My husband has been playing Zork recently on his iPad, happily marching his way through the world, drawing his map as he goes. I hate Zork and all its friends – smug little text adventures that don’t allow for creativity and a free spirit. Sometimes it totally makes sense to feed the bird to the snake! And yes, I DO want to try to kill the dragon with my bare hands, thank you very much.
Okay, let me back up and provide some context. When I was a kid, my father brought home the mighty Osborne 2 Executive computer (the OCC-2 for purists). It was splendiferous – 5″ x 5″ monochrome CRT screen, integrated keyboard, side-by-side 5-inch floppies…oh, it was a masterpiece, my friends. Add an orange magnifying screen and hook that baby up to a dot matrix, and we were set for hours. One of the more popular programs that took up our time was Adventure, a text-base game in which the protagonist (you) wandered around picking up clues and objects with the goal of navigating a network of caves in order to…do something. I honestly don’t remember. I don’t remember because I never seemed to get further than distracting the snake with the bird to open the door with the key, thus entering the caves…where I immediately get stuck. From that point on, the game became me wandering about aimlessly, trying to escape the computer telling me, “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike….” No matter what direction I typed in, the computer just kept telling me, “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike….” I think that experience was the beginning of my sarcasm skills – I kept trying to figure out a way to get the computer to respond in a creative way. It never did, but I sure had fun trying.
So why is she telling us this, you may ask? Because many times, our leaders become the Adventure computer game. THEY know the best path through the network of caves. THEY know what those random clues and objects mean – of course you should have picked up that staff you happened upon 2 hours ago. Duh. Even worse, some leaders assume there is only one path through the maze. No matter how creatively you think about the situation, or what flashes of insight you might have that could allow you to instantly solve the issue, your leader insists that every step must be taken in a specific order – no step-skipping, no creativity. Rather than provide us with clarity and help, our leaders often play the role of the computer, sitting back while you fumble your way through the workplace, claiming “I’m offering you development” when all you hear is, “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike…” And no matter what you say to your leader, he/she just keeps coming back with “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.”
The resultant frustration experienced during such an “adventure” is enough to make even the most ardent among us want to reboot the game and start somewhere else. Sometimes you might need to, but before you take that step, you can learn from the world of text adventure games to try and finish the journey:
- Know what you’re getting into: The first time I played Adventure, I had no idea what it was. It was a computer game (what’s that?!) and it seemed cool. So I gave it a try. But I didn’t know that it was a slow moving, text-only “game” that relied heavily on the mythology of D&D. If I had, I may not have been so eager to try…or I might have been more patient with the process. Find out as much as you can about your leader (think of it as reading the back of the box for the summary). That way you know a little more about what you can expect from this person.
- Take notes and learn from your mistakes: One of the rare benefits of a game like Adventure (and a leader who thinks that way) is that you can start to figure out the patterns of behavior that lead to bad results…and change them. Took a wrong turn and ended up lost? Write down what you did and then next time, do something else. Failed to present your ideas to your boss in a way she likes and the proposal was shot down? Write that down and next time, adapt your message to your audience. Eventually, you learn to anticipate moves because you’ve learned to recognize the pattern.
- Be specific in your communication: Nothing like FORTRAN programming to force you to be very specific and intentional in what you say. Computers are so literal…and so are some leaders. Take the time to really think about what you need from your boss – be specific, be clear, and be succinct. You may be surprised by how well that leader responds to you.
- Use the invisi-clues: Okay, those are Zork-specific, but it still applies. Invisi-clues were sections in the book that let you slowly reveal hints to help you past the tough spots in the game. Your peers, and your leader’s peers, are your invisi-clues. Don’t try to navigate every tough spot on your own. Yes, it DOES help you learn, but sometimes you just need to figure out what the next steps are.
- Remember, it’s okay to shut down the game every once in awhile: Do you feel like you’ve been banging your head against the wall over and over, and you STILL don’t know what to do with that stupid scroll…er, document? That’s what vacation is for – a chance to walk away for a little while. If you can’t do a vacation, switch to something else for a little bit. Give your brain a chance to think about something other than the twisty passages for a spell. Your brain has an amazing capacity for finding the answers when you’re NOT consciously thinking about it. Give it an opportunity to do so.
Whatever you do to get through your maze of twisty passages, just remember that it’s work – important, but just another part of your life. Maybe you get frustrated, but find the elements that make you happy and keep trying to break the code. No, I never seemed to make it out of that stupid maze, but I played that game for years, happily exploring the different paths that might lead me to…whatever the goal of Adventure was. Each time, I got a little further before getting lost. And I swear, once after hours of trying, the computer was proud of me…and said, “You are in a little maze of twisting passages…” – just to throw me a bone.
The mighty Osborne 2 Executive (OCC2). Oh yeah….