I was in my company’s call center and someone had made a mistake. I could tell because a franchise owner, who had called to speak to an agent, sounded upset. Mistakes with event bookings can be very stressful to owners, and it was all crashing down on a call center worker who was brand new to the company. I remember thinking “please, just don’t make her cry.”
What actually happened on that call blew my mind. Far from breaking down, the agent remained poised and calm. She respected the owner’s feelings, took the issue seriously, thanked the owner for bringing the issue to her attention, and took the steps she needed to address it.
For context, I was raised to believe that you had to earn respect, as if respect is a scarce resource. Respect was talked about like money, like a few people had a lot of it, but that most of us didn’t have enough, and that we were going to struggle to earn enough for the rest of our lives. In that call center, I learned from my agent that respect doesn’t follow the laws of scarcity. Neither of the people on that call had to “earn” each other’s respect, the way I had learned they should. One respected the other, and they got respect back. Respect is an infinitely renewable resource. It’s something that we can generate from within ourselves and that we can give away freely.
The late George S. Thompson spoke of respect as one of the most powerful tools available in his profession as a police officer. He was an imposing 6’2”, had a PhD in English, and a black belt in judo, but he valued his ability to be respectful above any of these advantages. In his book, Verbal Judo, he explains that even though he had the physical ability, the moral authority, and the legal right to force people to do what he asked them to do, every time he used those abilities, it was the worst decision he could make. Thompson believed that it was always more effective to treat people with respect, exactly what my call center agent had done.
I am not overstating that her attitude and that of the team that followed her completely transformed the way that not only our franchise owners talked to our booking center, but how everyone at our company started talking to each other. Our culture shifted. Even our franchise owners, like the caller I overheard, began talking to one another differently. When we model for others by giving the respect that we would like to receive, that respect comes back to us amplified. Respect is something that we can demonstrate in a wide variety of situations. Everyone craves to be recognized, to be understood, and, ultimately, when people are recognized and understood, they’re open to being helped.
At the end of the day, that’s all that call from the franchise owner was, a cry for help. Very often, people are upset and angry because they’re afraid that no one cares enough to help them. One of the most important things you can do, then, if you do care, is to act out of respect. I believe that the more respect we put into the world, the more respect there will be for all of us, the calmer people will behave, and the better the world will be. It certainly has been that way at my company.
A friend of mine recently reached out to me and said that she was concerned about how much her child was playing video games. She was afraid she was losing her child to them. Now, for many parents, that’s a common concern, and it may be a concern you have. My advice took her by surprise, because what I encouraged her to do was lean into her child’s interest. I asked her if she had ever played video games with her child, and she said no. I encouraged her to make the effort to sit down, give it a try, and see what happened.
Her child was playing a game called Minecraft which is extremely popular. When my friend jumped in, she was shocked at the complexity of what he was building in that game. She told me “Oh my gosh, he’s learning engineering!” It turns out, in the game of Minecraft, there’s a material called redstone you can collect and use to build simulated electrical circuits. People have built devices like calculators, even computers, using the tools available in-game that function like their real-world counterparts. She had no idea the depth of the world he was exploring and the complexity of what he was constructing. She said it reminded her of a lot of the type of creative work her employees did at the graphic design agency she runs.
The experience radically changed the conversations she was able to have with her son. She could see and understand what he was building. He used to quietly hide away in the corner because she wouldn’t understand it, but now he couldn’t wait to share with her what he was doing and what he was learning, and a whole new world opened for both of them.
I’m not saying there aren’t any legitimate concerns about our children gaming, but I’m not so much worried about how much time children spend playing video games. I’m worried instead about the quality of play and the social dynamics. Leaning into your child’s interest isn’t necessarily about playing more games with them, though I do encourage that, but it can also be looking for opportunities to use the game to get them out of their room. Enroll them in a local video game league. More and more cities are adding esports programming, for example. Esports is competitive video gaming, but there are also casual gaming programs, at libraries, for example. There’s an increasing number of groups that are trying to provide safe, secure environments for kids to play together online, because it’s important to know who the children are interacting and playing with. I’m a fan of local gaming because it gives you the best chance to play with other kids. You could actually hang out with them from those connections.
