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Don't Kill Sheep If You Have Shears: "Minecraft" Lessons For Entrepreneurs

There's hidden gold for business leaders behind those secret doors.

"Mom, I need more coal so I can craft more torches."

Despite my tech-savvy background, I can't say I was prepared for these words to come out of the mouth of my 4-year-old son. While his set of colorful plastic blocks are collecting dust in the basement, he can't get enough of the digital blocks in the 3-D world on his iPad.

With just two years experience on the popular tablet, he has surpassed my game-play knowledge, catapulting out of "baby" apps like Angry Birds to "big-boy" apps like Minecraft (Pocket Edition) that let him build shelters, mine for gold, and fight zombies in the darkness of the night. They grow up so fast!

But it's not all fun and games. The more I watch him explore this new universe, the more I realize that there are secret lessons within Minecraft that can help everyone—especially us entrepreneurs.

1. There is no rulebook.

What's amazing about Minecraft, is that there is no official rule book. As in business, there are certain guidelines, but every player's approach, execution, and experience is unique. As the Minecraft website says when explaining the full scope of the 4-year-old game: "The rest is in the future! And there's lots more to come." In short, the game is always evolving, just like the entrepreneurial path.

2. Never stop chopping (ahem, working).

Minecraft is all about building, so having enough wood to make everything from a new door to a new tool is absolutely essential. While it might be tempting to take a break from chopping because you have ample wood stacked up, you need to carefully consider your future needs. As an entrepreneur, the same rule applies. Although your business might be thriving today, keep focused on the long-term plan for ultimate survival. The conclusion: Plant those saplings to stay in the game.

3. Choose your tools wisely.

From axes to shovels to a carrot on a stick, Minecraft tools will help shear sheep, chop pumpkins, and accomplish other tasks. You must acquire the skills to obtain certain ingredients to build the right tool for the job, just like in business. However, when it comes to tools, Minecraft has the advantage; if you need to repair a tool, you have that option. Unfortunately, an entrepreneur doesn't always have that second chance, so craft carefully.

4. Don't kill sheep if you have shears.

While sheep in Minecraft aren't the smartest animals in the game, they do provide an essential element: wool (for example, so you can make a bed, a necessary item to rest and regenerate). Killing a sheep might seem like the best route to get wool, but it will only provide you with a small quantity: one full block. If you have shears, you can shear a sheep and get up to three blocks of wool. In business, we sometimes look for shortcuts or quick fixes, but patience and proper planning can often yield better long-term results.

5. Build a secret door.

When playing the multiplayer version of Minecraft, you should build a secret door so no one knows where you live (so they can't rob you or harm you). If you build a simple (secret) door via a hole in the ground, for example, you can patch up the entrance with grass so it's invisible to outsiders. As an entrepreneur, having a secret door is kind of like having a Plan B. If your business is broken beyond repair, it's good planning to have a quick way to duck out and pursue your back-up plan.

My little guy spends most of his time in Minecraft's Creative mode, simply building his own little world, venturing only into survival mode with supervision from his dad (this is where you defeat enemy mobs and stuff). What continues to amaze me about this game is how it's not like a game at all, but instead an ongoing experience where you build, learn, and build some more—and sometimes in this quest for survival, the zombies get you. But let's not think about that part.

[Image: Flickr user Mike Prosser]