Category Archives: Decision Making

Yahtzee Lessons

I was probably seven when Grandma Anne taught me to play Yahtzee.  I’d spend the night at her house with my cousin, Devin, and invariably, we’d be at her kitchen table, playing Yahtzee all afternoon.

It’s a simple game…on the surface.

Each player gets thirteen turns to complete their score card.

The top section of the score card consists of numbers 1 thru 6.  You need to roll three ones, three twos, three threes, etc. to get your “minimums.”  You could also roll four fives (or four of anything), which comes in handy if you were only able to roll two threes on a previous turn.  The idea on the top section is to score at least 63 total points, so you can get the 35-point bonus.

Yahtzee! scores 50 points.  That’s when you get all five dice to be the same during your turn.  Some players focus solely on getting Yahtzee at the expense of everything else.  The theory being that 50 points is huge, and if you get a second Yahtzee that one’s worth 100.  Of course, the odds of getting a Yahtzee are against you, but the payoff is big when it happens.

Grandma was always clear that while a Yahtzee is nice, the most consistent winning strategy is to get your bonus on the top section.  Rely on those 35 points as your foundation.  A Yahtzee, or a big four-of-a-kind on the bottom section of the score card would be icing on the cake.

Relying on the foundational 35 and less on the Yahtzee probably explains many of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

Each turn, you roll five dice to start.  You get two more rolls in your turn.  Depending on what the dice show after your first roll, you may not need to take those additional rolls.  Life is good when you roll a complete large straight or a Yahtzee on your first roll!

The bottom section of the score card has three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind, full house, small straight, large straight, Yahtzee! and Chance.

Chance comes into play when you’re rolling for something that doesn’t happen.  Like, you already have your small straight, and now you’re rolling to complete a large straight.  Unfortunately, that last number doesn’t come up.  You count-up the total of all the dice and enter that number into Chance.

Chance is a lot like a mulligan in golf.  A do-over.  In this case, you get to capture some points even though the rolls failed to produce.  They say there are no do-over’s in life, but I disagree.  There are plenty of second chances, if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness (mostly from yourself), learn from your mistake(s) (hopefully), and try again.

How often do three sixes come up in a roll?  How likely is it that you’ll be able to roll that one specific number you need to complete your straight or full house?  When you’ve used up your Chance spot, and your rolls have led to nothing, which slot are you willing to sacrifice to end this turn?  Odds and decisions.

Yahtzee seems like a game of chance.  It’s much more.  It’s a game of decisions and imperfect trade-offs.

After a while, we graduated to playing Triple Yahtzee, which entails playing three games simultaneously.  You get 39 turns.  One column is worth triple points, one is double points, and the last column is regular points.

The decisions and trade-offs from the “Single Yahtzee” game are in play, but now you want to maximize the point values in your triple column and consider sacrificing some of the slots in the regular column.

Don’t be fooled.  Mastering Triple Yahtzee isn’t just triple the challenge.  As in real life, something that should be only triple the challenge is often exponentially more challenging than it first appears.

What is the answer to all this exponential chaos?  Methodical effort and focused strategy.  The priorities and the strategy are defined.  The decisions that follow from these priorities become clear.  Maybe even simple.

There’s a certain genius in showing a seven-year-old the game of Yahtzee.  They haven’t fully formed their approach to decision making.  Success, failure, decisions, and sacrifices are in play with every turn.  Excellent practice for the real thing.

Yahtzee illustrates how something completely random and driven by chance can be managed within a solid set of priorities and strategies.

I didn’t just get to learn about rolling dice, counting numbers, and making decisions.  Grandma gave me the gift of lasting memories that I cherish to this day, playing Yahtzee at her kitchen table.

Now that I have six (!) grandkids of my own, I can’t wait to teach them the game of Yahtzee…and then, Triple Yahtzee!

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

 

 

Did You Add Value Today?

I often ask people this question, and I never define what I mean by the word “value.”  I enjoy hearing the range of responses as the person quickly reviews in their head the times in the day where they added value.

No matter what you do each day, where you work, whether you’re paid for the work you do, whether you interact with lots of people, or toil in solitude.  The question matters.

Did you add value today?

Did you improve something?  Did you add a new idea to the world?  Did you help someone else today?  Did you listen?  Did you motivate?  Did you share?  Did you forgive?

