As a child, I recall my grandfather telling me that running a business (and life) is akin to playing the game of Snakes and Ladders. I never understood what he meant until I became an adult and started a business.

Running a business is like playing a game of Snakes and Ladders because it involves ups and downs, luck, strategy, and momentum. For example, in business, you may experience rapid growth and success, only to be hit by unexpected economic conditions or a change in the market that sends you sliding down the board. Alternatively, you may experience setbacks and failures, but with the right strategy and execution, you can climb the ladder back to success. For those who don’t know the pathway to business success, can’t read the signs and don’t know the rules running a business can be the toughest game in town.

The following examines business Snakes and Ladders and how you can make the most of Ladders and avoid being tricked by Snakes who promise us an easier ladder to business success.

  • The Game: The board is your business and your life. The dice are the choices you make – and how hard you try (high score/low score). The squares are the progress you make by showing up every day – one day at a time, one square at a time. By getting to the last square you have completed the trials and tribulations of running business, you have won and can now choose to open up a new game i.e. start again, retire, or… [insert your personal vision].
  • Ups & Downs – running a business has its ups and downs, in fact you need both to learn and move forward.  The ups (Ladders) are the moments of truth, the opportunities and relationships that accelerate you forward – that build capital and not just income. The downs (Snakes) are the situations, things and relationships that have us sliding back down the board emotionally, physically and financially.
  • Luck & Momentum: In both running a business and playing Snakes and Ladders, luck can play a big role in your success or failure. In Snakes and Ladders, the rules are that you have to play to win, and the dice must be thrown, and choices must be made. Similarly, in business, you might encounter a lucky break (ladder) that propels you forward, or an unexpected challenge (snake) that sets you back, so you lose momentum. It’s all in the roll of the dice.
  • Strategy: While luck can be a big factor in both running a business and playing Snakes and Ladders, there is also a strategic element to both. In Snakes and Ladders, you might choose to take a risk and climb a ladder that could take you closer to the finish line, or you might play it safe and avoid Snakes that could set you back. In business, you might choose to invest in a new marketing campaign that could help you reach more customers, or you might choose to cut costs to save money to achieve your vision. However, as Lee Bolman reminds us, a vision without a strategy is an illusion, so make sure your action has direction.

In the end, unlike the game, running a business is a real-world endeavour with real consequences, so the stakes are much higher. However, there are some universal truths in the analogy of business as a game of Snakes and Ladders:

  • without Ladders, you are an employee or sole-trader and the route to the top will be slow and arduous – but low risk
  • with Ladders, you are an entrepreneur and business leader and the route to the top can be rapid – but high risk and…
  • Snakes come out of nowhere, are very good at disrupting momentum and creating disruptive behaviours that introduce apathy and/or she’ll-be-right attitudes in business and…
  • like running a business, games are fun, but success requires a combination of strategic planning, skilful execution, and a bit of luck.

To help you examine your business we’ve created a game of Business Snakes and Ladders for you to play. To navigate your Business Snakes and Ladders contact your local Prime Advisor.

 Click here to download Prime Strategies Business Snakes & Ladders board game.