Games People Play

What are reflexive games, whom you shouldn’t trust, why I cried in the banya, how to make a FatBank bankrupt, how together and instead differ, what is WIRP, and did I get it right that I DID get it right?

In the past few years, I’ve heard a lot about the Game. Someone told me about a dude he knows who entered the game and nearly went mental. Someone else told me about an entire company participated in the game and now everything works differently for them. The paradox is that no one can really explain what the “Game” is and what is happening there.And when you grab someone who participated in it, look them straight in the eye and ask through your clenched teeth – What was there, tell me!? He or she slips slowly out of your arms, straightens their hair, rolls their eyes and says enigmatically – Well, it’s hard to explain … you must go there and see … So, here is the first rule of the club: don’t tell anyone about the club.

When I realized that only by participating will I figure it out, I went there. And now I will try to tell you in simple and accessible words what a Reflexive Game (RI) is, also called business game or organizational-activity game.

How organizational-activity game (OAG) emerged

It all started in 1958, when the Moscow Methodological Circle (MMC) appeared under the leadership of Soviet methodologist and philosopher Georgy Shchedrovitsky. Remarkable philosophers of that time attended, and they set themselves the goal of developing new forms of organizing activity, thinking, communication, understanding and reflection in problem situations. This is how organizational-activity game (OAG) emerged, which was one of the few competitive Soviet technologies for organizing complex intellectual processes.

Currently, reflexive games are mainly attended by company managers who come to improve personal problem areas and directors who want to understand how to effectively manage a team and business. The game helps to understand and formulate a goal, to design a personal way and a team’s way to achieve the goal. Sort of a polygon where you can simulate your problem/situation/conflict/idea and watch from a safe position how it develops and what it can lead to.

Now in the territory of Ukraine there are three active companies that hold the Games – Media-Klyuch, MIND PRO and Market Battle, where we actually got involved.

About trust and banya

So, a team of three Moldovans – Andrei Shulyansky (game technician), Vadim Zhelyaskov and myself invaded the Ukrainian land, holding Covid tests in their teeth, and carrying a box of wine in the trunk for new friends. We were heading to Kyev to participate in MarketBattle, one of the most successful RG for entrepreneurs.

We had a task to improve our possibilities for personal growth. I won’t talk about others, but my personal problem is Trust in the team. In short, I understand that my team must learn to work efficiently without me, otherwise I will remain the slave of the lamp forever. But it seems to me that I would do everything better, more interesting and, most importantly, faster. That’s why I constantly interfere in what the guys do, disorient and confuse them. But the worst thing is that I don’t give them any chance for learning from their mistakes and gaining experience. That’s why, at this stage of business development, I have to learn to trust the team, not to tell them what to do and how. To learn to believe that they will take the business to new heights, as far as I could not have reached on my own.

Instead, I will have a lot of free time and freedom, which will finally give me the opportunity to manifest myself to the fullest in my main quality – a generator of ideas.

The road was hard and snowy, we were tired and Andryukha offered to call in Kuzmichevskie Bany. This is a topic for a separate post, because banya is my hobby, and I have never seen such a banya before. A temple of bathing excellence and confession, two in one. Here you do not wash away dirt and sweat alone, you wash away your problems, fears and negative things. Contrasting baths, a steam room with six brooms, prayers, bells and wrapping in skins in the moonlight turn you into a baby who looks at the stars through an avalanche of hormones and cries, remembering his parents when they were young and strong, and you – helpless and free. But the main thing that I learned from these baths is that my problem with trust has roots, so deep that I am not willing to discuss them in this blog.

But let’s get back to the Game. Especially for those who don’t have time to read – here’s a short summary:

How does the Game work?

All participants are divided into groups of 9 ± 2 people who usually make from 3 to 8 teams that play with each other.

The whole game is a succession of parties:
Plenum (market) – all teams gather in one hall, take turns going on stage with a project (report) presentation, and get illuminating questions and opinions from the audience.

Group work (company) – together with the game technician, the teams analyze the situation, set goals for themselves at the plenum, generate ideas, establish rules, negotiate, argue, swear, hit each other’s faces, make peace, drink, hug over and over again. That’s how they work on reports.

And there were three such hard days, 14 hours work a day. There are no winners, no losers. Everyone improves their weaknesses by working in a team and getting feedback from the market.