If you manage people, did you help your direct reports add value today?  Did you congratulate them on the value they added?

Did you add value today?

A simple question.  It’s most powerful when you ask yourself this question a couple of times a day.

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

 

The Pebble

As in the small rock that somehow slipped into your hiking boot.

Can you give your boot a quick wiggle and move that pebble out from under your foot?  Maybe, but guess what.  It’ll find it’s way back under your heal in no time.  They always do.

Does it matter that you’re making great time up the mountain, and have lots of momentum on your side?  Nope.  That little pebble demands attention.

That’s the way of the small irritant.  It’s there and it won’t be leaving on its own.  It will start to cause damage, become more distracting, and take more of your attention.  Try as you might, there’s no way to ignore it.

The only thing you can do is stop and take off your pack, then take off your boot and dump that little pebble out.

Eliminate the irritant and get refocused on the trail ahead.

Sure, it’s annoying to stop.  But, the alternative is far worse.

Photo by Aneta Ivanova on Unsplash

 

The Power of Chaos

Chaos is easy to create.  Eliminate judgment, eliminate priorities, and you’ve set the stage for a good dose of chaos.

Chaos is seductive.  It gives the appearance of action while preventing forward progress.

All the planning, all the preparation, all the foresight…none of it will prevent chaos when we give it control.

Chaos provides excellent camouflage for mediocre results.

After all, how can I be held accountable when all around me is chaos?  If I’m able to deliver any results amidst all the chaos, I’m a hero.  It doesn’t matter if my results are of the highest quality or even the desired quantity.

Look around you.  Is your work environment chaotic?  What about your personal time?  Chaotic?

Is all this chaos creating a positive environment for the changes you want, or is it sapping energy and stopping progress?

The secret to chaos is that you own the choice.  You decide how chaotic your life is.  You have the power over chaos, even when it appears that chaos is in control.

When you choose your priorities, choose what gets your attention, choose what to ignore, and choose what to eliminate, you take back control from chaos.

Be careful…

As you consciously take steps to eliminate chaos, you will be held accountable for the results you should be producing, instead of the results you sneak past all the chaos.

In the end, living in chaos is easier than being truly effective…probably why so many people choose it.

 

Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash

 

 

Microwaves and Slow Cookers

I recently heard someone make reference to their art not being microwaved.  Their art is the kind that comes from a slow-cooker.

An interesting concept.

The food (or drink) that we place in a microwave is already mostly prepared.  We aren’t interested in the process.  We just want it to be hot, and we’ve relied on someone else to handle the actual work of preparation.

With the slow cooker, it’s up to us.  We choose the ingredients.  We do the preparation.  Separately, the ingredients just sit there…waiting to be part of something.  But, blended properly, with the right amount of time and heat (energy), those separate ingredients (hopefully) combine to create something unique and tasty.

The microwave measures its cooking time in 30-second increments.  Hot dogs wrapped in a damp napkin take about a minute.  Popcorn takes three to four minutes.  Organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s takes four minutes.

Slow-cooking time is measured in hours.  Six hours is usually too short.  Eight to ten hours gets it right.

And, what about the accompaniments?  With a microwave cooking cycle, there’s only time to get your plate ready, find a clean fork, and maybe pour a glass of your favorite beverage.  Linear and task-focused.

Slow-cooking provides time for the cook to consider what goes best with the main dish.  What shall we have for dessert?  Would a loaf of fresh French bread go well with this stew?  The fullness of the dining experience is in play.

Neither method is perfect.

Ever burn popcorn in the microwave?  If so, you know how quickly it can happen.  Something so simple becomes a lump of smoking charcoal.

Slow-cooking disasters are equally possible.  Your reward for that ten-hour wait may be something that’s not even edible (at least for anyone who has taste buds).

Both methods have their place.  Both carry risk.

The question is how are you deciding which parts of your life to microwave, and which parts to slow-cook?

A tougher question might be:  Are you making the choice, or allowing someone else to make the choice for you?

What’s it Gonna Take?

Questions that (should) open our thinking to new possibilities:

  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • How might we?
  • Why don’t we?

Questions that point us toward solutions:

  • Which strategy fits best?
  • What if we…?
  • How do we get started?
  • How can we make this work?

