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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Improve critical skills through gaming

I have written numerous times in my blogs about critical skills that managers need to be successful and to enhance their careers (see Soft skills in a hard world). In these blogs I often talk about obtaining these skills through traditional methods such as studying and practicing. While this may work for a section of the population, there are those that learn better through non traditional methods. Thus the focus of my blog today.The most critical skill in my opinion for a manager is the ability to communicate. The majority of managers communicate through writing and speaking. Both of these skills depend heavily on vocabulary. Thus enhancing one’s vocabulary is one way to strengthen communication skills. So how do we do that and have fun at the same time? Play a word game of course!

One of my favorites growing up was the “Word Power” pages in Reader’s Digest. These pages are still available in Readers Digest, however we are tech folks right? We don’t need paper! <grin> No worries folks, you can enhance your word power on line with Readers Digest Super Word Power. Spend some consistent time playing the game and you will increase your vocabulary. Another source of vocabulary games is Sheppard Software. They have a variety of vocabulary games for all levels. For adults I would focus on the ones designed to improve your SAT/GRE scores - these will be geared more towards the words you will find in the workplace and in management. Another way to improve vocabulary comes in your daily newspaper - crossword puzzles. They are another way of passing time while improving yourself without realizing it.

Besides vocabulary, grammar is another important building block in our ability to communicate. The BBC comes through for us here with their Skillwise section on their website. This site is an excellent starting point for improving all areas of written communication. It is worth a look.

Besides being able to communicate, a manager/leader must have critical thinking skills. One way to improve these skills is through logic problems/puzzles. Again revealing my age, I used to get these types of books at the supermarket in the checkout aisle. They were packed full of logic problems and their answers and you could spend days and weeks figuring them all out. I think these are still available but you may have to find them in your drug store or book store. However if you don’t want print, here are a few electronic links that will get you some logic exercise for your brain:
The last skill regarding communication is speech or speaking. For this, I have a game of sorts but it cannot be played online. The only requirement to play is that you need another human being that will play along with you. It is pretty simple conceptually but harder to do than you think. Take a topic, ideally IT related, and explain it to a non IT person. Here are the rules:

(1) You have to be able to explain the entire topic in 10 minutes or less.
(2) You must try to avoid jargon and technical terms and if you must use them you have to explain them.
(3) You have to explain to the person you are talking to why the topic is important, why they should care, and convince them to take some kind of action.

(4) You cannot use visuals of any kind and you must not stutter, stop and think, get noticeably frustrated, raise your voice or come across in a condescending manner. The last part about condescending is particularly important. This game will prepare you for those moments (I had one of these 2 weeks ago) when a senior executive calls you out in a staff meeting and asks you to explain your complex data conversion project in 2 minutes and tell him or her why it is important to the organization and to the legislature. I failed miserably - note to self - don’t doodle and day dream in staff meetings.

Understanding strategic business concepts is important to anyone in IT that needs to understand the enterprise as a whole. Many IT managers though are often confined to the world of IT and have little knowledge of how the rest of the business works. Therefore, having at least a basic concept of business strategy gives one a better sense of how the enterprise and business operates. I used to play a game many eons ago called the Harvard Business Simulator. I doubt that it is still available (this was pre-Windows) but I think I have found some new on line equivalents:

Business Strategy Games
The Business Strategy Game
I am still a big proponent of reading and I truly believe it is becoming a lost art. Therefore I still recommend that you have The Elements of Style and What NOT to Say! as part of your library and that you make some critical reading (not the newspaper but something written at a higher grade level) part of your weekly ritual. In the meantime, spending some time with the games I suggested above will provide you with some self improvement opportunities that aren’t dumbed down, geared towards adults and are fun at the same time.

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