Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Word-Play, Strategy, Critical Thinking, and Leadership

I LOVE the game Words with Friends (WWF). In fact, I am currently playing 13 games with various people, and I have been known to have as many as 20 games going on at the same time (I will play with anyone that will play with me, although I especially like playing people who are better than me--it helps me get better at the game!).  It all started when I was about 8 years old--a little old lady from our church babysat me one summer.  She took care of another little old lady that lived in her trailer park, and one of the things they did was play scrabble 2-3x per week.  They taught me how to play that summer, and while I never beat either of them, I was hooked for life!  My scrabble board is the first game I ever bought for myself, and I am more than happy to pull it out whenever I have the chance....I don't get to very often, but I still love the game, and that is why WWF is ideal for me--I get to play with friends over the space of days, and it gives me a quick break throughout my day.

When I first started playing WWF, I tried to get my ex to play with me.  His response was that "Nerds with Friends" didn't interest him, especially since he felt that he had no chance of beating me. Really, it has always puzzled me why my ex was so bad at the game.  The elements of a good scrabble or WWF player is to have a good vocabulary and a sense of strategy/tactics.  He plays war-games, so the latter he should have in spades.  He also has the former, since he reads at least as much as I do, and I probably read 3-5 books a month (more when I can!).  Maybe it has to do with the fact that I like to play with words all the time.

In high school, I used to work on the crossword puzzle in the newspaper with my dad....well, sort of.  If my dad left it laying around half done, I would add the missing words that I knew.  If I got to it first, and left it laying around, my dad would do the same was always kind of a race to see who could finish the puzzle!  I also used to love writing poetry, mostly because I liked crafting metaphor in order to evoke emotions.  I don't write poetry as much anymore, but I still like using words and phrases that elucidate with the least words--that requires playing around with words.

For me, I'm still working on the strategy part of WWF...a friend of mine is really good at blocking you from double/triple word squares while utilizing the special tile squares himself.  He beats me probably two times out of three, and I will often start muttering at my iPad mini when he plays 40+ point words...which he seems to do at least once a game.  Sometimes, I don't know whether to cry and cuss over the semi-regular 100+ words he plays or just stare in awe and amazement.  I've actually come to the conclusion that, because he is so much better at strategy than I am, if I don't get ahead by a 50+ point margin in the first third of the game, I have very little chance of winning--his end-game is nothing short of wizardry!  It is good for me, though--it keeps me humble, and it has started changing how I think when I'm playing.  I will jump for joy when I can get to the place where I can beat him half the time.  I shudder to think how badly he could trounce me in a game of Chess....

The reason for this is that strategy doesn't really come naturally for me....I can do tactics--those moments when I have to look at a situation and make a decision right then--but strategy means thinking about the pieces and your opponents 3 and 4 and 10 steps out.  This is the real reason why I will never be better than a passing chess player--I can't anticipate my opponents' moves very well.  I'm learning to be better at this, but I'm not where I want to be yet: I'm convinced that the ability to think strategically is one of the key components to being a good leader, a transformative leader.  It is the difference between following the trends and making them!

In higher education, we often talk a lot about Critical Thinking, especially in the wake of the book, Academically Adrift, which was first published in 2011.  While others have discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of the study, and whether it gives an accurate account of the amount of learning that happens in college, it is still something that those of us in academia think about often: How do we engender critical thinking so that our students are informed consumers and informed citizens?  This usually entails teaching analysis, as well as a questioning attitude: where was this information from; what are the goals of the source; is it logical; who benefits; does correlation equal causation; etc.  Most of what we look at when teaching critical thinking is tactics--making decisions about the here and now.  I'm wondering what would happen if we were to start getting our students to look at the implications as well--what might happen 2, 3, 10 years from now if we carry this plan/idea/research/path to its logical conclusion?  I know that there are professors who are already doing this, but I must admit that I'm not very good at this, mostly because I'm not good at strategy.

So, I continue to work on my strategic thinking through things like WWF, and look for ways to think ahead in my daily life.  If I can get in the habit of looking at my WWF games strategically, then it will hopefully spill over into my personal, and then my professional life.  In the meantime, game on!!!