The real question to be answered before anything actually happens:

What’s it gonna take?

What’s it gonna take to:

  • Start?
  • Find the girl (or boy) of my dreams?
  • Buy this house?
  • Get the job I want?
  • Forgive?
  • Get this project moving?
  • Get this person hired?
  • Run a marathon?
  • Find the real meaning in life?
  • See the Eiffel Tower?  Iceland?  The Northern Lights?
  • Stop pretending we have it all figured out?

Each decision, each action, and each direction you choose carries a cost.

That cost will be in dollars, time, energy, commitment, pride, comfort, or a combination of these.  There’s also the opportunity cost associated with choosing one direction over another.

The biggest cost often isn’t in dollars.  It’s in our pride and comfort.

How much time will you give to an idea?  What if you’re wrong?  Are you willing to risk embarrassment?  Is it worth thousands of dollars to see the Eiffel Tower?  Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone to try something new?

There’s no such thing as a free decision.  And, the decision not to decide carries its own costs.

The challenge is understanding what it’s gonna take, and having the willingness to pay.

The Bargains We Make

I came across this classic poem recently:

My Wage

I bargained with Life for a penny,

And Life would pay no more,

However I begged at evening

When I counted my scanty store.

For Life is a just employer,

He gives you what you ask.

But once you have set the wages,

Why, you must bear the task.

I worked for a menial’s hire,

Only to learn dismayed,

That any wage I had asked of Life,

Life would have willingly paid.

–by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948)

My Question for You

What is your bargain with Life?

Are you working for a penny, or something more?

How about your end of the deal?

Are you even keeping score?

If we get out of Life,

Only what we ask,

I say go for the Moon,

And reach for the stars.

But, are you willing to bear the task?

Will This Be On The Test?!?!

SanFelipeSunrise

I’m told that this is one of the top questions students (and parents) ask of teachers.

Test questions in school come in many standard forms:  true or false, multiple choice, essay…just to name a few.  Oh yeah, and word problems!  Decipher the riddle, find all the numbers that fit into formulas, and arrive at an answer (hopefully, the correct one).  And, of course, remember to show your work.

We’re taught in school that there is only one correct answer to most questions.  Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, not 1493.  It takes two hydrogens and one oxygen to make water, not two oxygens and one hydrogen.  The student’s job is to learn (memorize?) the correct answers and then “ace” their test by answering all of the questions correctly.

It’s no wonder students ask what will be on their tests.  After all, their grade is in play.  Who wouldn’t want to know what they should study, and what they can ignore?  So much is riding on the outcome.

Tests outside of school aren’t as easy.  The questions don’t come from our teachers.  Variables are often missing, and formulas rarely provide one definitive answer.  They aren’t always fair.  They don’t come with a study guide.  There’s no advice about what should be studied, or ignored.  Real life tests come from our family, friends, customers, co-workers, managers, elected officials, our children’s teachers, strangers, and ourselves…on a daily basis.  A lot more than a grade is in play with most of these tests.

Attention to detail, listening to what is said and unsaid, curiosity, creativity, openness to risk, connecting with others we trust, and a clear sense of right and wrong are the guides we have in answering the real life test questions we face.

What’ll be on your next test?  Everything you’ve experienced in life up to this point, and probably a few things you haven’t seen before.  Here’s hoping you studied well.

 

Test Question:  What’s the connection between this post and the sunrise photo?

I don’t have time to think!

I heard this phrase the other day.  To be fair, the manager saying it was joking.  However, about fifteen minutes into our discussion, her phone buzzed and she (almost compulsively) checked it.  She looked up and apologized that she needed to respond.  It would only take a minute.

After finishing her response, she was back and totally focused on our discussion.  Where were we, anyway?  I wasn’t exactly sure, but I did write the following in my meeting notes:

I don’t have time to think, I’m too busy responding.

Have you fallen into this trap?  Are you so busy responding that you don’t have time to think?  Thinking takes time, energy, and discipline.  Responding requires only two of these resources.  Guess which one’s missing when all we do is respond.  Discipline.

Discipline is a choice.  Discipline helps us consciously think about the world as it comes at us.  Discipline provides the space to consider alternatives, and imagine new possibilities.  Discipline helps determine if a response is needed at all.

