Chutes And Ladders

When I was a kid, one of the board games in my rotation was Chutes and Ladders. The game, which finds its origin in India, is steeped in spirituality. Later marketed as “Snakes and Ladders” in England, the product was commercialized in the United States by board game powerhouse Milton Bradley in 1943, and has since stood the test of time.

Many years removed from the last time I played the game, I now understand its lessons. In its most empirical form, the game illuminates the dualities of life, making the distinction between virtue and vice. On a deeper, more introspective level, the game teaches us patience, acceptance, and resilience. The play itself is an unpredictable journey in which reward is arbitrary and punishment cannot be avoided.

Chutes and Ladders is a game predicated solely on random chance; zero skill or strategy is involved. Each player takes turns, spinning a spinner and moving a marker across a numbered grid. We start—where else?—at square one (this is where the phrase originated), and finish at square 100. On any given turn, one can land on a particular square that will require either an advance (climbing a ladder) or a reversal (going down a chute) in position. The first player to land on the final square on an exact spin wins.

Ruminating on the business game of Chutes and Ladders, I note obvious parallels. My top takeaway is that nothing is guaranteed. The fortune of any player can drastically change in a heartbeat. You can be one spin away from victory, enduring multiple futile turns, while your opponent comes from out of nowhere to eat your lunch. Such is the force of pure luck. The board giveth and the board taketh away.

Mature, self-actualized professionals acknowledge that failure and success coexist, that true achievement is a function of competency.

The middle manager promoted to the C-suite, the founder securing an initial round of funding, the sales rep landing that first huge deal—all earned outcomes replete with a history of struggles, setbacks, and periods of personal compromise. No chutes. No ladders. No spinner to spin.

A Parting Thought

Life is full of polar comparisons. Peaks and valleys. Feast or famine. All or nothing. Everything we do seemingly falls on a continuum, and we often ignore the moralities and mathematics that can play out between the two ends of the spectrum. As long as you participate, you remain competitive and give yourself an opportunity to win.


JD Gershbein
JD Gershbein
Since 2006, JD Gershbein has been instrumental in advancing the ideals of the digital world, inspiring opportunity-oriented individuals and companies to harness the power of the online media to elevate their profiles, engage their communities, and win new business. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s top LinkedIn strategists, and a thought leader in the areas of personal branding, social networking, and social entrepreneurship. As a business psychologist, speaker, and facilitator, JD has educated audiences all over the globe on how to create a competitive advantage through the social channels. He has been featured on FOX TV News, WGN TV News, CBS News, and WGN Radio, and contributed written work to The Huffington Post, SUCCESS Online, NBC, and Forbes. He is also a student of comedy and new media production at The Second City in Chicago and the architect of his own “edutainment” platform, through which he is developing an original, web-based video series, a live stage show (revue) a podcast, and the staging of exclusive live theatrical events for the business community.

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  1. A brilliant perspective, JD. I had no idea that a game I loved and played as a child, and still play with my grandchildren could convey so much about life, as this was not something I focused on.

    One of my takeaways from your article relates to being almost Home and ending up down the chute or down to the tail of the snake. Life is filled with uncertainties, and decisions we make, or events outside of our control can influence the results we experience as entrepreneurs. Everything can be going well in our business then certain factors can send us spiraling so that we lose momentum, or lose connection, or something else. It does not mean we have failed. We can get back on the board again.

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