Lessons From My Father
One of the things my dad taught me at an early age was to be “solution oriented”- this became a GameTruck core value. He didn’t want me to just sit there and be frustrated by a problem. I had to try to solve it. At its core, that attitude made him a great engineer. I can’t ever remember my dad running into a technical problem he couldn’t solve. Sure, plenty of problems stumped him for a while, but he would hunker down and grind his way through until he understood how to solve it. Later, he gave me the book, “Illusions” by Richard Bach. His favorite quote out of that book?
No problem comes to you without a gift in its hands. We seek problems because we need their gifts
Seeing Problems as Gifts
My father tried to teach me to see problems as gifts. Yeah, he struggled with that too. I think everyone does. However, the point was that we can’t control the problems, but we can try to control our attitude and mindset about them. Recently, I came across the “Engineering Problem Solving Process”. Someone actually distilled the way engineers think down into a series of steps.
They go something like:
- Define the problem
- Describe the results you want
- Do some research (has this problem already been solved?)
- Think of solutions
- Choose the most promising
- Try it
- Evaluate the results
- Jump back to any of the previous steps if the results are unsatisfactory
The Engineering Problem Solving Process
I used this process when I started GameTruck. Many entrepreneurs (and artists) claim they had a crystal-clear vision of what they wanted to build. It wasn’t like that for me. I had this vague idea of putting video games in a truck, but every step of the way, I had to ask myself, “How would that actually work?” For example, I couldn’t imagine how the TV’s, players, and consoles would all fit in the trailer, so I decided I needed to build a prototype to find out. I set it up in my garage. Using two by fours and sheets of plywood, I constructed a “box” about the size of the inside of a trailer. Then I started testing out different kinds of seats, and TV’s until I found a configuration that would work reasonably well.
The final trailer design did not deviate much from my initial prototype, but I started working that problem without really knowing exactly how it would turn out. I basically ran through several “loops” of the problem solving until I arrived at a solution that I felt was ideal.
From Vague Idea to Prototype
It turns out that basic layout was pretty good became it became the basis for virtually every single video game theater in the market. Up until that time, no one had created a gaming layout like it. All the prior art focused on “isolating” gamers – trying to distract them from being in the same small space. No one really focused on gamers sharing a common video game experience. Novelty rarely comes from doing things completely new; it often comes from combining things in new ways to produce affects or outcomes people had not anticipated before.
And every once in a while, a solution lasts. This setup has entertained more than 10 million kids at GameTruck alone since our inception and our GameTruck core value is why. And we don’t stop solving problems. We constantly ask. “What can we do to help people celebrate? To help people connect? What can we do to make mom a hero? To make it as easy for her as possible?” What can we do to improve our trustworthiness, so we’re more reliable and dependable, and the company you can count on to show up? It is a collection of many small things that make running a successful party business possible. It is our solution-oriented attitude that allows our system to do thousands upon thousands of parties each and every month and receive thousands of five-star reviews.
Conclusion: Join the Solution-Oriented Journey
Constantly focusing on solutions, I think, keeps us relevant. I also think it is one of the highest values that we have as a company. Why? Because sometimes a problem might knock us back, but it never knocks us down. In almost any situation we have found ourselves in, from my experience, I can say that, while we may not be able to fix it right away, with some curiosity, creativity, and tenacity, we can think of solutions that make the situation better. This is why being solution oriented is one of the GameTruck core value.
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In the winter of 1976, my mother setup an amazing family vacation for us during spring break at Disney World. We were going to stay at the Polynesian Resort inside Disney World. We could ride the monorail to the park every day! I can’t tell you how excited my sister and I were for this trip. We were so excited we packed up the car the day before we were supposed to leave!
There was only one problem. That night Michigan was hit with a horrendous ice storm, and the tree in our front yard split in half under the pressure of all that ice. Half the trunk fell across the driveway pinning our station wagon in the carport.
My sister, mom, and I were devastated. No trip to Disney! Heck, we couldn’t even get out of our own driveway! Dad however, didn’t say a thing. He walked into the storage shed, grabbed his chain saw and walked out to the branch and started cutting. He wasn’t trying to remove the branch – there was no way he could do all of that by himself. But he could cut a slot just wide enough to back the car through. And that’s what he did. He told all of us to get in the car, “We’re going to Disney.”
Later in life, my dad would call this approach to certain problems his “dumb luck theory of travel.” While everyone else I knew planned carefully and made reservations, Dad just got in motion. His philosophy was simple.
- Set your intent
- Get in motion
- Pay attention
He had no real plan after he cut the tree trunk, he just knew he could take the next step, getting in motion. But later, on other occasions, like a wizard he would say things like, “Let’s go get Italian food.” I’d ask him if he knew of a good Italian restaurant. He’d say, “Nope. But I’m sure we’ll find one.” And sure enough, every time we did. When I asked him, “How did you do that?” He would reply, “Dumb luck.” After all, what else could it be?
