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BUSINESS CORNER - Business lessons learned playing Solitaire

May 01, 2014
By Lou Coenen

RIGA - Over the years, when I’m traveling on business, I’ll bring along a deck of cards. Just before I go to sleep, I’ll play three hands of classic Solitaire. It provides closure to the events of the day – good or bad – but also reminds me of some of the truths of running a business.

Laying out the cards – the start-up
Laying out the cards is like any start-up – there is a pattern and a rhythm that is generally followed. Once you’ve laid out the cards (identified your product or service), before you do anything else, you look at the cards. (This is the same as how your offering fits into the market). Some markets are easy to see and respond to, so you will want to act immediately to take advantage of them.

The first moves
Where there are immediate alternate possible card placements, you need to consider how to play them. Do you want to go with a high stack or a low stack? (Do you want to enter a crowded market or a less competitive one?). Each strategy has pluses and minuses.
If you can move some of your initial cards, new opportunities unfold. You need to look care-fully to see and assess them. It is too easy to miss an easy possibility if you aren’t watching carefully. (The same is true in any business – especially if the market is new to you or changing rapidly.)

Playing the game
As you deal more cards, new opportunities unfold – and some are closed off. Decisions need to be made! Do you play a particular card now or wait until later, to see more cards before putting it into play? (The same is true in business. There are times when you want to implement some-thing new into the market right now; in other cases, you may choose to see how things unfold a bit more before you move).
All the while, it is critical to always be aware of the cards in play and their relative positions to see what opportunities exist and what you hope will occur. (Knowing how your market and industry are evolving – and what advantages/problems do those changes will need responses).

Changes of fortune
Each turn of the cards unlocks new opportunities and challenges. Just when things look totally, completely, and utterly blocked, the next card turned will unlock everything, and ultimately you win! Conversely, that next card will bring everything you had hoped for to a crashing stop. Either way, you keep on going – always optimistic that something positive will unfold – but managing the reality that it may not. (It is imperative to be aware of the current state of your business – expectant and watchful – but always knowing the true situation).

The end
Solitaire, like any card game, has an end – a win or a loss. Either way, you can start again. (Businesses are similar. Know what are your “end-points” – either way).
If you are winning, what is your next objective? It can be targeting next year’s numbers, entering a new market, or taking the business public. If you are losing, then when do you “pull the plug” on a product or service you are offering – or even the company itself. As the song ‘The Gambler’ reminds us, “you’ve got to know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em”).

Epilogue
Virtually every game reminds me to remain detached, but totally involved and attentive to all that is unfolding. Just like running a business. Three hands are played – no more, no less. I’m mentally refreshed and reminded of the basics. I can turn out the lights and sleep soundly. I’ve done the best I can that day. Some¬times I win, sometimes I lose – but I can still play the game!

Lou Coenen has spent his career in international business marketing, sales and technology services organizations throughout the U.S, UK, Europe and Asia. He is currently teaching International Business and Marketing topics at a leading Australian university. Contact at: loucoenen@hotmail.com

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