The Day Space Invaders Saved My Company

(originally published in Screen Magazine 4/11/12)

Several years ago on a Thursday afternoon, I walked through my music studio and noticed that my employees seemed to be distracted. By that I mean it was obvious that no one wanted to be at work that day. My receptionist was surfing the web, my composers were talking about upcoming gigs, and my sales representative seemed completely uninspired.

We were going through a slow period at the time, so there wasn’t much work they should have been doing. More important to me than keeping everyone busy was my desire to have everyone excited to be at work. I decided that afternoon that I needed to inject some much-needed enthusiasm into my business and staff. I announced that I was giving everyone Friday off, and planned to spend all day at the studio by myself to brainstorm a new direction for my business.

I showed up at 9 a.m. the next day with a sense of purpose. The empty studio allowed me to concentrate on the task at hand. The first thing I did was go to my upright video console to play a quick game of Space Invaders. I convinced myself that I would just play one game, and then get right to work.

Three hours later I was getting really good.

After realizing that I had wasted the whole morning, I yelled at myself and then sat down to order some lunch. I swore that after eating my Thai food, I’d focus on figuring out what was wrong with my employees’ enthusiasm.

After lunch, I went right back to Space Invaders. Every time I tried to walk away and think about business strategy, I found myself turning back around to play just one more game. The end of the day arrived, and nothing was accomplished. I was pissed. As I drove home, I continued to yell at myself for not getting anything done. I finally shouted out loud, “If I’m not excited to be at work, how can I expect my employees to be?”
And there was my answer. Right in the middle of the Eisenhower Expressway, I realized that the problem wasn’t with my employees’ productivity or enthusiasm, it was with my leadership. I needed to put my business on a course where my enthusiasm would lead by example. I worked through the weekend on a new business strategy, and on the following Monday morning outlined to my employees the changes they should expect to see at the office. In the weeks and months that followed, I saw new energy in the employees, improved sales numbers in the books, and a revitalized passion for the industry on my part. In retrospect, none of the positive changes would have occurred without Space Invaders. Eight relaxing hours of seemingly pointless video game playing not only saved my business, it taught me two valuable lessons all entrepreneurs need to know.

  1. Sometimes the only way to fix something is to step away. Once your mind is clear, the answers will come to you.
  2. When killing aliens, always shoot from left to right. It opens better firing lanes for attacking the spaceships.

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