I have been learning to play Minecraft with my six-year-old son. I embarked on this exercise because I wanted to be involved with him, I saw it as an opportunity for us to do something together that wasn’t “driven by mum”, and I wanted to understand what the game entailed to ensure I was supporting him to make good decisions about online games. For those of you familiar with the game, you’ll know that there are essentially two main ‘modes’ of gameplay: you can create or compete.

In Creative mode you have unlimited resources to build to your heart’s content – if you can dream it, you can build a blocky square version of it. And importantly the bad-guys won’t hurt you. You can fly, and you don’t die from falling, lava, drowning etc.

In Survival mode, the bad-guys will attack you, you have to collect the resources by expending your time and energy, and using existing resources to obtain more efficient means of obtaining resources. You have to walk or run everywhere you go, so distance becomes an obstacle, and you need to have your wits about you.

You can technically switch back and forth between the two modes, but once you go into Creative mode you can’t earn any of the in-game achievements. Essentially, you’ve cheated.

My son almost exclusively wants to play Creative. I almost always prefer to play in Survival mode. Why is this?

Fighting and (Inevitably) Dying is Stressful for Some

Even though the game allows you to ‘re-spawn’ an unlimited number of times, Mr Six hates dying. He finds it physically stressful. He starts freaking out. I think, in part, that’s an age thing. As we get older we become more comfortable with our decision making skills, our risk assessment criteria and our ability to ‘build back’ to where we were. We learn that (with the obvious exception of actually dying, most things are recoverable.

Great leaders make it safe for their organisations to take risks. To innovate. To push the boundaries of the constraints they face.

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” ~ John F. Kennedy

Setting and Striving for Objectives

Unless you set yourself a mammoth building task, or any of the very clever ‘constructions’ that automate mining or farming and so forth, Creative mode doesn’t really have much in terms of concrete objectives. I have built covered tunnels so my son can move completely unharmed between villages, and we’ve built a version of our own house in Minecraft. But the lack of resource constraints kind of takes the fun out of it for me. There’s not much need to problem-solve.

In Survival mode, by comparison, you have to break big tasks into a number of discrete, quantifiable stages. If you want diamonds, for example, you need to mine down to Level 12, and then create a ‘method’ for mining that increases your chances of finding diamond ore. If you want obsidian, you have to have a diamond pickaxe. If you want to build a portal to the Nether (not sure why you would, but never mind that!) you need obsidian.

To achieve big things in survival mode, you set objectives, and then break them down in to measurable tasks… while not forgetting to eat, sleep and manage risk. This matters to me but not to Mr Six.

Great leaders can enable us to achieve mammoth things.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” ~ Confucius

Comfort in Repetitive Tasks

Sometimes, when I’m trying to relax, I really enjoy monotonous, repetitive tasks that don’t require much thought. I find it almost meditative. In both Creative and Survival mode, I have found numerous ways to ‘zone-out’ while playing. It could be mining, it could be gardening, it could be building, it could be felling trees.

Mr Six, unsurprisingly, doesn’t have much attention span for repetitive tasks. So I tend to get allocated these tasks. Often he’ll log out and do something completely different until I’m finished. Provided I stand up and stretch every so often, I can get lost for five hours or more getting enough diamonds to craft a set of diamond armour for him so he can be completely impervious to the bad-guys that are never going to attack him in Creative mode anyway!

Great leaders understand the need for down time. For periods of rest. For the importance of pacing. It can’t be all-go all-the-time.

“Relaxation of the mind from work consists of playful words or deeds. Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man to have recourse to such things at times.” ~ Thomas Aquinas

Communication and Teamwork

Mr Six is what I like to call ‘freeform’. There are no rules when he plays. I’m building a house, and he spawns a Snow Golem into the middle of it, which then proceeds to leave snow and snow balls everywhere. (Not to mention making the otherwise passive Creepers explode in the dining room!) Hilarious!

This is really hard when you’ve set a task with clear objectives.

I’ve established a method for comprehensive mining with no missed sections in the mine… he just points in a direction and heads off, then needs to be rescued from a lava pool.

Communication helps a lot! We agree the objective, we divide the tasks. When I can, I explain why I’m suggesting a certain approach. I ask him if he can think of a better way. I try to make sure we’re on the same page. It helps a lot!

Great leaders know that teamwork requires great communication. And they know they play a key role in ensuring that communication happens.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

When you stop and look, there are opportunities to reflect on your leadership practice everywhere. The key is having the mindful presence to do it, and to do it consistently.

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