Another idea to think about is that, for many kids, gaming is about more than just playing games. Typically people that play with technology are also interested in learning how it’s made. There are opportunities to learn how to do animation for video games, art for video games, programming for video games. There’s a very popular franchise in Arizona called Ninja Coders who will teach you how to code video games. That’s only really scratching the surface in the industry; games also involve writing, cinematography, sound design, music, the artistic use of game mechanics themselves, there are so many creative and technical interests wrapped up in a typical video game that you could use to redirect your child’s interest into something they can get paid for in the future. More and more schools are offering summer camps and programs that use these interests to engage kids in developing valuable skills. Instead of resisting and trying to pull back from gaming, lean in and redirect your child’s interest.
Create more social opportunities for play, maybe inviting other players over to your house so they can play. Something we’ve seen in our work in the video game industry is that when we get gamers together and get them to play together, especially in the same space, the amount of energy and connection and comradery that unleashes is tremendous. You don’t have to have a Gametruck party or a Gameplex party or a Bravous event to do that. You can do that in your own home by sitting down and playing some games together with your kids. We had an amazing Thanksgiving last year which I’ll write about another time where we got our entire family, including my wife who wouldn’t identify herself as a gamer, into a video game together, and it was an awesome experience. When you see your child developing a strong interest in gaming, even if you’re not worried about it, I would encourage you to lean into that interest and see what’s there, because there’s a massive world that may be waiting for both of you to discover together.
Dr. Sabrina Starling encouraged me as a business owner not just to share values from our company culture but also my personal values. It made a lot of sense to me. It’s intuitive that a business owner would strongly impact the culture of the company they founded. So I sat down and created a list of 8 values that are important to me personally. Once I started looking at them I could see that, yes, I do see those values playing out in my business virtually every day.
One of the values I wrote down reads “Apply what you learn.” I have two engineering degrees and I come from a family that does value education very highly. I care a lot about learning. That said, knowledge for knowledge’s sake is just entertainment. I love trivia, interesting esoteric facts, they’re fun to me for sure, but what I value most about knowledge is what you can do with it. Perhaps that’s the engineer in me. When it comes to business, I have a responsibility to deliver value for people, to have a positive impact on their lives. I take that seriously, so I always try to push new knowledge a step further than my own entertainment. I look for how I can apply it, and that’s when I feel I can really create innovation.
If I learn something new, one of the first questions I ask is “How can I apply this to make my world better or the world better for someone I care about?” “Someone I care about” is, of course, a pretty broad category that includes my immediate family, my extended family, my work family, and our clients. As I look at information, I very often ask “How is it useful? Where could I apply it?”
I’m clearly not the first person to think this. I think Tim Ferriss has an awesome process that I’ve started using myself. When I read a good old-fashioned paper book, one of the things I like to do now is to draw a box in the front of the book on one of the blank pages or the space around the title page. As I start coming up with interesting ideas or highlights, I list page numbers somewhere near that box, and it becomes an index for ideas I might want to revisit later. As I get near the end of the book, I may ask myself “what would I do with this information? How should this knowledge cause me to change my practices and my habits?” and that’s what I write in the box. And so, as I read books, I often come up with an action plan instead of just new information.
Recently I agreed to be the learning chair for a non-profit organization I’m a part of, and every time I bring in speakers, I ask what the takeaway value will be for the audience. How can we create movement in the audience and the people that are listening? How will this talk change their lives or themselves or the other parts of the world they care about? It all comes back to my values, my belief that, if we learn something, we should try to figure out how to apply it.
Bringing all of your knowledge together can lead to innovations no one else is capable of. I remember it being so satisfying for me to design and build the very first mobile video game trailer. I had the opportunity not only to rely on my video game background but also my electrical engineering background and my computer systems background. I applied all of those skills to make something no one had ever made before. It was the first mobile video game theater that was designed for groups of people playing video games together. Up until that point, people had been exploring putting video games in a trailer or a mobile platform, but everyone was doing the same thing. They were trying to isolate the players. Everyone played separately, walled off.
My vision was a shared experience. What if we were all together, if we tore down the walls and put all the screens up where everyone can see what everyone else is doing? The result of that was Gametruck, our successful franchise that has been running for a decade and a half and has entertained over ten million kids and adults.
Applied knowledge made a huge difference in that process and many others, which is why it is one of my core values. When we learn something, we want to act on that new knowledge and make sure it shows up in our world in a real way.