For those unfamiliar with the hit Netflix show, ‘Squid Game’, it’s a metaphorical representation of modern society played out in a series of simple games. It’s also a psychologically brutal competition to win a life-changing financial prize; $4.56m.
Most players have a game plan of sorts, believing their strategy will give them the edge. But as the frustratingly simplistic game rules quickly cull numbers from 456 to one eventual winner, it becomes apparent that personal choice is the only true strategy.
The genius of Squid Game lies in the stark lessons it delivers both for the players and for us as we watch them. We witness friendships develop into strong bonds, unbreakable alliances form and even a sense of love between those who have found a deep connection and believe they’re ‘in it together’
They’re not; they just haven’t realised it yet.
We also bear witness to the extreme lengths people will sometimes go to when the stakes are life and death and an unimaginable prize awaits the victor.
Of course, nobody actually dies in Squid Game – The Challenge, the reality version of the show.
However, at the end of each game, those who woop-woop and punch the air to celebrate surviving another day also experience the trauma of losing friends or coming to terms with the deceit and betrayal of allegiances they believed to be unbreakable.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, many of these lessons easily translate into lessons for business owners, underlining the deeply satisfying art of outmanoeuvring competitors.
And whilst this may appear to be a cynical view of business, make no mistake: business is a game of survival of the fittest.
So, let the games begin – and may the savviest marketer win.
Red Light, Green Light:
The first of the games sees players ‘racing’ towards crossing a white line while only being allowed to move when a ‘green light’ is signalled. They must freeze at ‘red light’, with even the slightest movement or wobble resulting in instant elimination.
In reality, there is no red or green light, just a 14ft ‘doll’ behind the line whose head rotates, signalling to the players to move only while she’s not watching.
A telephone is placed on a pedestal in the huge dormitory where all the players slept. For some, it’s a no-brainer; just leave it where it is. For others, their curiosity gets the better of them. They get closer to look at the phone but are not daring to do anything.
For one, it’s obvious: just pick it up and see what happens. The player is instructed to convince another player to come to the phone. If successful, the other player would unknowingly face immediate elimination. If unsuccessful, the original player would immediately be eliminated.
Everyone must surely know the board game Battleships/Warship. In the latest Squid Game, teams played a human-sized version of the game where leadership roles were democratically elected, and the rest of the team chose where to stand in ‘ships’ strategically placed by the leader and their deputy.
As in the board game, leaders then took turns to guess which of the opposing teams’ squares to target with their torpedoes. As a ship was destroyed, the players standing in it were eliminated, along with the losing team’s leaders when three ships were destroyed.
Every player had to publicly vote to eliminate one person of their choosing, with the top three receivers of votes being instantly eliminated. The challenge this presented was deciding whether to vote to eliminate someone they didn’t like and wouldn’t miss or someone they knew and liked but felt was a threat.
Five players volunteered to each stand behind a small box. Upon releasing the Jack-in-the-Box, an instruction attached to their Jack instantly sealed their fate or that of other players. The instruction may have been an advantage for them in the next game, their instant elimination or the option to eliminate other players.
Players are requested to form teams. Members of each team choose a shape (although some are inevitably forced to accept a more complex shape than they would prefer). They’re each handed a small, circular tin containing a honeycomb biscuit with their chosen shape pressed into one side. Their challenge is to use a needle to carve out the shape from the biscuit without breaking it, and they’re working against the clock.
Tug of War:
It’s a straightforward enough game where pulling a ribbon tied to the centre of the rope or the opposing team over a mid-way line wins the day. But despite appearances, it’s not always raw strength that wins. Guile, tactics, rhythm and persistence all play a huge part in success.
Among the most brutal of the games in Squid Game, marbles is also one of the simplest, and players are allowed to choose their own game and rules.
The overarching objective is simple: win against your opponent.
In the reality show, players were invited to share a picnic hamper, so they naturally paired up with a friend, someone in their alliance, or, in two cases, a relative.
