The Power of DWYSYWD

This weekend I had the privilege of going for a nice long nature walk with my friend Matt Hale.  Matt and I talked about a large range of topics, but one part of our conversations that has really stuck with me was about the power of DWYSYWD.  DWYSYWD – (pronounced de-wiz-ee-wid), for those of you who don’t know, stands for Do What You Say You Will Do.  I was telling Matt about a coaching session I had with a colleague – and the conversation I had with him about DWYSYWD, and Matt immediately came back with a story of DWYSYWD’s power to build trust.

Matt does some really amazing work for social justice in the city of Detroit (You can learn more about it here:  He told me about one of his friends there who is fully invested in the work – Let’s call him Dan.   Matt told me that he had so many conversations with Dan, times when Matt was vulnerable, that he thought of as the trust building moments between he and Dan.  But Dan recently confessed the moment he decided to really trust Matt.

Matt had been talking about buying the abandoned houses on his block, fixing them up and inviting people to live there in intentional community.  Not long after, Matt bought the house next door.  Dan told Matt that he had never met anyone who had a radical idea like that, and then acted to make it a reality.  That was when he decided to join with Matt in the work he is doing in the neighborhood, and move in.

The truth is that sharing who you are, being real and vulnerable, does build trust – but nothing has power like DWYSYWD.  When you do what you say you will do as a leader, you will soon have followers.  Leaders are change agents, they don’t just talk the talk – they walk the walk.  Whether it’s in business, in your personal life, or your everyday interactions people will trust you, and believe in what you are doing, if you espoused values and lived actions align.  Period- the end.

If you want to succeed in leadership, therefore, there are at least two questions you should be asking yourself.  First, “Am I doing what I said?”  You need to think about what your stated goals and values are.  Are your actions in alignment with them?  Why or why not?  If not, what can you do today to change that?

Second, leaders should challenge themselves with the question “Do I consider what I say I will do?”  If you want to succeed as a leader, take the time to think hard about what your espoused values and goals are.  Don’t agree to do something that doesn’t align.  Furthermore, don’t say you will do something that you are unwilling to do.  Before you say you will do something, consider whether you are truly willing to be in it for the long haul.  Will you make sacrifices to achieve your goal?   Will you quit when the going gets tough?  Is it worth losing people’s trust to say you will do something and then not follow through?


What do you think?  Continue the conversation with your thoughts, comments or questions below.


2 Indications Your Students Are Engaged

It seems to me that there is a lot of talk in Higher Education (and really in education in general) about engagement.  I recently had an experience that got me thinking about engagement and how to spot it when it is happening.

As you may know if you read my blog I am a gamer & an educator – and I find my passion at the intersection of those two identities.  So, early in the second semester of the 2012-13 academic year, I planned an all day gaming event on campus.  Student’s loved it and said they wanted to do it again sometime during the semester.  When Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton declared March 30 to be International Tabletop Day – I saw it as the perfect opportunity.

So I recruited some students to help, and we planned another all day event on campus for March 30.  The event was awesome.  We started at 11am and didn’t wrap up until around 3:30am (that’s not a typo- we where there for 16.5 hours).  There were 2 questions I heard students asked that I’ve been thinking about a lot since the event.

The first question is “What time is it?”  If you are familiar with the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concept of flow, then you know that one of the main indicators that people are experiencing flow is a loss of a sense of time passing (or temporal distortion).  When students at the International Tabletop Day event asked what time it was – they were often astonished by the answer and responded with declarations like “There is no way that’s right.  I haven’t been here for six hours already.”  This response is a pretty strong indicator that they were experiencing flow – and highly engaged.

Another way to define engagement involves a sense of ownership.  Engaged students feel they own the program.  The second question that I heard at International Tabletop Day that indicates students were engaged was, “How can I help?”  When students ask how they can help, it tells me that they want to go beyond simple participation and “own” the event.  Students helped secure funding, they hung flyers to advertise the event, they helped set-up, they even stayed afterwards to help clean up.

Measuring student engagement is a difficult prospect – but you can feel well assured that if students are asking “What time is it?” and “How can I help?” you are likely creating an engaging experience.

Leadership Lessons from Yggdrasil – Part I

As a Residential Coordinator at a large public University, and as a gamer, I’ve been hosing a board gaming event on a weekly basis on campus. Recently I observed some students playing a game called YggdrasilYggdrasil is a co-operative game – meaning the players work together as a team and win or lose together- based on a Norse Mythology theme.  As I was reflecting on the game, I realized it is a great example of why I put so much time and energy into planning gaming events and the learning that comes from playing modern board games.

I’m inspired to do a series of blog posts to put some of my thoughts in order, and hopefully, to inspire others to consider more creative and engaging methods for reaching co-curricular learning outcomes.


In Part I, I want to tell you a little bit about the game and how it works.  I believe some explanation of the game will help readers understand the next several parts – where I will elucidate the learning I saw taking place- more fully.

As I mentioned earlier Yggdrasil is a co-operative game for 1-6 players.  In it players take the roles of Norse Gods such as Thor, Odin, Freya, or Heimdel and are trying to hold back attacks from the enemies of Asgard such as Fenrir, Loki, Surt, and Hel.  On the board Yggdrasil – the world tree- is pictured as well as the 9 worlds of Norse Mythology.  Each world represents an action a player can take, and players may choose 3 actions to take on each turn.

But, before a player takes actions they must draw an enemy card from the deck.  The enemy pictured moves further into Asgard an triggers a special effect.  For example, when Loki moves forward – he calls Frost Giants to spread panic in Yggdrasil.  Frost Giants block players from taking particular actions until they are defeated.  Fenrir, on the other hand, causes players to waste actions trying to calm him before they are allowed to take their turn.  Each enemy of Asgard has a unique special effect.

