Gamer Geek’s Guide to Dealing with the Unexpected

Photo Credit: Kenneth Hynek

Photo Credit: Kenneth Hynek

I sprained my foot.

There’s not even a good story, I was walking into a store, slipped off the edge of my sandal and before I knew it I was sitting on the ground, one foot now refusing to bear weight.

This is not a great turn of events in any situation, but to make it worse, today I’m leaving on vacation.  To a gaming convention.  Where walking from one end of a three block -long building to the other is pretty much required every couple of hours.

The urgent care doctor said there was no way I could attend this event in this condition.  He said, there was no room for discussion.

I say, he’s not very creative.  This event is the highlight of my year.  I’m going to go.  I may spend it in a wheel chair, but I’m going to be there, and I’m going to have fun.  Just try to stop me.

Since I’ve already outed myself as a gaming geek, I might as well take this metaphor all the way:

This vacation is no longer a regular trip–now it’s a quest.

In this case, quest mode is all about achieving a personal goal–but the same concept works for dealing with all kinds of unexpected circumstances–like the ones that impact your work.

Make sure it’s worth the effort

Every setback does not necessitate a quest.  If the newsletter is supposed to go out on Tuesday, and the internet goes down, drastic measures are not required–there are probably only 14 people on your list who can remember what day it is supposed to come anyway.  A Wednesday delivery is not the end of the world.

On the other hand, if the building where you are scheduled to hold your annual gala gets hit by a tornado two weeks before your scheduled event, a quest is definitely in order.

Engage Quest Mode

Engaging quest mode is an attitude shift.  Theatre people and secret superheros should feel free to don a costume at this point.  The rest of you might consider doing the same.  There is nothing like a costume to get you into character–why do you think you wear the power suit to the important meetings?  But I digress. . .

The point here is to get your team together (or party for you closet RPG people out there), acknowledge that you are up against difficult odds, and pull together to overcome this freakish turn of events.

Quest mode requires you work together toward the common goal, so talk of blame is an absolute no-no.  Even if someone on the team did contribute to the problem you are facing, dealing with that must come after the quest.

Focus on the Goal (not the plan)

In quest mode, the plan, no matter how excellent, is at best mostly pointless, and could even block your path to success.

Why?  Because the plan is focused on how to achieve the goal in the usual way, and quest mode is all about achieving the goal by whichever path is still passable.

That doesn’t mean you should fly blind, you just need a different kind of map.  Spend some time figuring out what the core purpose of  your quest should be and focus completely on that.  Any solution that meets the goal counts as a win on the quest–even if what you end up doing looks nothing like what you initially expected.

Storytime:  Ripped from the headlines of my nonprofit career

Let’s say there is a theatre company out there somewhere that holds an annual gala to raise $50,000.  The event includes a special performance, high-end dinner, all kinds of black-tie fanciness.  Then, two weeks before the annual event, the headliner backs out.

In regular planning mode, the focus would be on doing everything possible to make sure the show can go on.  Get a new last minute act, postpone the event, etc.  It might work–at least you might have a show–but its very unlikely you will meet your fundraising goals.

In quest mode, your focus is totally different.  Rather than figuring out how to keep you planned event together, you remember to focus on the real goal–raising $50,000 for the theatre.  Now you’ve got all kinds of options.  You may, for example, realize the best way to raise the money is to let people know about the freak turn of events and offer to return their money.  As your loyal supporters, many ticket holders and sponsors will ask you to keep the money.  With the ticket income, and limited expenses, reaching $50,000 becomes much easier.  Ta-da!  Goal achieved.*

Rest, then Celebrate

Yay, you did it!  Aren’t you proud?  Excellent, go home and sleep now.  Seriously, don’t skip the rest part.  Slaying even metaphorical dragons is exhausting.  If you don’t rest first, you’ll fall asleep in your punch.  No one wants to be that girl.  After the team has had a day or two to recuperate, it’s time to celebrate.  It doesn’t have to be a big party.  Cake or even fresh fruit and yogurt in the office is enough.  Just take the time to recognize yourselves for the major accomplishment you’ve achieved, and to capture the learning for next time.

