulation) that you can rely on in the future.

So, for the next 30 days, what can you book yourself to do that will challenge you?

(BTW, in case it EVER seems like I have all the answers, please don’t think that could be true. I have a whole bunch of fun questions. I’m changing things about my life and work while I’m writing this website. My answers in the comments. If I suggest something on this site, it’s because I’m thinking about it myself. Streeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch!) :)

Sometimes you need a challenge in order to move yourself into action.
What’s your challenge? :)

CONGRATS for doing this for yourself – for playing this Book Yourself game.

Ivan and Abdul – Part I
Ivan and Abdul – Part II

The story of “Ivan and Abdul” is by Bernard Suits, and ellipses are used to make sections briefer. If I had only ten books to take with me to a deserted island, this would be one of them: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits, a story-based philosophical discussion about what makes games into games.

Continued from yesterday, Bernard Suits’ story of “Ivan and Abdul.” All words are by Bernard Suits. I have used ellipses to make some sections shorter.

… unbeknownst to Ivan and Abdul, their game did indeed contain at least one rule of the required kind…. Let us awaken Ivan just before dawn on the appointed day and put this question to him.

‘Ivan, are you awake?’
‘I am. Who is it?’
‘I am the Voice of Logic, and I have a question to put to you.’
‘What time is it?’
“An hour before dawn.’
‘Put your question, then, but please be brief.’
‘The question is a short one. Why didn’t you destroy Abdul just as soon as you had decided to have a fight to the finish with him?’
‘Here is an equally short answer. Because I have no interest in destroying Abdul per se. I am interested in seeking to kill him only so that I can be battling him.’
‘Let me test that allegation, if you don’t mind.’
‘Test away.’

‘Very well. I tell you that Abdul is at this moment fast asleep in his bed. You can easily gain entrance to the embassy and kill him in his sleep, thus winning the battle with a minimum of risk by a stunning surprise attack.’
‘As you can see, I am not leaping from my bed and speeding to the embassy.’
‘Yes, I do see that, and it puzzles me very much.’
‘I don’t see why it should. If I kill Abdul before the game starts, then I can’t very well fight him, can I? If I killed him now, our game could never begin.’
‘You are saying that this game you are going to play has a starting time.’
‘Of course.’

compass ‘In other words, there is a rule which forbids you to make a move in the game before a certain agreed upon time.’
‘A rule, you say?’
‘Yes,’ responded the Voice of Logic inexorably, ‘a rule.’
‘Then,’ said Ivan, frowning and sitting up in bed, ‘our fight to the finish is not really a game without rules.’

‘Not if you stick to your dawn starting time.’
‘And I thought we had finally found a game without the artificiality of rules. How could we have missed this business of a starting time?’
‘Perhaps it was because you were so busy eliminating an ending time. But it is perfectly clear, is it not, that a starting time is just as much of an artifice as a finish time?’
‘Yes, it is.’

‘And now that you know this, you will of course at once sneak up on Abdul in his sleep and kill him, right?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Why not?’
‘I have answered that question twice already. Damn it. I don’t want to murder Abdul – I like him, for God’s sake – I just want to play a game with him.’
‘Yes, I understand that. And you also want to play a game without rules that artificialy limits the means at your disposal for achieving victory. Isn’t that correct?’
‘Yes, it is.’ …

‘Well, if you are prepared to play such a game, I don’t see why you aren’t prepared to play any game. If, that is, you are prepared to accept what might be called an unnecessary obstacle in order to be able to play this game with Abdul, why not accept other unnecessary obstacles and play chess or tennis or golf with Abdul instead, and give up this folly of a fight to the finish? Either that, or admit that there is no reason to wait for the starting signal and kill Abdul now.’ Golf-Tennis

There is silence as Ivan turns this over in his mind. Then he leaps from his bed, flings on his clothes, and rushes wildly from the room.
‘Where are you going?’ cries the Voice of Logic.
‘I must reach Abdul before dawn!’ cries Ivan from the staircase.
‘To call off the game or to kill him?’ disjunctively queries the Voice of Logic.
But Ivan’s shouted reply is too muffled to understand as he rushes pell-mell through the dark and deserted streets.

statue Nearly half way to Abdul’s embassy Ivan sees a figure approaching at the opposite end of the short boulevard. It is Abdul. Has Abdul, too, been listening to the Voice of Logic? And is he hurrying to Ivan to call off the game, or to make a surprise attack? If Ivan can be sure that Abdul is making a surprise attack, then it is no surprise and the game can begin, for it has gained a starting time and the time is NOW.

But how can Ivan be sure that it is NOW unless he knows what Abdul’s purpose is? And Abdul may, of course, be in the same quandary. Ivan might shout, ‘Let’s call off the game!’ But Abdul might very sensibly take this to be a ruse on Ivan’s part for gaining an advantage. And Ivan, if Abdul called out the same proposal to him, would be foolhardy indeed to accept it out of hand as a genuine offer. Both stop in perplexed indecision.

And there they stand to this very day, in the form of two marble statues facing one another along the length of the Boulevard Impasse in the capital city of Rien-à-faire. At least that is the story the guides of Rien-à-faire tell to explain the sculptured confrontation along embassy row.

Thanks for reading! The story of “Ivan and Abdul” is by Bernard Suits, and ellipses are used to make sections briefer. If I had only ten books to take with me to a deserted island, this would be one of them: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits, a story-based philosophical discussion about what makes games into games.


