Business Advice

Changer or player?

What makes a game player into a game changer?

There are two types of people needed to make anything great, be it a brand, a breakthrough in medical science/domestic cleanliness, or a simple office process. These are:

1)Game changers. People willing to put their heads above the parapet and come up with something so unique that it rewrites the rules for all who follow.
2)Game players. A team of people working within the newly written rules, dedicating themselves to making the game changer’s vision a reality.

James Dyson is a game changer, which is why his product is a household name in the UK. Spencer Silver is another, inventing the foundation for the most useful thing you’ll ever find in an office, but he relied on Art Fry to make it practical for market (which is why you may never have heard of him).

And behind all of these people will be the game players. They’ll be enthused by the idea of a bagless vacuum or an MP3 player with a scroll wheel. They’ll be the packaging designers, the accountants, the HR teams, the testing crews or the marketing departments tasked with rewriting their own rules to fit in with the way the field has suddenly shifted. They will be stretched – and enjoy being stretched – to compete with the game changer.

It’s a symbiotic relationship. The game changer, awake at two in the morning with the latest idea, can’t rewrite the rules alone. One person alone couldn’t bring a new type of MP3 player (for example) to market on their own, no matter how brilliant the idea. You need the designers, the manufacturers, the distribution centres, the POS material and customer care follow-up – the game players in other words.

And the game players need the game changers to come up with those thoughts which maintain their company’s competitive advantage – thus keeping them in their jobs.

It all sounds like some kind of exclusive club. Game changers on top, gamer players below. But you know what? The boundaries between the two are porous. Anyone can move from being a player to a changer or vice-versa.

Yes: Anyone can be a game changer – all they need is an idea and either the skills to push it through, or the guts to ask someone with the skills to build it/draw it/sing it for them.

Certain companies, agencies or people will have you believe that the game changers are a magic bunch, cloistered in an ivory tower somewhere thinking up marvellous schemes and setting the drones buzzing with the latest wheeze.

Well, they’re not. In fact, some of the best ideas come from those who you haven’t employed as creatives, designers or idea-people. Quite a lot of the time, it’s the people doing the work on the front-line who think “Wouldn’t this be easier if…” or “I wonder what would happen if…”

Sometimes the idea will be simple, a complete no brainer which everyone else has managed to overlook because they figure that someone else must have thought of it first. And some will come as a lightening bolt or the accumulation of a lifetime’s labour.

Your job, as a manager, will be to spot those moments of brilliance and clarity and bring them to the fore. Sometimes you’ll have to push the person behind it, other times you’ll just have to open the door. And, occasionally, you’ll have to get their permission to champion it on their behalf if they are to shy to do it themselves.

And then you’ll have to manage the transition of others as they move from game changer to game player. They might feel left out, pissed off that they didn’t come up with the idea or threatened as someone else takes a moment in the spotlight. It takes a touch of brilliance to be able to manage that, all while wishing you’d come up with that moment of clarity yourself.

But that’s why you’re the manager, isn’t it?


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