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What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Playing Pinball

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When most people think of gaming today, they are playing interactive video games on their smart phones, Xbox or some other gaming system. Given that I am the consummate contrarian, I take an old-school approach to gaming: Playing pinball.

Pinball is an addictive game, which I have made more addictive by placing a “Simpsons Pinball Party” machine in my living room. Yes, seriously. However, I like to find a business lesson in everything that I do and I realized that pinball is not only a way to pass free time, it can teach you some powerful lessons about business as well.

That’s right, playing pinball can make you a better business owner. Here are a few of the key lessons that you should learn as you hit the flippers.

Having a strategy makes you more successful.

You can play a pinball machine and not have any strategy other than to keep the ball in play. You can do fairly well just hitting and protecting the ball. However, to get to hidden modes and to maximize your score, you need to have a strategy. A certain ordering of your shots, combination of maneuvers or preferred shots in certain modes will garner you the most points.

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That is analogous to business. You can do what’s in front of you and make some money, but if you want to be as efficient as possible and make the most money, you need to have a strategy. You need to know what to prioritize in terms of your tasks and offerings. You have to know what you are trying to accomplish with everything that you do and how that affects your overall endgame. Taking time to plot a strategy should allow you to achieve a high score in the form of a highly padded bank account.

You can only keep a few balls in play at once. 

On my pinball machine, if you are good enough, you get the opportunity to have a chaotic experience called a “multiball,” where several balls are put into play at the same time. However, the more balls there are, the less effective you become on your strategy. You become highly focused on not letting the balls go down the drain, rather than on specific shots that will advance your game.

Your business is a lot like this, too. The more successful you become, the more opportunities that come your way. However, if you try to focus on too many, you end up doing the bare minimum to keep them from “going down the drain” and end up failing to advance your strategy. You can only focus on one or two things and do them well, whether you are talking pinball or business.

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Follow-through is key.

In pinball, there are certain shots where if you follow through -- i.e., hold down the flipper for much longer than you expect that you need to -- it will make the difference of the shot being successful. It seems odd, but once the ball leaves your flipper and is on a ramp, keeping that flipper held down can be the deciding factor on whether that ball travels through the whole ramp.

In business, follow through is critical, too. You may think that you have completed a task, but an extra proofreading, check-in or client follow-up is often just the attention to detail that you need to be successful. Use follow-through to your advantage.

Success comes from consistency.

The more you play pinball, the better you become. Sure, sometimes you hit a plateau or move backwards a bit, but your typical trajectory is to get better with more frequent play.

The same notion applies to your business. The everyday monotony of business mechanics may seem boring, but it’s the way that you grow your business. Keep your focus, keep your consistency of effort and keep at it if you want to succeed.

Sometimes the ball takes a bad bounce.

No matter what you do, sometimes there are shots that you make in pinball where the ball just hits off of a bumper the wrong way and ends your turn. This happens to even the most seasoned players, and often at the worst time, killing momentum.

It happens in business, too. Sometimes the circumstances are out of your control. Don’t beat yourself up when this happens; it is part of the game, whether you are playing pinball or running a business. Just remember that you can change things with the next ball or game.

Related: Why Smart People Make Bad Entrepreneurs

Carol Roth

Written By

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, a “recovering” investment banker, business advisor, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She is also a reality TV show judge, media contributor and host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. A small business expert, Roth has worked with companies of all sizes on everything from strategy to content creation and marketing to raising capital. She’s been a public company director and invests in mid-stage companies, as well.