Go for the Gold!

March/April 2002

Going for the Gold!


“I’ve stood my watch at the firm’s helm; now it’s time for someone else to do it.”

“I need about five more years to build the equity that I need to retire.”

“Well, two more years and it’ll be time to leave the firm.”

“It’s been 35 years; that’s enough for anyone!”

“It’s tough coming to work anymore.”


I’m finding an increasing number of firm leaders sounding this way! These are talented, experienced, bright people with leadership qualities that got them where they are … the heart of a firm’s “intellectual capital.” But after dealing with changing markets, changing service demands, changing staff expectations, and constant monitoring of utilization rates and cash flow and backlog and a myriad of other things that have nothing to do with why they entered this profession … their fire is waning.

Years ago I experienced – and later administered – a “game” called “Star Power.”

The group is divided into three teams: the Circles, the Triangles, and the Squares. Each person on each team is given an envelope with different colored poker chips, and a set of instructions that assigns a certain “wealth” value to each color, and provides ways to increase your assets by achieving three of a kind or other special combinations. At the appointed time, a “Trading Round” begins, in which anyone can exchange chips with anyone else … with the goal of increasing your total wealth.

The trading is fast and furious … as everyone schemes for ways to trade up.

At the end of the first Trading Round, teams post their scores. The team with the highest average score – whose members “have clearly demonstrated superior trad-ing ability” – is then given the privilege of making the rules for the rest of the game. The other teams can pass written suggestions to the rule makers. Rule changes can be anything at all … and can be announced or not. (Life often has hidden rules.)

The second Trading Round has somewhat less energy, as the rule-making team ad-justs rules to ensure their continued amassing of wealth. Members of the two other teams become increasingly dissatisfied – and angry – until the “game” breaks down.

Well … the “best” team is always the Squares … because the envelopes were not really given wealth randomly. The real focus of the game is the use – or abuse – of power. The Squares could open dialogue, and create open rule making. But they don’t; they consistently take care of #1 first and foremost. What’s the lesson here?

We live in “Star Power” in the real world. If I were born obscenely wealthy, I probably wouldn’t be providing consulting services and writing this newsletter. The Squares always run things. And if they get caught with their hand in the till, they take care of one another … change the rules, or invoke “Executive Privilege.”

The point for the rest of us?

The intricacies of trading, to increase wealth, make the “game” all-consuming. We can spend our lives playing it. Then, when we think we’ve done well, certain stocks collapse, or tax laws change, or inheritance laws shift. The intrigue commands our attention, but … the “game,” in and of itself, actually has no substance.

What does have substance, then? A few years ago, Jane Fonda was asked how much she made on her exercise videos. Her answer …

“When I’m on my deathbed, reflecting back over my life, I don’t think my net value will be what’s foremost on my mind.”

About 25 years ago, I went to a four-day workshop on “Creativity and Risk-Taking” conducted by Dr. Richard E. Byrd – a mentor and founder of “The Mandeville Techniques.” He defined “risk-taking” unusually: inner-directed -vs- other-directed …

“When we’re little, and our parents ask what we want at the store, it’s easy … ‘I want this and this and this!’ As we get older, other people increasingly want things from us … our parents, teachers, friends, kids, spouses, relatives, or bosses … until we lose touch with ‘I want.’

“If we look at our day as divided into pieces of a pie, how much is left that is just for me? People who lose touch with what’s important to them, just because it is, become despondent and severely depressed. And when you reclaim time for yourself, others become disappointed.”

Being in touch with “I don’t want” – I’m bored or unhappy or angry – isn’t as difficult as getting back in touch with what we do want. This is tough – but essential.

Dialogue with insightful friends or an executive coach can be helpful. Nick Gore’s book, Pathfinder, or “What Color is Your Parachute?” may help; both have self-insightful exercises. It gets down to “What’s fun?” and “What has meaning?” By getting in touch with it now, our professional lives become more exciting. Living in a more fulfilling way in the present also prepares us for living a more fulfilling future.

The Squares always control “wealth.” But other kinds of “wealth” are only yours. Life is more than “utilization rates.” It’s time for “Gee Whiz” and “Wouldn’t it be fun if …” and “I wonder if I could …” Time to relight the “fire” and … Go for the Gold!


The “Garden Atrium” sustainable housing project we’re developing will have model home open houses the 1st weekend in April. Let us know if you’d like a notification.



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