I Got in a Fight Today (almost)

As a crazy trail runner, I look forward to days like today.  My truck’s outside temperature reading showed 93 degrees as I embarked on my run.  I planned to take the slightly less strenuous route, which meant I’d save the biggest hill climbs for the middle part of the run, rather than the beginning.  As usual, I stopped at each bench for a round of push-ups…ten at each bench, rather than the usual fifteen.  Giving myself a break in the heat seemed like a good plan.

My run up Big Red, the highest peak in the park, had gone well, meaning  I was able to make it to the top without stopping.  The good news is there’s a bench at the top, so I was obliged to stop and do push-ups, and catch my breath.  I looked forward to descending the back side of Big Red, and reaching the turnaround point where I’d be heading into the wind.  Running into the wind, and catching a bit of shade from the trees next to the trail would help me cool off and recover from the first couple miles of the run.

I had just started enjoying the shady portion of the run when all of a sudden a guy on a mountain bike whizzed by me on the left.  In fact, he was so close that he actually clipped my left elbow on his way by.  I yelled,”IT’S ON THE LEFT, JACKASS!  TRY HAVING SOME TRAIL MANNERS!”  I didn’t think he heard anything and I continued down the trail.

As I came up to the only bench with a roof (we refer to it as The Bus Stop), there was Mr. Mountain Biker.  He was off his bike, and seemed to be waiting for me.  I thought about just running by, acting oblivious.  But, it was a bench, and I’m required to do at least ten push-ups at each bench.

I approached the bench and just as I started my push-ups, Mr. Mountain Biker asked, “What’s the deal with you?  You veered across the trail just as I was about to pass!  What were you yelling?”

I finished my ten push-ups, and took a nice swig of water from my water bottle.  Maybe I should have skipped this bench was the first thought that came in to my mind.  I generally like my runs to be solitary affairs.  There’s nothing like pushing against my physical limits to clear my mind.  “Have you seen the signs around the park?  Bikers yield to runners, and runners and bikers yield to horseback riders.”  I caught my breath and continued, “I didn’t hear you coming since you didn’t say ‘ON YOUR LEFT’ like most bike riders do.”  Then came the fighting words before I could stop them.  “Do you know anything about trail etiquette?”

That last question didn’t sit well with Mr. Mountain Biker.  He tossed his bike aside. “I asked you what you were yelling at me, butthead!”  He stepped toward me, and I thought he was about to shove me in the chest like seventh graders do at the beginning of fights.

I stepped back to avoid the shove that I knew was coming.  He stopped short and stood there, waiting for me to escalate.  I couldn’t help noticing that I was about six inches taller and at least 50 pounds heavier than Mr. Mountain Biker.  I think my subconscious mind noticed as well and that’s when the words started flowing.  “Buddy, you picked the wrong guy to mess with.  Sure, I’m a trail runner, but this is just for conditioning.  My real hobby is Jiu Jitsu, and I’m a personal injury attorney, always looking for new plaintiffs.”

He stepped back a couple steps.  I’m not sure if it was the Jiu Jitsu part, or the attorney part, that scared him the most.

“My trainer is going to love this!  I actually get to use some of the submission moves he’s been teaching me, outside the gym!

He stepped back another couple of steps, and moved to pick up his bike. “Dude, relax!”

“I am relaxed!  I just wanted you to know what you’re up against.  Besides, I’m the one who got hit, so I’m trying to figure out what your deal is.”

Mr. Mountain Biker was looking for the quickest way to exit the scene.  “Sorry about your arm.  I’ll be more careful next time.”  He hopped on his bike and headed down the trail…luckily in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go.

Thankfully, the rest of my run was uneventful.

As I listed my hobbies for Mr. Mountain Biker, I failed to list my favorite.  Fiction writer.  Fiction writing is basically writing lies for fun (and profit, if anyone buys your stories).

I am a trail runner.  I occasionally watch a UFC fight, but the blood makes me queasy.  My friends never let me live down the time I actually fainted while watching a UFC fight.  I work with corporate lawyers on a regular basis, but I’ve never even met a personal injury attorney.

Oh yeah, about Mr. Mountain Biker.  He doesn’t exist either.  Isn’t fiction great!