They were, of course, expecting a twist, but this did nothing to reduce how devastated they were on discovering the picnic was the precursor to the dreaded game of marbles.
Everyone desperately wants to win, but doing so in many cases is heartbreaking because losers are immediately eliminated.
Glass Stepping Stones:
Players must cross a bridge made from 28 glass panels in two parallel rows of 14, stretched out before them and suspended high off the ground.
The challenge is simply to cross to the other side. However, some panels are fixed, while others open up unexpectedly, allowing the player to fall through into the abyss.
Do you go it alone or ask other players to leapfrog you to even the odds?
The Final Game:
The original series was inspired by a Korean game, known as Squid Game, played by two people. It involves offensive and defensive play within a stylised squid-shaped arena painted on the ground.
Testing their physical and strategic skills, the two players attempt to move closer to the ‘squid’s’ head where one will be the victor.
In the reality show, the final game was entirely different. It still required a combination of strategy, outsmarting the opponent, but the physical aspect was replaced with an element of pure luck.
The game was rock, paper, scissors – with a twist.
The winner of each ‘rock, paper, scissors’ round would select a single key from an assortment within a box. Each key represented a new opportunity, a new gamble. But it was another game of pure chance.
Would this be the right key to unlock the safe that contained the ultimate prize, a staggering $4.45 million?
Seven Key Takeaways:
1. Understanding the Rules: Just like in business, understanding the rules of the game is essential. In “Squid Game,” players who quickly grasped the rules – especially the unspoken rules – had a better chance of a positive outcome. Similarly, in business, understanding the market, the competition, and the regulatory environment is vital for making the right decisions.
2. Adaptability and Innovation: The participants who adapted quickly to the changing scenarios of the game often fared better. This highlights the importance of adaptability and innovation in business, where market conditions and customer preferences are constantly evolving.
3. Risk Assessment and Management: Players in Squid Game constantly assess risks and make strategic decisions, balancing the potential rewards against the risks. In business, effective risk management can quickly solve a problem or prevent one from ever occurring.
4. The Power of Alliances: ‘Squid Game’ demonstrated the strength and sometimes the peril of forming alliances. Strategic partnerships in business can lead to many mutual benefits, but it’s important to choose partners wisely and understand that alliances can and will shift over time.
5. Determination and Resilience: The players’ determination and resilience in the face of dire circumstances are commendable. In business, perseverance and the ability to bounce back from setbacks are key traits of successful entrepreneurs and leaders.
6. Ethical Considerations and Consequences: ‘Squid Game’ masterfully delves into moral dilemmas, reflecting the importance of ethics and fairness in business. Decisions that solely focus on profit (or personal gain in Squid Game) without considering the moral and ethical implications can lead to long-term reputational damage.
7. Understanding Behaviour: Squid Game is based on a deep understanding of human behaviour under extreme stress. In business, understanding customer behaviour is critical for developing products and services that meet their needs and for effective marketing strategies.
We know that running a business puts us in a complex and challenging arena. It demands not only a deep understanding of the rules of business but also the ability to adapt, innovate, and manage risks effectively.
Many of the games in Squid Game mirror the diverse challenges of the business environment. From the need for precision and patience in ‘Honeycomb’, and the importance of teamwork in ‘Tug of War’, to the strategic thinking in ‘Glass Stepping Stones’, and the cutthroat brutality of decision-making in ‘Marbles’, each game serves as a metaphor for the multifaceted aspects of running a business.
But, the lessons extend beyond mere survival; they help us appreciate the art of outmanoeuvring competitors, understanding customer behaviour, managing resources, and building alliances, albeit with caution.
They also remind us that marketing in particular, is unpredictable and often unforgiving. Success requires more than just playing by the rules; it requires a shrewd blend of strategy, psychological insight, and, sometimes, the courage to make tough decisions.
It’s a playground, and playgrounds are for having fun. So, yes, remain vigilant and steadfast in achieving your goals. Be prepared to embrace the unexpected twists and turns of the games, but have fun with the opportunities that come your way.