A Word of Caution

Quest mode is powerful and amazing–but totally unsustainable.  If you want to run your organization into the ground and burn your people out forever, ask them to run in quest mode all the time.

That having been said, deployed correctly, once in a very long while, quest mode can be a lot of fun.  There is nothing like the adrenaline rush of a team of people working together to achieve the impossible to make coming to work seem important again.

Your Turn

What does your organization do that’s worthy of quest mode?  When have you achieved your goals in spite of bizarre problems and seemingly insurmountable hurdles?

*It goes without saying, this only works for a real crisis, and probably only once.  If your annual gala gets “canceled” regularly, patrons will stop being so forgiving.

Have your people call my people

Wouldn’t that be something?  I sometimes daydream about a life where my meetings are scheduled for me and I focus my time and energy on getting the most out of the collaboration.

Unfortunately, getting more than two people in the same room at the same time to focus on the same agenda doesn’t happen by itself. And if your life is like mine, when “people” get called, your phone rings.  So instead of spending time creating processes for  creative minds to solve problems together,  you spend your time e-mailing suggested meeting times, waiting to hear back, suggesting new times, starting over and finally settling on a time that works for most people–until someone cancels.

This is the part where I’d like to offer a magical process to make all of that hassle go away–unfortunately, short of hiring a personal assistant, I don’t know of any way to solve the whole problem.  I do however have a way to make it a bit easier–which will give you some of your creative thinking time back.

Meeting Wizard helps manage the meeting scheduling process by keeping track of who is available when, who has responded and which dates/times have been suggested.  It also provides ways to send reminders to everyone or just those participants who have yet to respond.

It’s certainly not the same as having someone take care of the whole process, but its free, it’s easy, and it doesn’t require you or your meeting participants to install anything on your computer.  It also gets through some of the strictest spam filters I’ve seen.

If you are fairly computer savvy go to and check it out.  If you are feeling a bit nervous, or appreciate step by step directions–read on!

Scheduling a Meeting with Meeting Wizard

  • Set up account (first visit only)
    • Click Here to go to account set up.  Fill out the form using your  e-mail address and a password you will remember.

  • Go to
  • Login—enter your e-mail address and your password.   Note: in this case your e-mail address is just a user name.  It will work even if you aren’t using the computer you use to check that e-mail account.
  • Click—“Create a meeting request”, then click “propose one or more dates/times.”
  • Follow the directions to add the proposed days and times to the list.  Remember to click “add” after choosing each date/time.  Click Continue.
  • Fill out the Meeting event details with the same information you would use to send an e-mail invitation.
  • If you leave the “add all new addresses to Address Book” box checked, you won’t have to re-type the address next time (you can choose it from the address book)
  • For “Send me an email update” choose “as each response is received.”
  • If you want a reminder to be sent to your participants automatically, check the box and click continue.
  • Review your meeting request and click “edit details”  to make changes.
  • Click “preview e-mail” to update the email’s subject line and message (this is the info that will show up in your participant’s e-mail box—the meeting request details will show up on the meeting page after your participants click though.
  • Click “Send” to send the request.
  • To confirm meetings go back to and click “view meetings.”
  • The meetings you have organized will be in the left column.  Click on “view details and responses” for the meeting you are confirming.
  • If enough people are available for one of the options, click the “confirm” button at the top of that column.   On the next screen, add a personal message about the meeting being confirmed in the “Insert new message for participants” box and click send now.
  • If none of the dates work you can add new dates by clicking “propose more dates/times.”
  • If your participants are slow to respond, click “Send a reminder to everyone who has not responded” to prod them.
  • Spend the time you would have spent organizing e-mail responses trying to figure out who was planning to attend creating a great meeting for you and your participants!