Skip to main content

What's Your Jenga Game Strategy?

What's Your Jenga Game Strategy?

Maybe you’ve never played the game, but hopefully you know the premise. If not, the key is to build a tower by pulling a piece out of the growing tower, put it on top, and cross your fingers that it doesn’t topple. Because, if it does, you lose. I love playing this with my family to see what level of risk each person will take with the piece they pull and how they place the piece on the top.

You may be asking why I’ve picked this as a blog topic, but for me, it is aligned to our game of life. We have to choose the piece to take a risk on, and sometimes it will be a solid choice because our foundation is solid, but inevitably at some point, we will pick the wrong piece to pull, and the tower will topple. Game over - we have lost.

[Related: How Board Games Helped Me Develop Flexibility in the Workplace]

In the game of life, when our risk doesn't play out as we had hoped, the game isn't over, but we have to move to rebuild right away and start the next game.

Part of the fun of the game is figuring out if you can make it hard for the player after you. Can you make the foundation riskier so that they topple it? But often by employing this strategy, we also risk that we make it topple while trying to set the other person up for a loss.

So, we need to make a choice – play it safe for our move or take a risk, which may end up benefiting us or could fail. Now, I’m not suggesting that we make moves in life that set others up for failure…just that we focus on how we can employ the right strategy for the best outcome, and sometimes that means taking the riskier path.

There’s a point in Jenga when the tower is getting so high that there really aren't safe moves left, and we’re forced to take a risk. Our hand has been forced….we have to move outside of our comfort zone and just take the risk.

Sometimes that risk works out for us, and sometimes, it’s our turn for the tower to fall. I know I'm always holding my breath and trying to keep my hands super steady when I'm trying to pull out the risky pieces. However, in my house, everyone is trying to distract me when I'm trying to use that level of precision.

[Related: A New Twist on the Old Story About What’s Holding Women Back]

If you looked at your life in the way that you play Jenga, do you tend to always play it safe or do you actively take risks to increase your chances of being successful? For most of us, the answer is probably “it depends.” We assess the situation and our comfort level and make a call, and we probably also default to what we normally do in that situation.

If we always choose the low or no-risk route, we miss out on possibilities and opportunities that we can't yet see and feel, but we do protect the status quo. If we go into a risk knowing that there's a chance of failure and a chance of success, we should do all that we can to make sure that the foundation is solid if things don't work out and that we plan as much as we can. I'd consider these questions:

  • Have we built the support structures well?
  • Are there any cracks in our structures already?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What is the best thing that could happen?
  • How would I feel if I missed out on that potential best thing because I didn't try?
  • Am I avoiding something by not taking the risk? If so, what and why?

I've started to commit to a life of educated risks and leaps of faith. I don't want to miss out on what could be because I was fearful of what might happen if it didn't work. I want to go all-in once I've landed on something and see where the risk and leap take me. It's hard, and I don't always take the right sized leaps, but I'm working on it.

When was the last time you took a risk early in the game…before your hand was forced? What were the gauges you used to decide if the risk was potentially worth it? How did you feel about the foundation you had to support you?

Is it time to pull a risky piece and see what happens?

[Related: Do You Feel Stuck? How Taking Risks Helped Me Feel More Fulfilled]


Melissa Carson is a Founder, CEO, Executive Coach, and Strategic Talent Consultant.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: