I'm in Stockholm, playing Mindball. And stunningly, I'm beating Bitte Hannell, a partner of the company that hopes to turn Mindball into a gaming phenomenon. Call it beginner's luck—or evidence that I'm just really relaxed.
Mindball is a slightly surreal take on table soccer, where players move the ball with nothing but their brain waves. To compete successfully, you . . . don't compete. Just close your eyes, relax, and empty your head.
Okay, so it's not a great spectator sport, but since last fall, Hannell's Swedish startup, Interactive Productline, has been selling Mindball tables, at $19,000 a throw, to educational science centers, spas, and corporate retreats from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Singapore. For the stressed-out CEO who has everything, there's a handsome $33,000 walnut version.
Mindball is played on a 4-foot-long table by two people with electrodes taped to their foreheads. These biosensors detect alpha and theta brain waves—generated during intense concentration and deep relaxation—and correspondingly instruct a computer inside the table to move a rubber-coated steel ball via a magnetic sleigh below the surface.
The object is to roll the ball from the center spot into your opponent's end zone. The more focused and relaxed you are, counterintuitively, the faster you win. Competitiveness and aggression are counterproductive. Strategy, decision making, and hand-eye coordination count for nothing. "You compete by being calm—a complete contradiction," says Hannell. In Mindball, you attack by relaxing even more, and you react by not reacting.
"Each person has their own way of relaxing," says Staffan Soderlund, Hannell's partner. Some players close their eyes. Meditation works. Laughing doesn't—nor does too much coffee or alcohol. (Perhaps overstimulated by my conquest of Hannell, I was trounced by Soderlund in seconds. Then again. And again.)
So do the laws of Mindball apply to business competition? Do we win by not competing? And if so, is Sweden perhaps the next great economic power?
A version of this article appeared in the June 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.