Play a Bigger Game

George Clooney

I’m on a train bound for meetings in New York City, with the types of people I rarely meet: investors. They work in an abstract that isn’t my typical play space, and they are tuned for completely different levels of thoughts, of insights, of metrics to prove their point. They play a bigger game.

There’s a great interview of actor and director George Clooney in Esquire magazine. In it, you get a sense of the George behind the smile, of his connections to world leaders, to the UN, to much more masterful work than the typical “actor with a cause” mindset. Having world leaders at your disposal is usually useful. Clooney knows this. He’s playing a bigger game.

Also at the train station this morning, I listened to two employees talk about how to get the best spread of extra days off by planning out their sick days. This was the game for them. Not finding a way to get out of the job entirely. Not finding work that makes them crave doing it. Their game wasn’t as big, such as it were.

Play a Bigger Game

With some recent changes (not yet announced), Rob and I are working to retool Human Business Works a little bit. But in these small moves, a bigger game is on our minds. It starts with the simplest of thought processes, really. I thought I’d lay it out, in case this becomes useful to you.

  • The big game is a long game. This is seed planting work, not “I have to eat today” work.
  • You must ask yourself “what is above me?” quite often. By “above me,” I mean only at a different level of perspective. A mayor doesn’t think like a governor. A governor doesn’t think like a senator. Etc.
  • The big game is two or three years out, but you execute daily.
  • Most importantly: what don’t you have time to do if you want to play bigger?
  • Start at the end. Start looking for the path to that end. The big game doesn’t care where you are right now.
  • If the people you surround yourself with are in the same game as you, how will you play bigger? (This one is difficult to work through, but there are friendly/humane ways to work this).
  • If a heartfelt and compassionate mission isn’t part of your bigger game, you might be missing a very important part of what makes a game big. Regret is a very expensive ailment.

Quick aside: what if you don’t want to play a bigger game? Then don’t. Totally fine. There are many people who just want the job, the paycheck, the free time, and an uncomplicated life. That’s utterly fine.

But if you want to play big, you need bravery, you need systems, and you need a platform, to name just a few tools for your quiver.

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  • Ron McDaniel

    Nice post Chris. I think you have to be firm about picking one. Too many entrepreneurs start out small, then are thrilled to open an office and hire people because they think they should. However, many should not do that – that is a fast road to burning up cash and undoing progress.

    If you want to go big – own it. If you want a lifestyle business, do not feel like you need to do things because you have a business.

    • Chris Brogan

      I’m not firm on many things in my life. But I totally agree with your point that people grow without thinking if that’s what they want. :)

  • Sheree Martin

    Absolutely, Chris. Been thinking a lot about the progress I’ve made toward my bigger game since everything started to coalesce one year ago this month.

    In some ways, I’m farther along than I would’ve expected, since I am working a full-time job.

    On the other hand, my summer organic farming and beekeeping efforts took way more time and energy away from writing and my online vision than I’d anticipated. 12 hour days of physical labor tend to be a bit tiring. :)

    Even though some of my projects look dormant or quiet, I’ve been busy working behind-the-scenes. Taking action, not dreaming. Every day, little steps, albeit most of them small, are taking me a tiny bit closer to the big game.

    Since I’m already a couple of years into my journey to the big game I’ve envisioned, the destination is in sight. And that is both exciting AND motivational.

    • Chris Brogan

      Learning what you might not want to pursue is definitely just as important as learning what you think you want. True? :)

      • Sheree Martin

        Absolutely. Perhaps more valuable, because it eliminates the inertia that often comes with too many open-ended choices.

        Hope you have some highly-productive meetings in NYC.

  • Kim Yuhl

    I jumping too! I have been jumping for the past few months. I have the luxury of working towards a goal that I know is 2 years out but that doesn’t mean I don’t put forth every effort today. Every day consists of what I call little goals that will get me to the big leagues.

    Trying to explain the creating of something bigger to someone who doesn’t get it, is futile. They don’t understand how you can work so hard today and not expect a payoff now. I just smile and go on my way. There is no use trying to convince them. The world needs workers and I am fine with that, if that is their chosen path. All I can say, is be happy with the choice. If not, then maybe they should start playing a bigger game too.

    As always, a good read. You seem to know what I need and when. Thank you.

    • Chris Brogan

      I totally agree about trying to convince others. That’s not your role. :)

      And thanks. I try!

  • Monica Nielsen

    Jumping into a bigger game YES! The journey I am currently experiencing seems to be taking me down the path to a bigger game. My passion and persistence is adding up. Nice post to read, your thoughts are enlightening. :)

    • Chris Brogan

      Well cool! And glad to hear it. : )

  • Chris Johnson

    Nice post.

    Here’s something that I learned (after too many problems). When you play a long game on purpose, you get better short term results. You’re not binging. You’re confident. You don’t have the stink of despair or the cadence of a con man.

    People trust you.

    You trust you.

    You can do better work faster because you’re here to serve and help and see it all through.

    When you get a setback , you can over correct, get desperate, or you can focus on seeing it through. It’s hard to do, for sure, but I’ve been rich and broke, and the only way to beat broke back is to double down on the best parts of why you’re here.

