Tetris Management

Sometimes businesses are managed the way a game of Tetris is played.

Take a blank Tetris board:

tetris_phase1.png

This is the best part of the game. You can go wherever you want. The whole world is at your fingertips. You’re completely in control of the way the company is managed.

This is the startup phase of your business.

You’re young, vibrant, and flexible. Things are new. They’re exciting. The current company environment, maybe even the market environment, is relatively simple and orderly. What’s your strategic plan? Get points!

Awesome. Let’s start laying down blocks.

tetris_startup2.png

Just about every block has a place during this phase. They all fit almost perfectly together.

Then what happens? The company starts getting bigger. You get more customers. It’s not just you anymore. You have people working alongside you, or maybe under you. In many cases the company has completely consumed your life, the same way the blocks have almost completely consumed the board.

But it’s OK, because things aren’t that bad. You’re still making a profit. You’re getting lots of points. But it’s more challenging now, because the blocks don’t fit together the same way they used to.

This phase, once the company has hit its stride, is like the REM sleep of the company lifecycle. It’s also the best position to be in during Tetris. Agile, yet profitable – still getting high scores. The business can even take risks to fill 4 lines at once.

tetris_doingfine_takingrisks.png

But there’s a threshold between this state and where your company’s strategic direction can go to shit.

Because oftentimes in Tetris, this happens:

tetris_ohshit.png

Dammit. I misplaced a block.

Could be a recall, maybe a PR disaster. Could be an incredible new challenger in the marketplace. Could be you were watching some competitor’s screen and forgot to pay attention to your own. Maybe your product or service just plain sucks. Maybe you hired somebody who isn’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Now every decision you make is because of this block. That goddamn misplaced block.

This is a pivotal step in the game. This is the point in Tetris where you stop setting yourself up for success. You stop paying attention to things like scores and levels.

You stop looking for where blocks should go and start looking for where they can go.

Of course, sometimes a company can recover from this misplaced block. No big deal. We’ll just work around the block, which will eventually go away as we eliminate lines. And if you can do that you’re back into that REM-like state of the game where blocks just seem to fit together.

But not most times. 80% of new businesses fail within their first year. They can’t work around the block.

That’s when this happens:

tetris_fffuuu.png

You go out of business.

So how do you avoid this? Only the absolute best players will never misplace a block. You (or your management) are going to misplace blocks.

Maybe you think like a Fortune 500 company and encourage conditions that give a bit of slack. You have enough security so that you can take risks that won’t be catastrophic. You play Tetris in a way that you’re never too close to the top of the board.

Could you break up that big game of Tetris that’s somewhere around levels 5 and ∞ into a bunch of smaller Tetris games between 1 and 4?

Or you could run your company in a way that’s not like Tetris. Maybe you run it like Starcraft.