I think Dad enjoyed playing those games with us, but at the core of his idea was that he never let uncertainty stop him from taking definite action. He was not afraid of making mistakes, and he often made discoveries that could only come from being in motion.
I don’t think GameTruck would exist if I had not absorbed some of Dad’s “let’s give it a try and see what works out.” Sure, I did some research, but some of the most important decisions that shaped the company came from getting in motion and working on the problem. Ideas sprang from experience with the first trailer, generators, and materials. I found solutions to problems I never could have planned for. For example, I didn’t know until I built it that the AC units would work better turned sideways than blowing down the center of the trailer. I had no idea what the first party would be like, or the second, or the third. It was my brother Chris who told me a party is better as a party than a sports practice (I was a little too controlling in the early days). And he was right. Sometimes what we think we know can be the biggest barrier to success. Getting in motion and paying attention can open you up to new possibilities you did not contemplate.
At each stage of starting GameTruck, Dad’s advice rung true. I had a clear intention of what I wanted to achieve; I just didn’t know how I was going to achieve it every step of the way. But I always managed to take the next step available to me. I also kept my eyes open to the possibility that something even better might be waiting for me, and frequently a better solution or opportunity presented itself.
It has is my experience that clear Intent, coupled with focused action, and a willing openness to possibilities make a powerful combination. While Dad called that combination – or more specifically the results of that practice, “dumb luck” – I think of it differently. Action without vision is a hobby. A vision without action is a dream. Action and vision without openness quickly becomes a tired rut. While intent and openness are important, it is my firm belief that the willingness to try, to take action in the face of uncertainty is essential.
When I first started running GameTruck, we only had one truck and trailer. That worked until demand shot through the roof. We quickly built 3 more trailers and I had to hire staff to handle them. Early on, Chris and I could do everything. But when that third trailer showed up, we needed more help. Josh joined us and that’s when things started to get interesting. Who had filled the truck last? Was the first driver to leave going to be the last driver to return? GameTruck was small back then, so everyone was trained to every task. And while everyone could do anything, no one could do everything. This really blew up in our face when one day I sat down to update the game libraries in all the trailers and Chris had parties to run. See the problem? I get this panic phone call. “Where are the GAMES!?” I sped up to North Phoenix with a bundle of DVD’s. Not fun.
Booking was just as complex – we started out with index cards. I learned at Motorola you never automate a process you don’t understand. The index cards helped us put information on the google calendar. But… it was too easy to put something on the calendar without checking how far it was to the next party, or from the previous party for that matter. Parents, especially Mom’s don’t like it when there are 20 anxious 12 year old boys in her front yard and it’s party time with no truck or trailer in sight.
Caring is a great start, but being dependable requires more. Some problems you just can’t muscle your way through. It takes more the raw effort and desire to run a sophisticated mobile business. It takes smarts. Specifically, it takes tools and planning.
Caring about your business is not enough. You have to be smart about it too.
Until I ran a multi-trailer video game party business, I had no clue on the level of logistics planning that goes into executing a flawless weekend of events. This was why we early on invested in planning and logistics software to meet our needs. I’m talking about a lot more than GPS route planning. Our software is purpose built to help GameTruck owners. The whole goal is to give owners the right information, at the right time, when they can act on it.
Let me be more specific, the GameTruck portal doesn’t just tell you how long it would take to drive from one party to another, it also tells the person booking an event how long it is likely to take to make that drive on that specific day of the week, at that specific time of day the event is scheduled for. It does this right as you are booking the event! The system gives the owner, and the client information they can plan with.
“Being Smart” is about helping everyone make informed decisions so they can plan
From my perspective “Being Smart” is about helping everyone make informed decisions so they can plan. Our logistics software is just one example of that principle. When the person on the phone has accurate information, they not only sound smart, but they can make better decisions. When you have the information you need, when you need it, you can focus on the people you serve. Automating the ordinary, so the our team members can do the extraordinary is the best kind of smart I know.
Automating the ordinary, so the our team members can do the extraordinary is the best kind of smart I know.
Being smart is not just about having a high intellect or memorizing a lot of facts. To me it is a mindset. It is about learning from mistakes, reducing opportunities for error, and putting people in a position to be successful. It is about anticipating problems as much as possible and preparing to mitigate them. At the end of the day, competence is made of two core elements: Knowing what to do and being able to do it. As a franchisor we can make owners lives easier if we make the work easier to do with automation and strong systems. If we do that, then our owners can make mom the hero of her child’s birthday. And that, is the real goal.