There are some simple rules:
1.Money and external resources are prohibited on the market.
2.Group rules are made by the group
3.You can’t hit anyone, even if you really want to 🙂
bAnd the rules that each team sets for themselves:

Games are usually held in closed hotels outside the city to pull people out of the usual routine. This allows players to take a fresh look at their activities and discover themselves from a new perspective. Full board – three meals a day and lodging included in the price.

The games are developed and conducted by a team of game technicians – more than ten pros, they also supervise groups, arrange plenums and lead the entire market to a brighter future.

It’s simple. But behind the external simplicity of the Game, many things are hidden – a sweater, a shirt, underwear and even sometimes your skin that needs to be removed to see what you really have inside. It depends on you, whether you are ready to strip down or pull on a thick coat of confidence in your correctness?

There were guys who just came to see and never got involved. They did it but at the end, everyone had a single comment – “It was in vain…” But there were also guys who did their best, as me and Vadim, who were very pleased with the results.

Relationships within the group were not always easy – there were provocations, sabotage, the collapse of the team, insults and betrayals. But there were also insights, team spirit, inspiration, support and sacrifice. In addition, I now understand how the Game works and what opportunities it opens up, and I’m afraid to ruin your thrill of discovering yourself and the market if you decide to join in. And I recommend joining in without prior knowledge. That’s why I will tell you a couple of stories that happened to me, but I’ll try not to spoil.

Story 1. Applause in the shadows

The second day We were dealing with a new project for a couple of days. Our team of 9 people should have come up with a business project that we could present to the market. We started coming up with creative ideas. Everyone was screaming, interrupting each other, nipping ideas in the bud so that they would never develop. After all, we were a team of equals – no boss to have the last word. This is why Sofia, the game technician, taught us the technology of negotiation, and I’m so grateful for this. In principle, nothing complicated, but damn it, it works!

Since I had the role of an Idea Generator in my team, everyone looked at me in hope. Coming up with ideas in a circle, we decided it would be about a healthy lifestyle, then we determined that the most painful topic was overweight and finally it hit me – the Fat Bank! In short, a startup about paying for the lost kilos – yours, your friends’ and colleagues’, etc. In short, the idea was fun, sparkling, relevant and looked like a working one.

We had two intense hours of work on the report until midnight and we crawled to bed, because in the morning we were supposed to deliver the presentation. Before going to bed, I imagined myself on stage rocking the audience (I’m really good at rocking), people applauding, me confidently answering questions and giving witty comments. But then I realized that I was trying to get into my comfy routine. Why? To get another round of applause for what I was doing well? I thought I had come here to learn something new.

— Vadim, Vadim, — I started shaking up my friend — will you present the Fat Bank tomorrow?

— Wait a second, it was your idea, you wanted to do it yourself, – Vadim yawned. Then he rubbed his eyes and realized that it was important to me, so he agreed.

The next morning, Vadim was performing on stage and rocking the audience (by the way, he’s really good at it). I started breaking down – no way, that’s my idea, and he was actually passing it off as his own. I started to frown. He ended great and the audience burst into applause! A flurry of questions, laughter, activity. Everyone was delighted!

I caught myself thinking that, on the one hand, it’s nice that my idea aroused such interest, and on the other hand, it hurts that no one knows the idea is mine. “That’s my idea”! – my Ego shouted silently but nobody heard.

Meanwhile Vadim got comprehension questions (CQ). Oh, this is a very interesting thing, by which you can determine someone who has attended the Game. Here are some rules:
1.Questions are supposed to start with “Did I get it right …”.
2.Possible answers: “Yes”, “No”, “I don’t know”.
3.You’re not allowed to use the “not” particle. — “Did I get it right, you’re not planning to scale?” (bad question)
4.You can’t tell your point of view in the question — “Did I get it right, you’re selling scrap that nobody needs?” (bad question)
5.The question should be about the report — “Did I get it right, you said something else yesterday?” (bad question)

After a series of questions, people started to express their points of view in detail, and then one of the entrepreneurs who had harshly criticized everyone stood up, surprisingly praised the project and offered … to invest in it!!!

The audience gasped and looked at Vadim with admiration. I started to lose my breath because it all seemed so unfair!

Yes, the audience doesn’t see people in the shadows, they only applaud those who stand on the stage in the spotlight with a winner’s smile. And then I realized how many times I stood like that, and my team sat in the shadow of the hall and sincerely applauded me and Our Joint Project!

