Playing Cooperative 'Battleship'​

Are you old – or young – enough to recall playing Battleship as a child? In this game, you place a set of ‘battleships’ on a grid hidden to your opponent. She then fires random shots via Cartesian coordinates in the hope of ‘hitting’ one of your secret targets. You then reciprocate. The game starts with random firing and lots of ‘misses’. And then once you get a ‘hit’ you focus your fire to completely obliterate your opponent.

At Archetypical, when we are developing games and simulations, the Battle of Jutland is not an obvious first port of call. But maybe we can adapt the concept and think about how the game of ‘Battleship’ can apply in business. Here are two ideas.

Diary Battleship

I was trying to organize a meeting with a client the other day, and after a couple of exchanges, we realised we were basically playing ‘reverse battleship’ with each other and our diaries: firing random shots (ie suggesting dates for a meeting) and hoping for a ‘miss’. That got me thinking – maybe a cooperative approach would be better.

The obvious answer is to make your diary public. But I know many people in large organizations where this is the norm. They tell me it is a nightmare: colleagues – in Battleship they are called ‘opponents’ – espy a 20 minute vacancy and immediately fire something in. And even senior leaders find it hard to say no, despite the tips I published here .

I’m sure there is a systems/IT solution but maybe the real answer is respect and culture, as this article suggests. If the object of ‘Diary Battleship’ is to miss and find the gap between ships/meetings, then don’t deliberately aim for the space where there are two ships/meetings close together. After all, you will splash everyone on board and create waves which will upset the crew. Look instead for seriously clear blue ocean which allows plenty of time for people to prepare and plan … and then follow-up.

Cooperative Battleships

Licensed under CC BY-SA

In Cooperative Battleship applied to the corporate world, we make our position known and clear (‘my ships are here, here, and here….’). With clarity comes understanding and discussion. How do we work together to achieve X? Is there a shared agenda? Or not?

The problem is that too often, the others’ agenda is hidden, so we are reduced to firing shots at random in the hope of hitting something. Sure, your overall goals may be different but real partnership only works when there is a shared agenda. And to have a shared agenda, you need to share your agenda. Why not have some cooperative play?

Strong process-oriented strategic advisers check in at the beginning of a discussion: What do you want to get from this meeting? What would you consider success? How does this meeting help you achieve your goals? etc. Maybe we should all do this more often.

Perhaps the original concept of Battleship applies in a purely corporate, competitive, cut-throat world – 'Corporate Battleship' if you will. But in the world of being a strategic adviser and business partnering, maybe it is better to play Cooperative Battleship, rather than Corporate Battleship.

What are your applications of Cooperative Battleship to the corporate world?

#seriousgames #gamebasedlearning

The Guru’s Big Five Questions

This article first appeared in Presentation Guru


Ronald Reagan – Pointe de Hoc speech on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day.

This one gets me every time. I love its rhetorical flourishes, such as…

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

… one of the best examples of auxesis I know (actually double auxesis boys-men-champions-heroes; PdH-cliffs-continent-war). But especially powerful given the Boys II Men (Champions II Heroes) were sitting right in front of him. Reagan was known as the Great Communicator and this speech, written by Peggy Noonan, is him at his prime.

National Review called it “perhaps the greatest speech made by an American politician in that century.” Which his pretty good going, seeing as the competition (as nominated by my fellow columnists includes JFK, Martin Luther King and Bill Clinton.)

Asiatic content written in an Attican style. And he praises us Canadians. What else can you ask for?



When we think of business presentations, we think of sales pitches. We think of pitches that convince people to change their minds. We think of speeches that have made a difference to a company or an organisation. Or the world.

Many of my fellow columnists have (rightly) nominated various presentation from Apple, Inc. My nomination is not from Apple but about apple. Ladies and gentlemen, as an example of the best sales pitch ever, I give you the old silver-tonged devil …. the Devil.

His sales pitch to Eve, if we believe the literature, has to surely be the one with the biggest long-term implications. In John Milton’s version, this speech is spread over a couple of hundred lines of Paradise Lost. Like all great sales pitches, it starts with flattering the client:

“Wonder not, sovran Mistress … thy Celestial Beautie adore … with ravishment beheld … where universally admir’d.”

The second phase is basically the first ever ‘before and after’ story. The serpent tells Eve how he was just a lowly creature, ate (and sated himself on) the fruit, and, lo, now he has extra gifts:

“Sated at length, ere long I might perceive strange alteration in me, to degree of reason in my inward powers, and speech…  

Thenceforth to Speculations high or deep I turn’d my thoughts, and with capacious mind consider’d all things visible in Heav’n, Or Earth…”.

In other words: buy this product and you will become a better person. This is the classic ‘testimonial’: still used today for weight loss, beauty products, etc.

For the third phase, they travel to the Tree but Eve is still doubtful: so, like all salesmen, Lucifer listens to her objections and then bats them away one by one, ending with:

“Here grows the Cure of all, this Fruit Divine, fair to the eye, inviting to the taste, of virtue to make wise: what hinders then
To reach, and feed at once both Bodie and Mind?”

Eve basically says, “uh, yeah, you’re right, nothing hinders me”, and reaches up……

And the greatest sales pitch in history is over.



I happened to be on a business trip to Berlin when I got the request to write this column. So, if you want the best example of how a politician bent a people to his will, and, through the power of oration transformed himself from a loser artist in Vienna to one of the most powerful people in the world in the 1930s and 1940s, I think you know where to look …. (in his book You Talkin’ to Me, Sam Leith provides a more detailed analysis his technique).

Instead, I’m going to nominate Nancy Astor’s maiden speech to the UK House of Commons in 1920. She was the first woman to take her seat and met with prejudice and animosity. This is maybe not the world’s greatest speech (otherwise I would have nominated it above) but stands out for its circumstances and situation*.

My fellow columnists have nominated Winston Churchill a few times. A brilliant orator but, by today’s standards, antediluvian. Apparently, after Nancy Astor’s speech, he remarked “When you entered the House of Commons, I felt as if a woman had entered my bathroom and I had nothing to protect myself with except a sponge.” A revealing 1956 interview with her can be heard here.

“I wanted the world to get better, and I knew it couldn’t … if it is going to be ruled by men. As a matter of fact, I think it is amazing how well the men did for 2,000 years, considering that they tried to do it alone.”

So, perhaps not on this speech in particular but for her wider work, she gets my vote in this category. And for giving us the mental image of a naked Winston Churchill.


* On the same day that Nancy Astor took her seat in the House of Commons for the first time, two women journalists also broke new ground becoming the first to report from the press gallery. It’s quite the tale… You can find out more about their story here.



Preparation / rehearsal / practice.

The world’s best actors, the world’s best orators, the world’s best comedians … they all practise and rehearse. Many many times. These people are professionals and they know the value of practising. And yet, many amateurs think they don’t need to practise. Are you really better than the professionals?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was this: if you are talking to 100 people for an hour, this means they are giving you 100 hours of time. What is a fair exchange for you to invest in return?



Edward Tufte. Now and forever.