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What Barney Stinson has taught me about business strategy

Jaro Zacko
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Jaro Zacko

I played laser tag last weekend. Since I’ve watched How I met your mother, I’ve been wanting to try this Barney’s favorite. Compared to paintball it’s more of a children’s game but it’s quite interesting what you can learn about business when running around in the dark with a laser gun.

An interesting fact about laser tag is the multiple modes you can play. With every mode, the mood in the room changes, the music, and different special features are added. Also, darkness in the room and the visibility of the player changes and it’s not always clear, who is on which team.

In our arena, there were 2 visibility versions – Tron and Swat. In the ‘Tron’ mode the light is on and players clearly glow with their respective colors, it simply looks like the movie Tron. In the ‘Swat’ mode, there’s complete darkness. The players only blink occasionally and you can only use your flashlight. You can’t see who you’re playing with, who is where and usually even who shot you. It strongly reminds me of where the market is going in almost every segment. 

What’s it got to do with business?

Once, business was in ‘Tron’ mode – it was clear who the competition was, what their positioning was and in what cycles their campaigns run in. For example, there were only a few brands of beer from a few well-known breweries. That was the competition – it was very clear and simple. However, along came radlers, ciders, IPAs, ales, micro-breweries, private brands…The market is constricted by neither the shelf size nor physical boundaries because there can be million beer brands in online shops. And not only other brands are competition – but also wine, cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages. Therefore it’s much less clear how the market looks like and where it’s going. And by that, business basically moved into ‘Swat’ mode. 

How to win the game when you basically can’t see anything?

In the ‘Tron’ mode where you can see, you can successfully play with multiple strategies. Move forward together, control the movements of your opponents or hide on one position and snipe. The same in business – innovate along with the competition, have a better price, or have a strong place on the market because of a patent or another advantage (better distribution, better point of sale, strong brand etc.).

In the ‘Swat’ mode (when it’s completely dark and you can barely see your opponents) there’s only one winner strategy – to keep moving and shoot at everything. Just like in business – consider everyone competition and never stop innovating. The only point is to hit the target- what people want.

If the brand stays at one place, it can get easily copied, overtaken or the people will stop caring because the world is changing constantly.

A great example is Nokia. Do you think their managers considered Apple, Google or Samsung as competition in 2007? I don’t think it even crossed their minds that they aren’t playing ‘Tron’ with Sony-Ericsson and Motorola anymore but they are in ‘Swat’ arena. When the lights went on, it was already game over for them.

The laser tag arena opened my eyes. I recommend you go play and try the different game modes. If you don’t take anything for business from it, at least you’ve had fun. Just like Barney Stinson.



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