The veil slowly went off, I calmed down and realized that the lesson helped me understand a very important thing – I must learn to delegate not only duties and responsibilities, but also Fame.

But that’s not easy.

Having achieved fame, many stop working. This is the sweetest period when your fame works for you, and you don’t do much effort. And this is where the fun begins.

Now try to share your fame with your team that helped you climb the pedestal, take them onto the stage and ask to spotlight them. Let them bow to the audience, let the audience applaud them while you’re standing behind the curtains and are proud of your colleagues.

And then you will know what real success is.

In the beginning (at school) we don’t do anything and we don’t get fame.

Then we start to work hard and … again we don’t get fame.

Then we continue to work hard and people learn about us – we get famous! We work and see the result. But this is not yet a success.

Story 2. My comfy routine

It was the last day of the Game. We were working hard on our last project. After several pivots (rebirths, changes), our FatBank turned into a Thank You Bank, which issues “thank you”-s ♡ – an intra-game currency that can be used to thank the participants of the Game for everything, from coffee to help in preparing a report.

After each plenum, we got together and followed the pattern:

Speech analysis – how we performed, the reaction of the audience, what questions and answers were there, and did we achieve the goal?

Deciding what we want to get from the next performance

Drawing up an action plan – coming up with ideas, choosing the liveliest one, preparing a presentation, etc.

Setting deadlines for each stage,


Everything is on-going – running around, arguments, new ideas. Game technician Sofia reminded us of the chaotic decision-making methodology and everyone pulled themselves together. At the Game, democracy is not in play – it is not the majority that decides, it’s everyone who decides. Yes, exactly EVERYONE should be FOR and the idea will be accepted. Therefore, you need to be able to convince others and do it unobtrusively.

Game technicians would look into our office, silently watch our disputes, write something down and leave. Sofia, as always, was benevolent despite the growing nervousness due to the tight deadlines. She constantly reminded us that we did not come there to win, but to improve our problem areas.

But we needed to work, there was no time at all – everything was clearly lined up in my head and I created in a stream, not noticing anything. I mentally stroke my head – everything was going fine … When suddenly Sophia pulled me back:

– Dima, turn around …

As I turned around, I saw myself standing at the flipboard, drawing a presentation, and the team standing behind my back watching how I did everything myself.

Damn. I came here to learn to trust … I put aside the markers, shut up and, whining quietly, sat on the windowsill to watch how the idea would be “killed”. I was trying to control myself. At first, the team looked bewildered. Then Vadim took the lead over the process: the structure was approved by the team, and then someone drew the slides, another one wrote the text, someone else hung up the sheets, someone was searching the net for information.

I was sadly dangling my legs while sitting on the windowsill and struggling with the desire to “share” my ideas to improve the performance and optimize work.

Having already lost all hope that something worthwhile would come out of the report, I began to count the falling snowflakes outside the window. When suddenly they called me:

– Dmitri, we need your help! Here we have a problem – we don’t know how to illustrate the business process, please help us.

Okay, so they still needed me… I took the marker and started to scribble in Van Gogh style. That was process map. By inertia, I got to the next slide, but they politely thanked me and I got back to the windowsill. Five minutes later I was asked again for help, then they needed some advice and an answer to a question.

I was no longer bored, enjoying the fact that the guys worked on their own, using my experience from time to time. They coped well, I only needed to occasionally guide the team when necessary. Wow, that could give me a super-powerful advantage – the precious time I could spend on strategy, vision, family, hobbies and developing this super team!

Not trusting the team, constantly correcting, completing and preventing them from making mistakes, I never left them a chance to learn. After all, my experience was a series of failures that put my brains in place. So why not let the team go the same way?

And by the end of the work on the report, on this windowsill, I deduced my formula for work with the team, which I will try to use always:

Together, not instead

By the way, the report turned out to be cool and we ended the last plenum with applause! And, damn it, I was sincerely happy about this, although there was almost no contribution from me to the success of this report. The team made it almost autonomously and, most importantly, without me. Great job, guys!

Story 3. Breaker or nanny?

The last day reminded me of Vipassana — everyone hugged, exchanged contacts, actively communicated and thanked each other.

