24 June 2019 | 17 Comments
For most of my life, my main athletic outlet was on land: mostly soccer, with some ultimate frisbee, pickup football, and track & field. Lately, however, I’ve shifted from horizontal to vertical as I’ve entered the realm of indoor rock climbing.
I’m still very much a novice, as yesterday was only the fourth-ever time I’ve climbed. Please don’t take anything I say today as climbing advice–I’m learning as I go.
A lot of what I’m observing and trying has made me think about crowdfunding, creation, and entrepreneurship. So today I’d like to draw some parallels between these activities.
- Safety First (Check and Double Check): As dangerous as it may seem, climbing is actually quite safe if you follow the basic safety procedures of wearing equipment correctly and clipping in twice (unless you’re bouldering). This reminds me of the sheer amount of time I spent looking over my Kickstarter project pages, scouring the text and images for mistakes, especially for elements that are difficult to fix after you go live. I’ve tried to apply the same practices to our product launches over the last few years.
- Look Up at Those Above Me: In climbing, there are are two reasons to literally look up quite frequently. One, out of awareness and respect for those on the wall as you walk around below them. Two, I’m learning so much from watching the technique of better climbers (which at this point is pretty much everyone). As a designer and entrepreneur, I’m always observing other creators (on Kickstarter, by playing a variety of published games, and by consuming a wide spectrum of gaming and business media) to see the types of innovative techniques others are using.
- Chart Your Path…but Be Open to Adjusting: While I enjoy the thrill of figuring out each ascent on the fly, I’ve found that the more difficult paths (particularly in bouldering) require some level of planning. On and off Kickstarter, I use a massive checklist for new products that starts when the product enters production and ends a few weeks after the retail release date. I check this list weekly, both for the steps I need to take that week and to see what’s upcoming. At the same time, just like on Kickstarter, I’ve found that some level of flexibility is important, as I don’t want to miss out on serendipitous surprises.
- Take Small Steps: The first two times I climbed, even though I had heard the advice of “use your legs,” my instinct was to take big steps and pull myself up. Everything changed the third time, because I realized that’s a lot easier if I treated the wall like a ladder, taking as many small steps as possible to continue to move upwards. I think the same can be said about creating a new type of product: I don’t need to figure out everything on the first day. Nor do I need big chunks of time every day to make progress on a game. Even if I only spend 30 minutes designing a few items or locations in my open-world game, that’s better than if I don’t do anything.
- Work with a Partner: I’m not belay certified, so all of my climbing so far has been on the auto-belay and boulders (which aren’t really boulders indoors–it just means there’s no rope involved, and they aren’t super tall). But it’s still really helpful to go climbing with at least one friends, as we can encourage each other and eventually rely on each other if we get certified. Stonemaier Games wouldn’t have started without my business partner, Alan, nor would it continue to exist (at least not in its current form) without our manufacturer, freight shipping company, fulfillment center, localization partners, etc.
- Take Breaks: Yesterday I was getting tired, but I wanted to try a challenging (for me) route. Midway up the wall, my fingers were shaking, and I considered ending the climb. Instead, though, I realized that I could just shift all my weight to my feet, lean close to the wall, and stop climbing for a moment. It’s even easier to do this when someone is belaying you. I continue to learn that it’s important for me to take breaks at work, whether it’s stepping away from the computer after an intense exchange with a customer or even spending a Sunday afternoon rock climbing instead of working. Everything’s going to be okay when I return to work.
- Try a New Angle: Yesterday one of my experienced rock climbing friends overcame a particularly difficult obstacle by shifting his body horizontally to the ground, hooking a foot around the corner of the wall, and then reaching up to the next hold. I’m starting to really love the puzzle presented by rock climbing for the same reason I love creative puzzles in board games, game design, and business. I’ve found that looking at things from a different angle can make a huge difference. That’s actually how the originally idea of worldwide fulfillment occurred to me in 2012 when I was trying to figure out how to ship Viticulture around the world. I was so focused on finding solutions to ship from the US that I didn’t realize–until a wise friend asked the right questions–that I could just as easily ship the games directly from China to fulfillment centers around the world.
- It’s Okay to Fail and Fall: When I auto-belayed for the first time a few weeks ago, I was terrified. I knew in my head that the rope would catch me, but there’s still a huge amount of trust that goes into simply letting go and pushing off the wall. Also, yesterday I fell for the first time. My grip slipped, yet everything was okay. The rope was there for me. I try to remember this whenever I try something new–I experiment a lot, and while I try to constantly check myself to make sure my intent is in the right place, sometimes the results aren’t at all as I anticipated.
- The Crowd Is There to Help: I was with a pretty big group yesterday, and we generally stayed in the same area, taking turns on the wall or boulder. When I was up there, it was really helpful to have my friends point out a foothold I was overlooking or an angle I wasn’t considering. It reminded me specifically of listening to backer ideas during my Kickstarter campaigns, something that now manifests in our Facebook groups and blind playtesting system. A number of our products have stemmed from fan ideas, including something Wingspan related that we’ll release in a few months. While I don’t say yes to everything, I try to listen, learn, and filter.
- Have Fun: I want to make active decisions to have fun every day. In indoor rock climbing, there are a number of color-coded holds, one color for each path. The “correct” way to climb is to only put weight on one color for the entire path, and I’m starting to enjoy that challenge. But sometimes I just want to keep climbing because it’s fun, and that may mean using a hold for another path. I try to do the same with my company. I want to have fun, and I want you to have fun. Sometimes that may mean that we do something silly that isn’t profitable, and I think that’s okay.
If you’re a creator who hasn’t tried indoor rock climbing, I’d highly recommend it. It’s weird to say, but I can feel myself using my body and brain in very different ways than I have in the past.
If you have any parallels between business and rock climbing, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
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