    • Chris Brogan

      Makes great sense and I totally get the premise. The long came calms your frantic nature when you’re over-chasing all the balls on the field.

  • Richard Binhammer

    Chris, investors dont play a “bigger” game…they play a different game. Just a nuance :-)

    • Chris Brogan

      Depends. They move around millions and sometimes billions. That’s bigger than my thousands.

      • Richard Binhammer

        still not smarter….ask them about things you talk about, and they wont have a clue :-)

  • Bike Shop Girl

    A great post Chris and very timely! (Are your reading my emails?!)

    I hope your trip to NY was more than you hoped for. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on your bigger game.

    • Chris Brogan

      I only needed to impress a couple of nice fellas and prove I was grown up enough to spend their money. I think I managed it. But I don’t know. : )

  • Vincent Nguyen

    I’m a fan of playing the bigger game too, but sometimes it’s difficult to convince another person that it’s worth it. Some people just want the “I have to eat today” money even though the situation isn’t dire.

    How do you convince someone to look a little bigger?

    • Chris Brogan

      Who do you want to convince? If you’ve put small game players on your team, who made that choice? Is this an inherited team?

      • Vincent Nguyen

        Usually Conversion Rate Optimization is a misunderstood process. When people first learn about it they think changing things based on their instincts will instantly bring positive results instead of going through proper trials to test (which takes months at times.)

  • deturbulence

    This is a great post. And even for those who might not be ready for a game framed as “big”, one could suggest the long game/long term part. What do you want next year to look like? How is what you’re doing now supporting that? Could/should you maybe be doing something different in the spirit of the long term?

    Maybe just a nuance, but for some, long term might be easier to ingest than big.

    • Chris Brogan

      Well sure! If you’re feeling a little less viking, go with “long.” : )

    • Lucy Chen

      Hi there, I think we can (sort-of) define what is “big” from what Martin Luther King, Jr – “big” is when “he rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity”.

      So when we have a mission that rise above ourselves to the concerns of all humanity, then we are playing a bigger game.

      What do you think?

      • Scotty Jackson

        I absolutely agree, and I think you did a fantastic job of framing that!

        My commentary was intended to be something of a “fall-back” strategy to help those who might not be ready for that level of magnitude in terms of their work, while still helping big picture progress. Does that make sense?

        • Lucy Chen

          Yes, it does :)

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  • Justin Cooke

    Whenever I get worried about the competition beating us to the punch, launching a competitive product, etc. it’s motivating to remember our long term vision and know that our long-ball strategy will ultimately outpace those stabbing in the dark for small wins.

  • Lucy Chen

    I am playing a bigger game, most definitely. I remembered being one of those people who would think about “how to get the best spread of extra days off by planning out their sick days” when I was working in finance. I was so unhappy! But anyway.

    It’s also super interesting to read this post of yours today. Because I just had the biggest enlightenment about Bryan’s mission this morning. And we talked about it during lunch. It’s a huge game! I think he can really help thousands and thousands of people, and save billions and billions of money from going wasted in the form of defective products manufactured in China!

  • Marquita Herald

    I was immediately attracted to the title of your post Chris because the last week or so I’ve been reviewing short and long-term goals and kept thinking “I have to start thinking bigger!” so I am definitely ready to ramp things up!

  • Adrijana Kekic

    “Small moves with a bigger game in mind” – what a good reminder! In my experience, juggling few ideas or projects at once, provides a sense of excitement, growth, and self-validation, but at times leaves you feeling exhausted and unsure of how the pieces fit together. Still learning how to say no, how to look for silver linings, listen more, practice patience and be more self-loving. It all adds to the bigger picture.
    Thank you for you relevant and much appreciated post!

  • Mish & Rob

    “The big game is a long game. This is seed-planting work.” It’s such a boost to be reminded that this is true for everyone – even the Chris Brogans of the world! Thanks for the much-needed reassurance and inspiration!

  • jaybaer

    but what is the game? tell us!

  • James R. Halloran

    “Start at the end.” That’s a good way to look at achieving your goals! It’s a lot like writing book. The most important things are where you begin and where you end. Everything in-between can be worked out later. Thanks for sharing!

  • Aaron Payne

    Personally, I feel like if you are not thinking about the big game you run the risk of becoming obsolete or something similar. I can totally agree with the need for bravery though and that’s probably why some people don’t want to think about the big game. For me the next scary step in my plan is to eventually hire my first employee. Thanks for the great post!

  • Chris Ellis

    I love this! there is nothing that gets you out of bed faster and with more enthusiasm than a huge game that you are passionately devoted to! I love the points you made. They are important and so many times overlooked. I’m gonna head over and check out your bravery, systems and platform links. Thanks for all the great info!
    XO Chris

  • Deep Sharma

    Wonderful Chris ;) Sometimes if you are really stuck in your rut, you cannot see the bigger picture, unless you rise above the plain of reference you are stuck and see the aerial view of whats possible for you. I remember my dad quoting this as “the frog in the pond” Thanks for this it can at right time for me.
    Cheer Deep

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    traffic is not forever. That traffic will only come in when you invest on so
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  • davidaryan8100

    I love this. No doubt there’s a great interview of actor and director George Clooney in
    Esquire magazine.

    thanks for this….

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