Bart Lorang

The Business of Tetris: What type of player are you?

by Bart Lorang
Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

My girlfriend plays tons of Tetris. I joked with her the other night that if she got an iPad, she’d use it as a $500 Tetris machine. But, she’s also really good at Tetris.

Naturally, this got me thinking.Tetris.jpg

Types of Tetris Players

In my observations, I’ve identified a few different types of Tetris players:

  • The “I Have No Plan” Player
  • The “Go for Broke” Player
  • The “Take what the Game Gives You” Player

The “I Have No Plan” Player

This type of player has no clue. It is difficult to discern a coherent strategy. It is obvious that the player is constantly in “fire-fighting” mode. This player only seems to be interested in getting as many rows removed with each shape, even if it is not possible to remove rows with the current shape!

This style of play results in a mess of blocks stacked up, with gaps and holes everywhere in the structure. If someone else took over the game, it would take a long time to cleanup the mess that was left. The game usually doesn’t last long for this type of player, and they typically don’t enjoy Tetris, quitting for life after at most 10 games.

The “Go for Broke” Player

This type of player is only interested in scoring Tetris (4 rows at a time). Everything else is secondary. The block pattern that results is usually lots of blocks built up on one side of the screen, with a tall single column corridor ready for that “magical Tetris shape.” If the player is highly skilled and somewhat lucky, this strategy can work. However, usually, the Tetris shapes dry up, and the player busts. This doesn’t stop the player from trying again, and again, and again.

The “Take what the Game Gives You” Player

This type of player is never greedy. This player patiently waits for the shapes to come down, and puts them where they fit best. When an opportunity comes to remove a row, the player takes it. If the shapes align such that a “Tetris” is possible (4 rows at a time), the player takes it, but won’t hesitate to drop an “L” shaped block in that same slot if an “L” block presents itself first. This player advances far in the game and can play for hours, and rarely do the blocks stack up higher than halfway on the screen.

So, how does this relate to Business??

The most successful and sustainable businesses are those that “Take what the Game Gives You.” This type of business would rather have thousands of customers paying a small amount rather than a small amount of customers that pay a large amount. This type of business patiently goes about business every day, and when the opportunity presents itself to strike big, it takes it. In that moment, to outside observers, the business appears to be “Going for Broke” when in actuality it is simply executing a highly calculated well-thought out maneuver.

Some businesses start off as “Go for Broke” businesses, growing in spurts. These businesses get a “Tetris” (Big Customer) just in time, always on the hunt for the next “Tetris.” In cleaning up the mess that results from this never ending quest, the business rarely gets a chance to focus on sustainable strategy. Eventually, these businesses face a dilemma: change or die.

Leadership cannot merely pay this dilemma lip service. It requires 100% commitment. This transition can only occur when leadership fully recognizes that the business requires a sustainable model. Sidenote: “Sustainable” is more than just “Green”

Once leadership has fully committed to transition, it requires systemic change in nearly every area:

  • Sales must transition from personality driven to process driven.
  • Marketing efforts and attitudes must transition from “marketing is just fluff” to statistical, data driven activities.
  • Energy, time and patience must be devoted to building a brand both internally and externally.
  • Operationally, the product and service offerings need to be systemized and built for quality in such a way that they are reproducible in high volumes.
  • Culturally, the business must transition from “We’re building for this year or this quarter” to “We’re building for 10-25 years down the road.”
  • Rational decisions must be favored over emotional ones
  • Dividend decisions must be made to support sustainable growth formulas and money must be reinvested appropriately
  • Leadership must transition from managing day-to-day affairs to providing a clear vision and roadmap for all stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, partners and shareholders)
  • Work hard to hire and retain great people, provide them guidance, then get the heck out of the way

So…back to my Girlfriend. She’s a great Tetris player (“Take what the Game gives you”) and very successful in the business world. Coincidence? I think not.

Now: what type of Tetris player is your company? What type of Tetris player are you?

Feedback and commments are welcome!

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