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Business Lessons From Play

June 18, 2013

Growing up on a very low-traffic street allowed the kids on my block to develop a highly modified version of baseball – right in the middle of the street. As school-age kids begin their summer breaks, I want to take the opportunity to look back at the summers of my youth and reflect on the lessons I learned there as they apply to the business world of today.

1)     Use Available Resources: Rather than actual baseballs, we used tennis balls. They were much softer, causing less damage to houses, windows, parked cars, and each other. Besides this fact, one of the neighbors offered to supply us with ‘spent’ balls from his tennis club (this may have been influenced by the second broken window on his house). 1st and 3rd bases were both water meter markers, home base was a manhole cover, and second was a particular shallow gap in the asphalt – though they were all completely different sizes and shapes, they never moved and were easily recognizable to everyone on the block.

2)     Include Everyone: Another resource was the other neighborhood kids. In order to get a game started, we would grab a sleeve of balls, our bat and glove before going on a recruitment tour up and down the street. We used everyone who could make it and had some creative line-ups – somehow the double catcher system didn’t spread beyond our street, but it was very important as we didn’t have a backstop. The role of pitching was to keep the game interesting and often meant throwing it so the batter had a good chance of putting the ball in play.

This allowed us to learn and develop each others’ strengths as well as welcome new kids to the game as they moved onto the block.

3)     Ever-shifting Teams: The purpose of our game was to keep all the players engaged, and since we didn’t neither a bench or dugout, nor enough people to field two full teams; we developed a system of establishing a batting order while still playing the field – essentially making a team out of whoever was batting and on base. The rest of the players were on defense. This rotation system also meant we had to shift defensive positions and give each player the opportunity to play everywhere in the course of just one afternoon game. Each of us kept our own scores and stats and helped to contribute to the play of the game, while still trying to out-score each other.

This built a foundation of flexibility and versatility to our developing minds and helped us see the game from different perspectives.

4)     Self Regulation: There were no unbiased umpires, and no video replay for confirmation. Nor could we afford to allow a player to get upset about a ‘bad call’, throw a tantrum, and storm off the field. Occasionally however, this did happen and one of us had to negotiate with that player until s/he came back to the game.

This elevated all of our moral-conduct, honesty, communication, and negotiation skills that can loosely be summed-up as getting along with others. It is more about finding a win-win situation than about compromise.

5)     Hold Play: We lived on a very low-traffic street, but when cars did drive through we had to quickly and completely clear the field (thankful for permanent bases), politely wave to the driver for the obstruction of the street, and then resume positions before the game continued. Though this occurrence was rare, it would happen once or twice during every game. If we started in the late afternoon, we would have to suspend play for an hour or more as working parents arrived home and dinners were served. As we came back to the street one at a time, we would begin with basic hitting catching skills until enough gathered to resume the game.

This played into our developing flexibility, respect, and ability to share. We realized that the street was designed and built for cars, and that having the right attitude allowed car and kid to both enjoy the street.

Though I am grateful to live in the digital age, and enjoy the benefits of our electronically-connected, global society; I am glad to be in one of the last generations who spent hours playing outside – developing imaginations and the complex social skills needed to navigate in business. I invite you to share this article with your current, as well as childhood friends and take a few moments to look back at what lessons you learned at play.

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