pinballI dearly enjoy pinball. It’s an addictive game, which I have made more addictive by placing a “Simpsons Pinball Party” machine in my living room.  But this addictive game is not just a way to pass free time, it can teach you about business as well.  That’s right; some principles of pinball playing will make you a better business owner.

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 the hidden modes and maximize your score, you have to have a strategy. A certain order of shots, combination of maneuvers or preferred shots in certain modes will get you the most points.

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 will allow you to achieve a high score and a highly padded bank account.

You can only keep a few balls going 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 once.  However, the more balls there are, the less effective you become on your strategy.  You are entirely 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, in pinball and business.

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’s odd that 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.

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 up going down the drain.  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.