Every year in Brussels they organize the “Brussels Game Festival”. It is really fun. For three days you can go and play any board game you want (for free!), you can try new games in the “protozone”, you buy new and used games. I bought an old version of Master Mind. Don’t know what that is? You definitely are young then! If you have never played it, you can find an online version at archimede-lab.org.
You might enjoy it, although I prefer the offline version with a physical board and a physical opponent! Mastermind is a 2-player board game in which one player lays down 4 or 5 differently coloured pegs in a secret nook, and the other player has to guess the colour combination and the placement of those pegs, and needs to do so in a given set of moves. Along the way, the first player will provide valuable information – signals – that should lead the second player to the solution: a black peg if the second player has guessed the colour and the placement of a peg, a white one if he has guessed the colour but not the position.
What would happen if you were the second player in a game of Mastermind and the first player, the one holding the secret combination, failed to give you correct information about the accuracy of your moves? The answer is that you would never win. The whole game is based on trust. If the player who knows the secret combination gives the second player false information, the second player will be misled and will never crack the code. It’s an easy way for the first player to win, but not a fair one.
Not unlike a game of Mastermind, getting hold of relevant and accurate information is vital for the success of a company. If the foundation of your company is based on incorrect information and poor analysis, you will start off on the wrong foot and will probably not have a chance to correct your path later on. You are most likely doomed to flop.
Let’s imagine that you decide to sell used books on the streets because you are certain that:
- People are avid readers during summertime
- People will buy used books because they cost less than new ones and are more environment-friendly
- People will always stop by and buy a book from you because they like enterprising kids
You are so certain about this that you spend all your allowance buying books as cheaply as possible from your neighbours in order to resell them with a small profit (or mark-up), and you spend a whole weekend piling up books from your own collection. But when the time comes to sell your books, no one wants to buy them! Maybe customers are just not interested in used books and you were wrong about that. Maybe they don’t read in the summertime, they go to movies instead. Or maybe your neighbours don’t like kids after all (remember when you smashed their window playing football in your backyard?). Whatever the reason, you made your move with incorrect information and now you have a house full of used books and no money in your pocket. In other words, you have flopped and you have done so unwisely.
You should have checked your information and realized that you based your decisions on mere assumptions, not on facts. In our technical jargon, we would say that you should have tested the market and pivoted accordingly.
What if, instead of spending all your allowance to buy all the books from your neighbours all at once, you had bought a smaller quantity to see how things went at the start? You might have discovered earlier, and at much less expense, that people don’t want books, and you would still have had money to try with CDs or vinyl records. You would have flopped anyhow, but more wisely.