Blog #3
Blog #3

Why We Play Risk (the board game)


I recently read a blog titled "How [XYZ startup] does meetings." It was well written, chock full of company details, and dull.

What struck me was the piece felt like it was trying so hard. This gave me pause.

Startups, all startups, walk a fine line between taking ourselves seriously and taking ourselves too seriously. In the "before times", when startups were in-person, this frequently manifested in a work hard, play hard culture. In our modern, remote-first world, it is easy to begin take ourselves too seriously when all our interactions surround work.

At Keys, we have an unusual way of ensuring a happy medium. We play Risk.

You may remember Risk. The classic cardboard map, the cheap, yet nostalgic plastic soldiers and cannons. Risk entered our company culture almost by accident but it has taken on a mythical status. It's our way of connecting and burning off steam in our intentionally remote, asynchronous-by-default company.

Not your childhood game of Risk

Every employee at Keys gets a premium account at Conquer Club, the largest online risk community in the world. Conquer Club has a terrible and confusing Windows 95-esque GUI that reminds of you of the great things that were built in the past. But soon a child-like curiosity takes over and you begin to wonder at the possibilities—there are hundreds of maps and thousands of decisions to be made.

Risk is fun, don't get me wrong—that's why we play it. But I find why it's fun to be worth pondering. Planning ahead and probabilistic thinking are rewarded. You learn when to go fast and when to go slow. The fruits of trying things that might but probably won't work play out immediately.

These skills are pretty handy when it comes to building a company, too.

We work hard at Keys—but we'd rather work smart. We value efficiency over effort, respect the 80-20 power law, and encourage doing things that might but probably won't work. This kind of thinking can be difficult to teach, especially in a remote setting. Conveniently, Risk is one heck of a teacher.

Am I suggesting a child's board game is secretly behind every great company ever? Maybe. Or maybe not. But I wouldn't bet against it.

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