The player then takes their actions.  They can collect resources, such as mythic weapons, elven warriors or viking souls to help them in future battles.  Alternatively they can trade resources or “manage”  the group’s chances of collecting resources in the future.  Of course, they can also do battle with Frost Giants or Enemies of Asgard.

If, at the end of any players turn, 5 enemies have managed to move beyond the wall of Asgard – the players lose.  Likewise, if 3 enemies are beyond the door to Valhalla – the players lose.  And of course it only takes 1 enemy in Odin’s throne room for the players to lose.  If the players manage to avoid these conditions and play through the entire enemy deck, the have won the game.

If you would like a more complete rules explanation check this video (you can skip to the 2:00 mark for the rules).

In my next several  posts, I’d like to talk about the skills I saw students practicing and developing – such as teamwork and cooperation, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and emotion management.  Coming soon – critical thinking.

What is a game and why does it matter?

In conjunction with developing a gaming program on my campus I’ve been reading-up on games, and how to use them to impact the world around you.  “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal (@avantgame) is a must read book for anyone who wants to use games to make the world better.  In it, McGonigal lays out four traits that define a game.

When you strip away the genere difference and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.

The goal is the specific outcome that players will work to achieve. It focuses their attention and continually orients their participation throughout the game.  The goal provides players with a sense of purpose.

The rules place limitation on how players can achieve the goal.  By removing or limiting the obvious ways of getting to the goal, the rules push players to explore previously uncharted possibility spaces.  They unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking.

The feedback system tells players how close they are to achieving the goal.  It can take the form of points, levels, a score, or a progress bar.  Or, in its most basic form, the feedback system can be as simple as the players’ knowledge of an objective outcome: “The game is over when…”   Real-time feedback serves as a promise to the players that the goal is definitely achievable, and it provides motivation to keep playing.

Finally, voluntary participation requires that everyone who is playing the game knowingly and willingly accepts the goal, the rules, and the feedback.  Knowingness establishes common ground for multiple people to play together.  And the freedom to enter or leave a game at will ensures that intentionally stressful and challenging work is experienced as safe and pleasurable activity.

McGonigal also cites Bernard Suits’ definition, “Playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”  I can’t help but think that these defining traits and this definition warrant some serious thought from Student Affairs professionals.  If there is a medium out there through which we can help students learn to work with purpose towards a goal, think creatively and strategically (read critically) and tap into their own intrinsic motivation – on common ground with other students – we should be using it.  If there is a way for us to engage students, such that they want to overcome obstacles and build up grit and resiliency (read: traits that contribute to matriculation), we should do it.

The fact is, our students are already playing games.  The question is, how do SA pros leverage games to encourage development?  I have some thoughts about it.  Do you?  Leave a comment.

Initial Refections

The first in a series of “Game Night” programs I’ve organized took place on Saturday January 14. I’ve spent a lot of time, energy, and brain power planning these programs. I truly believe that gaming is a great way to engage students, and meet many of the educational goals student affairs professionals are typically trying to achieve. In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing my thoughts, building an argument for gaming as a learning experience, giving some advice on how to get a good gaming program started on your campus, and, hopefully, starting a dialogue with other like minded(or not so like minded) educators.

In this post, I just wanted to share a few quick observations of student interaction at, and since the initial program on Saturday. I’m not sure I’m ready to draw any conclusions yet, but I just want to get some things down on paper (or on screen as the case may be) before I forget about them.

First of all, I was excited, and perhaps even a bit surprised by the turn-out. Despite the long weekend (which meant many students went home or out of town), competing campus events (there was a lot going on that day all over campus), and late arrival of advertisements (our posters only went up around 10pm the night before), over 40 students came and participated for at least part of the event.

The engagement level and length of the program also bodes well.  We advertised the program for 2-6pm, but I told students I’d be glad to stay as long as they wanted.  The last students left around 10pm after helping me clean up and re-arrange the furniture (which almost never happens unless those few remaining students are student staff members – these were not).

Another encouraging anecdote, one I did not predict (although in hind-sight I should have seen this sort of thing coming), between games I had some great opportunities to have developmental conversations with students.  One in particular sticks out in my memory.  A freshman ROTC student was telling me that he is worried, because ROTC has 26 scholarships this year for about 50 freshman – this news was new to the freshman ROTC students and has many of them concerned that they will not be able to afford an education.   I was able to ask him some questions about how the scholarships were determined, and if there were other ways – through the GI bill and  National Guard service for example, that he may be able to get his education paid for.  Later I heard him comment to another cadet that he isn’t worried so much any more and that after talking with me he feels like he knows what he might do.

On the Tuesday after the program, I observed one more encouraging sign.  In the university center food-court I noticed 2 participants from the program greet one-another and chat for a few minutes.  I feel confident that they hadn’t met one another before the event on Saturday.

During a game of 7 Wonders, a student asked the question – “So it’s conceivable that all of the guild cards could end up together at the bottom of the deck?”  Which turned into a discussion about how likely something like that would be given that the cards are randomized (shuffled).  Students really starting talking about this.  I think this has some implications given that my department (and most student affairs professionals) consider “application of academic course material to novel, real life situations” – or some similar idea a goal of programmatic efforts.

All of these anecdotes, seem to indicate that this program has struck a chord.  Students are developing relationships, engaging with me (a university official) and with one another, and learning something new (namely some games from around the world). Please comment with your thoughts.

Our next session will be on Thursday the 26th.  I’m excited to see where all of this goes.