What would you do if you were a retired general? At first, two generals in this situation are happy to reminisce. But soon they become bored, and start to wonder about what could be the ultimate game and competition between the two of them. The following is Bernard Suits’ writing from one of my ten favorite books of all time, and ellipses indicate where I have removed longer sections… enjoy!

Ivan and Abdul … had been officers of general rank before each was retired and ‘elevated’ to the post of ambassador in the backwater capital of Rien-à-faire.

Medieval War Both had established brilliant military careers in the service of homelands which had frequently been at war with one another…. So the two warriors were overjoyed at the opportunity their appointments afforded them for going over all of their old campaigns together. But after a few month, when they had reviewed all the victories and defeats from every possible angle…, they grew weary of their reminiscences and sought other diversions.

Sport seemed an obvious pastime for a couple of shelved warriors to take up, since sport seemed to them to be a kind of substitute, or polite, kind of warfare. It soon became evident to them, however, that sports were like warfare only in the most superficial respects. Specifically, they found that sports were hedged round with the most outrageously arbitrary restrictions.

In golf, for example, you were expected to use a golf club to get your ball out of a sand trap even when your opponent could not see what you were doing. And in tennis, you were expected to call a ball foul or fair honestly even when your opponent was not in a position to check your call. Chess was no better, since surreptitiously to alter the location of pieces on the board — obviously an effective tactic — was ruled out. Golf-Tennis

But since they could find nothing better to do to occupy their time, they continued to play these games, although — as the diplomatic colony to its delight soon became aware — with a difference. Whenever the rules could be broken without detection or retribution, they were broken. …

Things reached their fated conclusion in a climactic chess match. … The first game proceeded normally for six moves. Then Ivan made the move which was the beginning of the end. Utterly ignoring the rules governing movement of the pieces, he illegally moved his queen to a square which put Abdul in check. The fascinated audience waited breathlessly for Abdul’s response to this outrage. It was not slow in coming. He simply removed Ivan’s queen from the board and put it in his pocket. Ivan in turn was quick to respond. In a trice he had nimbly rearranged the pieces on the board so that Abdul’s king was in checkmate, crying, ‘I’ve won!’

charlemagne chess

‘Wrong, my friend,’ screamed Abdul, and gathering up all of the pieces except his king, he flung them to the floor.
‘Abdul, you can’t do that,’ said Ivan in outraged tones. ‘I won the game the moment you were in checkmate.’
‘So you say,’ responded Abdul, ‘but you were obviously mistaken, for there stands my king, quite free to move.’

Ivan had not, of course, expected such a transparent tactic to succeed with the wily Abdul. It had merely been a diversionary move so that he could, while his opponent was momentarily distracted, secure Abdul’s king to the board with the quick-drying glue he had all along held ready in his hand beneath the table. Then, of course, before you could say ‘scimitar,’ Abdul snatched a bottle of solvent from his tunic and freed his king. Ivan’s hand immediately shot out towards the king, but Abdul grabbed his wrist in time to forestall the assault. For a full minute they were locked in a frozen tableau of force and counterforce (evoking spirited applause form the audience), before they broke apart, leapt from their chair and began to circle each other warily. …

They fought all that night
Neath the pale yellow light,
And the din it was heard from afar.
Huge multitudes came,
So great was the fame
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.

The legend then incorrectly goes on to recount the game as ending in a tie with mutual destruction of Abdul and Ivan, followed by some sentimental reference to a tomb rising up where the blue Danube flows….

In fact, the two friends met the following afternoon at their favourite cafe. Said Ivan, ‘My friend, that was the best chess game I’ve ever played.’
‘Oh, unquestionably,’ replied Abdul.
They drank their aperitifs in companionable silence. Then Ivan spoke again.
‘Still, there is something that bothers me.’
‘Indeed,’ said Abdul, ‘Perhaps, you know, the same thing is bothering me.’
‘I shouldn’t be surprised. If you are thinking what I am thinking you will have realized that it will be impossible for us to ever play chess again.’
‘Just so. The instant of setting out the pieces for a game would be the signal for us to start a battle whose weapons had nothing whatever to do with chess, since the only moves either of us will accept are moves that really coerce, either by force or by deceit. For, since we will not abide by the rules of the game, the winner can be only he who has gained final mastery of the situation. And, of course, it’s not only that we can no longer play chess. For the same reason, we can no longer play any game, for games require that we impose artificial restraints upon ourselves in seeking victory, and we refuse to do that.’
‘Exactly,’ said Ivan. …

‘…But an awful lot of people do seem to play chess and golf, you know, without getting into a brawl.’
‘Civilians, old boy, civilians.’
‘Still, Ivan, look at all we’re missing. I sometimes wish I could play by the rules.’
‘Wishes don’t cost anything, Abdul. The question is, can you play by the rules?’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Of course not. We are what we are.’
‘Then it looks as though we’ll have to go back to reliving our past glories for the rest of our days. Maybe it’s just time to pack it in, Ivan, as a noble Roman would have done.’
‘I don’t think it has quite to come to that, my friend.’
‘You have an idea, Ivan, I can tell.’
‘A germ, Abdul, a germ. I’m going to sleep on it, however. Tomorrow at the same time?’
‘Very well. Till tomorrow.’

Next day Abdul found his friend already seated at their table at the cafe smiling broadly at the tumbler of vodka before him.
‘Tell me your idea at once, Ivan,” said Abdul, seating himself at the table.
‘At once, my friend, at once. I have thought about it all night and most of the day, and I am satisfied that the logic is absolutely compelling. There is one, and only one, game left for us to play.’
‘What game, Ivan? What logic?’
‘A fight to the finish, my friend.’
‘What! Ivan, you must be mad!’
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