And the game technicians decided to add something positive, so they offered us their vision of this Game:

And now it’s over and we are going home. The car is packed with Kyev cakes and three happy and tired Moldovans. Andrey, our methodologist, starts picking at me:

– Dima, remember what you were doing at the Game.

I got back a couple of days in my mind and analyzed my strategy. On the first day, I offered the market a new internal currency – the extent of the report. They could buy and sell it, exchange minutes. It was valuable because it gave the opportunity to perform better and get quality feedback. The market had adopted new rules and already at the next plenum the teams offered to make coffee for 1 minute of presentation.

Further, analyzing what the teams needed, I realized that everyone was looking for clients –- and we became the clients for which the teams competed.

Then I offered the market a new measure of success – the team rating. We made voting for teams on the telegram channel. The team with the highest rating was the coolest. People accepted, signed up and voted to find out whose company was the coolest.

Well, in the end, we got subscribers on the channel, creating the first media at the Game, which was controlled by our team. And which we turned into a general game chat at the end of the Game, and in which all participants of the winter 2021 market battle are still communicating.

– And what did I do? Looking for weak points in the system, new values, McGuffins?

— Nooo, you’ve been trying to hack the market all this time. The product doesn’t matter to you, it is important for you to find weak points, hack the system, establish your own game rules and become a trendsetter.

I stared at Andrey, realized what had happened. Very surprising. Am I a burglar? But, looking back, I can see that all my life I have been training this skill in myself – from the birth of, through cartoons, the Chisinau Marathon, Lobster to Studii’s electronic diaries, which are now breaking the education system in Moldova with paper diaries and journals… Cool, now I understand how I can be useful to the team – I can be used to open safes that contain secret recipes and treasure maps.

At this game I even got a slogan/motto – WIRP.

When I hear the question “Was It Really Possible?”, I have goosebumps rushing over my skin, colliding with each other, and I close my eyes with pleasure.

And my friend continued:

— So, Dmitri, why didn’t you push your ideas to the end? Why don’t you bring ideas to perfection when you make sure they will work? Why didn’t you stand by the stage with a stopwatch to take control of the time? Why didn’t you make the rating your privilege to announce the winner after each session, why did you …

– Stop. On that day, I realized one very important thing for me – I am good at generating and testing ideas, but I don’t want to sell them.

When I realize that I have come up with a cool thing that people need and have checked that it will be sold, I lose interest in it – my mission is accomplished, I created something necessary and useful. Marketing, promotion, sales, advertising and development are not my cup of tea. That is why half of my projects (there were more than fifty of them) have sunk into oblivion – I just could not raise those gifted kids, I sent them to an orphanage and there they grew into stereotyped things. Thank God that some of my kids have been with me for a long time, and then they found themselves in a good environment, emerging into some promising projects.

And this is normal, since everybody has their own super-power, it is important to find it, understand it, and most importantly find partners who have another super-power, so that together you are invincible! I was lucky to have Roman Stirbu as a partner – his Power is in streamlining processes and business systematization. We perfectly complement each other, so we are still afloat and have not drowned in the sea of Uncertainty, and we have not been sucked in by the bog of Bureaucracy.

Now my main task is to build a nursery, a kindergarten, a school and a university for ideas.

I want to create a subdivision/company, which will employ the same hackers as me, in order to quickly test business hypotheses, attract founders, form teams and release young, working businesses ready for investment and scaling off the assembly line.

Someone else will lead them to the global market, beautifully dressed, washed and smiling at this world.

And here we are at home in Chisinau, but my head doesn’t work, I can’t think, I can’t do anything, I don’t want anything. That’s because of the tension of the last few days and this is normal, we were warned about this at the Game. But that’s okay, now I’ll repack the meanings in my head, then I’ll collect my thoughts and ask my team:

“Did I get it right, you want to learn to understand yourself better?”

If the team agree, then soon another 10-15 people in Moldova will become more consciously engaged in business – they will understand why and for what they are working, they will see their weak points, find their Super Power, and most importantly, they will begin to better understand themselves and this mad mad world …


Three months later, we freaked out and held a Game in Chisinau to which we invited the entire team of Marketbattle game technicians from Kyev.

Many thanks to them from me personally, from our team and all the participants!

And now 50 more people, including the Simpals team, after three days of hard work without sleep, food and the cozy office, stunned by insights about themselves and slaps from the universe, start a new lap of their careers.

But that’s another story…

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