When you are psychologically and mentally tested
The years of growing up watching my brother play first- or third-person computer games such as Half-Life and Silent Hill have somewhat groomed me to be more attentive to details to my surroundings in real life.
Those were the years when I would actually sit in front of his computer for hours, passively immersed in the gameplay. I learnt how he meticulously search for every nook and corner to collect items, weapons and health, as well as to open secret doors and access bonus levels.
Occasionally, we put on our critical thinking hats together to look out for clues and patterns to solve riddles and puzzles to advance through the game. There were occasional proud moments when I could see or solve something that was overlooked by my brother.
Reliving childhood memories
The same experience of immersive gameplay is relived again recently when Leaderonomics had a chance to play at Lockdown Kuala Lumpur, a reality first-person adventure game simulating virtual escape game rooms. Players are basically locked in a room and must exploit their surroundings to make an escape within an hour.
Designed with psychology behind the games, particularly Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory, here are some leadership lessons experienced along the way.
1. Great leaders have your best interests in their hearts
All five of us entered Kidnapped! room blindfolded as Braveheart (the name we gave our team) and started exploiting the heavily dimmed space.
Thinking it was the only space that we needed to explore and free ourselves from, we became so engrossed in the whole experience that we didn’t realise the clock ticking away.
It was then that David Szecsei, our caretaker–gamemaster who can monitor us from the CCTV (closed circuit television) fitted in the rooms, called us on the mobile handset to drop clues for us to proceed further. The handset was actually for us to call him (not vice versa!) for assistance whenever we are stuck and don’t know how to advance in the room.
Lessons: Great leaders are those who have the people’s best interests in their hearts. They are there to walk us through to reach our end goals, not necessarily giving us all the answers to our problems.
Good leaders watch from afar to monitor our progress because they want to see us succeed. In this case, to make our escape. Great leaders care enough to check in occasionally to ensure we are on the right track in our pursuits, and to avoid unnecessary failures.
If Szecsei had not called us to assist and remind us of our time, we would have been stuck in the same place for a good 45 minutes before we remember to call for help.
2. Watch out for unnecessary distractions
Being first-timers, there were obviously many items in both the rooms that could possibly be clues for something as we try not to discount anything that comes within our sight.
In my mind, at least, I was eager to look for logic and patterns. I was asking myself and others:
“Why is this item peculiarly placed here?”
“Could the children’s posters mean something?”
“Are the pictures on the wall interrelated?”
While we were required to be observant, at times we were overcomplicating things by focusing on items that don’t matter. Those led to time wastage as they distract us from tasks that can lead to our escape.
Lessons: In today’s digital age, there are many distractions that are robbing us of our focus and purpose of our being, both personally and professionally. According to a Microsoft study in 2015, the digitalised lifestyle has caused our human brains to have a shorter attention span than a goldfish (eight seconds for us, and nine for goldfish)!
If you find yourself lost, perhaps it’s time to revisit these questions: What are our short- and long-term personal/career goals? Where are we heading as an organisation? Are we on the right track? Is this a cause worth fighting for?
Once we set our objectives right and communicate our expectations clearly, we then focus our resources in doing things that will lead us to our intended outcomes. Any other tasks that come in between should be marked as ‘not urgent and not important’.
3. True strength of a character lies in the heart and mind
Characters or protagonists in computer games are mostly portrayed as someone with physical traits to fight enemies and ‘bosses’. They are often seen using their physical strength and agility to move heavy objects around or perform gravity-defying stunts.
In Lockdown gameplay, none of the physical is needed. Echoed in reality, what makes us go further in life depends not so much in the physical, but the strength of our character and attitude when faced with difficult challenges. Think Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
In Bail Out, we went in handcuffed. Honestly, I felt very uneasy having my hands restrained and locked up in a cell. Psychologically, it would probably be more mentally tortuous had I been bound for a while longer. In my mind, I was dead set to free myself first before attempting to collect other subsequent clues.
Lessons: Figuratively speaking, the escape rooms help us evaluate some of our mental lockdowns. We are never alone in our journey. We just need to reach out to others who can help us see our challenges from a fresh new perspective.
We can then think of creative ways to unlock our minds’ stumbling blocks and break free from our own mental hostage. By taking one small step at a time, we inadvertently unleash our truest potential to make a huge difference wherever we are.
Leave in peace, in one piece
We made it in one piece, thankfully! And that includes the other members from different teams as well.
In reflection, I realised each Braveheart member had contributed in different capacities at different times. While some are quick in thinking, some are more observant, more precise in unlocking locks, better at solving riddles, deciphering encrypted codes, etc.
Essentially, we needed each other to escape the rooms. It’s also true when it comes to personal and organisational success. No one can survive a crisis alone. No doubt everyone has a part to play (and to play it well), but we always need to move forward together as one body.