Video Games (Probably) Won’t Rot Your Brain After All

Since at least the mid-1980s, parents have worried that their kids are playing too many video games. Tobi Lutke was one of those kids.  Born in 1980, he spent his formative years staring into a faintly glowing screen while anxiously mashing buttons. What does he have to show for it today? Well, for starters – the company he founded, Shopify, has a valuation of around $15 billion as of 2018. He’s also (still) very pro-gamer.

The standard argument against video games is that we don’t learn anything from them. Tobi told Shane Parrish that if a kid wants to endlessly play chess, people will think, “that’s great, they’re learning strategy.” For Tobi, the same strategy most people learn from chess can be found in lots of different games. He says that we shouldn’t be so quick to discriminate.

Questions like, “should I attack aggressively from the beginning,” or “should I develop this area now to play defense late in the game” are examples he took with him to his business life. While these decisions only occur over long stretches of time for a company, a game allows you to have repeat practice, complete with lessons and failures, over countless 20-40 minute loops (in his case). Decision making under pressure, strategy, tactics – these all require practice, and video games were his preferred method.

Today, Tobi sees similar connections in the seemingly unrelated hobbies and information sources his peers and employees embrace. This is something we can all take a lesson from. Think back to your teenage years and remember some of your favorite things. Sports? Ballet? Comics? Music? Now consider the cycles you spent in each and ask – what parallels are there to your professional life today? How can you view the time spent as an investment into earlier versions of your current skillset?

We all have unique forms of personal discipline that we gravitate towards. In order to be maximally impactful advisors/consultants/managers, we should look to our past and find our equivalent to Tobi’s video games. By thinking across disciplines, we can realize deeper understandings of why we like what we like in order to enhance our strengths (and maybe even minimize our weaknesses).

I’ve found that uncovering analogies like these can be personally powerful and motivating. For me, it’s always been the discipline and community building associated with my involvement in music from a young age. What about you? How do you apply the lessons of your life passions professionally?

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