Play With All You’ve Been Dealt

By James W. Ahola, B.A.Sc.

I was on holiday a little while ago with extended family. The beach was beautiful, the sun warm and the time with family precious. We did a number of things as a large group but one of the most frequent activities was playing cards. Now when we play cards as a family, we always play for money. It is only quarters, dimes and nickels, but by the end of the night they can add up; my kids know this and hence love to play. Usually mommy and daddy sponsor their game play. The games we play are simple enough for a child to understand but they also involve strategy and chance and require wits, which makes it fun for everyone. At the end of the trip I was amazed at the stash of cash my nine-year-old daughter was putting into her suitcase. For her it was a very good vacation.

Now I will admit that when playing against my daughter I do not play the same way I would if playing against others; however, not everyone at the card table shared my philosophy, especially her brothers. All were playing to win, and for several of them the thought was that if you’re old enough to play and win, you’re also old enough to play and lose.

My daughter was able to play some very strong hands. Sometimes I could not believe the cards she was dealt. She was a considerable opponent, and could not be dismissed because of her stature. When she played she didn’t just play the cards in her hand; rather, she was fully engaged. I remember one hand in which my brother-in-law, Mark was battling it out with my daughter and she was holding her ground. Mark, playing to win, laid down a card that caused her to lose the hand. As she threw her quarter into the pot she said, “Uncle Mark likes to pick on little girls.” To which grandpa said, “Hey Uncle Mark… take it easy on my granddaughter!” Over the next few hands Uncle Mark felt the sting of grandpa and others around the table. Soon he was out of the game. My daughter’s pigtails bobbed as she did a little dance to celebrate Uncle Mark’s exit from the game. You don’t mess with a little girl in pigtails.

I forget whether my daughter won that game and she certainly didn’t win all of them. However, she was a strong player because she didn’t just play her cards, she played the table, and with all she had. She turned her “weakness” of being a little girl into a strength that others simply couldn’t compete with. Was it fair? No. But neither was it fair that Uncle Mark was twice her size, had been playing cards much longer than she has been alive, and that he was not holding back in trying to separate her from her money. He had his advantage and she had hers.

Today’s marketplace is like a card game, one filled with fierce and stiff competition. Businesses are in competition for market share, and it seems like more and more competitors are getting into the game every day. There are big competitors and small competitors, and fair play is not the rule of the day. Everyone is playing to win. Like a card game, in the marketplace there is an element of chance, and success is a result of strategy and wits, which requires that you give everything you have.

It can sometimes seem unfair, and it actually is when you consider that small independents are trying to compete with national corporate chains. Big conglomerates have million-dollar marketing campaigns, prime retail locations and more at their disposal. But it could also be deemed unfair that the small independent can make decisions more quickly and service their community more uniquely, while having less overhead. On both sides of the coin, the game is simply not fair.

As I write this a TV commercial is flashing across the screen advertising a new vehicle. One of the major selling points is a feature that was developed by the auto manufacturer, branded by the same company and owned solely by that company. Hey they are focusing on something the competition cannot compete with! That’s not fair!

No, its not. Unfair play can be broadcast in HD on national television and no one is surprised or shocked. No one calls their MP or shakes their head in disapproval, because unfair play is accepted. Cheating and lying may be punishable infractions, but unfair play is fair game.

Whether you are competing for market share, a job, or nickels and dimes in a pot, it is important that to gain advantage you do not play a fair game. It may not be nice or what your mother told you but it’s reality. The opposition has distinct advantages. So what? So do you. The important thing is that you focus on and exploit your advantages. Find those advantages and exploit them to their fullest. Big business does it, small business does it, and little girls in pigtails do it, too. Because to win in any competitive market you need to play with more than just the cards you are dealt.