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]

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17 Comments

  • J. Camaron Rogers

    Your 4-year-old has *his own* iPad? Congratulations on being part of what's wrong with the world.

  • Chris

    New Meme: Ironically Conservative Bigot!

    Your 4-year-old is allowed to *read books*? Congratulations on being part of what's wrong with the world.

    Your 4-year-old has *his own* hoop-stick? Congratulations on being part of what's wrong with the world.

    Your 4-year-old is *using resources available to him in such a way as to provide entertainment whilst gaining knowledge and understanding of the world around him* ?

    CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING A TWAAAAAT.

  • JAG100

    As a fellow father of two young boys also playing this game, I agree there are a lot of positive aspects to Minecraft.  I've tried to play catch up with my sons and put some of my technical background to use.  I created a Minecraft Server for multi-play and sought a solution to eliminate the bad language which comes with multi-player.  What parents don't always realize is that "no rules" translates into bad language and cyber-bullying.  It's been a fun project and our server is growing quickly in popularity with both kids and parents!  You can read more at www.facebook.com/myncraft or put our server address into your minecraft client and visit us!  It's myncraft.no-ip.org

  • Dionne Kasian-Lew

    Reading this article made me smile and I immediately emailed it to my Minecraft addicted son (the other has graduated to LoL and WoW). 

    What I have found interesting with Minecraft is how it has it led to a whole chain of self exploration and learning. 

    Like most Minecraft players James can immerse himself for hours. 

    But the first time I found out that James had graduated to establishing a YouTube Minecraft learning channel was after he asked me to come and see one of his videos - by then he had about 20. All self motivated, self taught. 

    That later promoted him to buy a graphic design package to improve the quality of his videos and design on his channel. Again, all unprompted. Now having learn a huge amount about that he's making educational videos on how to use the software package he bought including the shortcuts or tricks he's learned so that he can share that with others. 

    There's something in that too that feeds into your observations above. 

    Fuelled by a passion he's gone from one learning experience to the other because of this intrinsic motivation and part of that motivation has been to share the learning. 

  • Michelle Ferrier

    When my son was younger, he became an international expert on fletching -- making arrows. His confidence and ego grew as he realized he had a skill in the game that few had. He started on computer simulation games like Restaurant Empire and others where he learned marketing skills. He later developed his leadership and strategic skills in first-person shooter games. Much can be learned from games as long as they do not become addictive and the only socializing agent.

  • amber mac

    Totally agree.  I have a lot to learn about the Minecraft world, but so far am impressed!

  • Marcus Goodyear

    Excellent! This summer, we are incorporating minecraft into our unofficial summer school. Kids read a book, and recreate one of the settings in minecraft with quotes from the book on signs. Or they research a historical location, then build that location in minecraft with a tour of signs that explain the history of the place (and cite their sources).

  • Jackie Savi-Cannon

    Excellent article Amber.  My children both play Minecraft and I am fascinated how both girls and boys engage. It teaches children so many collaborative and resourceful life lessons.  I am very impressed.  Many parents worry about screen-time because they themselves are afraid of getting involved.  There is definitely a place for the gaming model in the work place.

  • Peter Metcher

    Agreed Jackie, great article Amber.

    Both my kids (boy and girl) engage with Minecraft. It is something we can all be inviolved in, setting up worlds together, and inviting their friends to participate.

  • amber mac

    Totally agree!  I also interviewed Chris Anderson this week (video should be live in this section, DIALED).  He talked about some of the benefits of Minecraft + kids.  So fascinating!

  • Jackie Savi-Cannon

    Excellent! Gaming is an industry that can evolve our culture in many positive ways. Thanks for pushing the conversation.

  • FS

    Great article. A slightly negative thing I heard recently is that school bullies 'delete' their school mates' amazing Minecraft creations. Our middle school's recent emotional climate survey noted this as one of the more common forms of cyber bullying. This is nasty but also teaches young entrepreneurs about risk management and mental toughness.