We all have our favourite board games. The professional lessons from popular board games like Monopoly, Risk, Settlers of Catan, Clue, and Scrabble can have a powerful impact on your career. For example, while almost all board games involve chance, many also require professional skills such as negotiation, wordplay, strategy, communication, or tolerance for risk.

As with board games, your career development involves luck – you happen to meet the right person and the right time who happens to be looking for someone with your skill set. And also like board games, strategy plays an important role in what you achieve in work and life. In the world of career development, we call the combination of luck and strategy “planned happenstance” – board games present a wonderful case study for examining the interplay of chance and tactics and how to make the most of random situations … like rolling double sixes.

John and I love board games. We love the commerce of Settlers, the treachery of Monopoly, and those times during Risk when you lose your mind because the guy with half as many guys as you just rolled double-sixes four straight times and basically cut your whole South American regiment in hal-  What? Oh, right. Professional lessons!

Here are some professional lessons from five of John and my favourite board games.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers is all about trade – swapping what you have in quantity for something someone else needs in order to advance.

Kurt’s Professional Lesson

Don’t hesitate to trade your resources up front. In the short term this might mean volunteering or taking on extra work. In the long term, your willingness to go above and beyond will frequently be noticed and lead to excellent support for your future plans.

John’s Professional Lesson

People win Settlers with all sorts of strategies. Whether you try to win with a diverse range of resources or you double-down on a couple, there is always a path to victory. Organizations need super-focused specialists and also need generalists who can add value in a variety of ways, so be open to both options.


Monopoly is a game of risk, reward and horrible suffering for all but one player.

Kurt’s Professional Lesson

As you circle the board snapping up properties, identify early on which group of properties you want to own. Apply the same thinking to your career. Be as strategic as you can be about your career goals. Reach out to the people in the field you want to be in. Think long term. And then crush everyone.

John’s Professional Lesson

Don’t play Monopoly. The game was originally designed as a critique of capitalism, but somewhere the message was lost and things have gone horribly wrong ever since. Monopoly glorifies predatory, unregulated capitalism while gamifying human suffering. There is nothing to learn from this other than to beware of people who really, really like Monopoly. Instead, play Co-opoly, which teaches that, as in work and life, better results come from win-win situations and positive collaboration.


Kurt’s Professional Lesson

Success in Risk is based partly on luck and partly on amassing as many armies as possible at a certain target objective (that and picking up Australia early!).  Just like Risk, focussing your limited resources (ie. time and effort) is critical to career success. Don’t spread yourself too thin and do a sub-par job at a bunch of things. Pick a few areas and devote your attention to excel in them.

John’s Professional Lesson

Never start anything in Asia until you’re ready to win the game. In your career this means earning the right experiences, assets and teammates before making a really big and “Risky” move, such as starting your own business or taking on a more demanding role.


This murder mystery game requires players to guess a murderer, a murder weapon, and where the crime took place.

John’s Professional Lesson

Victory in Clue comes from forming a hypothesis (“Mr. Green in the Billiard Room with the Wrench!”) and successfully testing it. On your career journey, you will test ideas (“I shall be a freelance writer and be paid for my brilliance!”), evaluate their success (“this is hard and unfulfilling!”), and re-test them based on what you learned (“I shall write weekly blog posts about things that inspire me!”).

Kurt’s Professional Lesson

Avoid leaping to conclusions to soon. Just like in Clue, sometimes you may think you have the answer (“Mr. Green, that thug!”) but upon further investigation it turns out to be someone totally different. Keeping an open mind in your work (even if you think you’ve got the solution) can often expose you to new ideas and ways of doing things that are better than what you’d initially cooked up.


When strategy meets wordiness you know you’re playing Scrabble!

John’s Professional Lesson

Pay attention to the game within the game. When I first played Scrabble I thought that the purpose of the game was to spell words and earn points for long ones. And then my wife crushed me by 300 points and I learned that where tiles are placed and what letters are used are part of the larger strategy of Scrabble. When people say “tell me about yourself” in job interviews, for example, the game within the game is that the interviewer wants to assess your knowledge of their organization and how you see yourself as a fit with the team.

Kurt’s Professional Lesson

Spelling in Scrabble matters (no points for words that don’t exist!). Spelling in life matters more. Make sure you proofread your emails and try to give everything you write (or put on the Internet) at least a couple go-overs.

Bonus Game: Cranium!

Cranium requires players to compete in teams and challenges them with drama, art, wordplay, trivial pursuit, music, and other tasks.

Kurt’s Professional Lesson

The biggest career takeaway from Cranium is the importance of recognizing and utilizing strengths of different team members. Different people are better at different things. By focusing on peoples’ strengths and what they like to do, your teammates will likely create a better product and be much more appreciative co-workers as a result.

John’s Professional Lesson

Like Kurt said, Cranium requires a fairly diverse skills set. If you can perform, sculpt, un-scramble words, and correctly answer trivia then you will probably be well-placed to present, innovate, edit, and recall data in the workplace. The game also teaches vulnerability and trust, which are important whether you’re sculpting “rock ‘n’ roll” out of crumbly clay or running your first meeting as a new team manager.

Photo Credit: airinnajera via Compfight cc

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