What Tenzi Taught Me About Business Development

Earlier this week, my seven year old niece taught me how to play Tenzi, a simple dice game. In Tenzi, each player gets ten six-sided dice and has to get all of them to show the same number by rolling as fast as you can.

It might be the simplest game I’ve ever played. So what did Tenzi teach me about business development?

Picking a direction fast is more important than picking the right direction

In the classic game of Tenzi (there are about a dozen variations on the basic rules), you roll all ten dice and then pick a number to go after based on your starting roll. For instance, if you rolled four threes, you probably want to start rolling threes. Of all the rolls of the dice, the first one takes the longest – you need to check more dice than any other roll, and you need to make a high stakes decision. But Tenzi is also a game of speed, and the more time you spend thinking, the less time you’re spending generating new numbers.

In a similar fashion, you can obsess over your business development strategy: picking the right market, analyzing your competitors, refining your pitch. But all that time you spend preparing is time that you’re not rolling the dice and testing it out. More importantly, that thinking is happening in a vacuum, without real feedback from your customers and the marketplace. Here’s the thing: there’s a trade-off between over-optimizing your first roll and just moving quickly, and more often than not, the advantage is to move fast.

Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t

Sometimes you roll all ten dice and you get five of same number Рyou have a huge head start. In other rounds, your first roll is scattered evenly with two or three of every number.  When you only have one die left, it can seem like no matter how many times your roll, your number never hits.

In the same way, your business will have periods where clients are just falling out of the sky and you can’t handle the work. Someone new stumbles onto your LinkedIn profile at the right time, or you call a client to catch up the same day they have a need for your services. But there will also be times when no matter how much effort you put into business development, you don’t get any traction. Like dice, so many of the actions we take have a probabilistic outcome that we can’t meaningfully affect.

It’s easy to get frustrated by the randomness (I was playing with a seven year old, after all). But that’s part of the game – you have to accept it and move on. Instead of getting frustrated, you keep rolling the dice, keep networking with prospects, keep in touch with past clients, and keep trying until your number comes up.

The most important thing is to keep rolling

When it comes to Tenzi, you can’t change the odds, so there’s really only one strategy: keep rolling the dice. When you’re working on business development, there are a lot more variables you can control. You can polish your content, expand your network, or improve your pitch. But at the end of the day, the most important thing isn’t what you’re doing, it’s how much effort you’re putting into it. I’ve called it the Dory Strategy: you need to just keep moving. Don’t stop to count your dice, don’t worry that you picked the wrong number. Just pick up the dice and keep rolling, your keyboard to keep writing, and your phone to keep connecting with people.