Never Scratch Yahtzee

Posted by on February 22, 2019

Most of us have played the dice game of Yahtzee where each turn, you seek to maximize your points by matching a defined combination of numbers to score one of a targeted list: ‘small straight’, ‘three of a kind’ and the like. When your turn results in not matching any of the required, you are forced to ‘scratch’ one possibility. For many, the first to go is the most sought after combination of all – Yahtzee – where all 5 dice show the same number. A combination that occurs rarely[1], but the points for doing so are very high.

Over the years, I realized that I preferred to keep the Yahtzee option open to the end, and only scratch it when you have absolutely no other options. My idea being, in short, that you never want to eliminate the possibility that you win big. In my family, I’m known by my catchphrase – “never scratch Yahtzee”.

In my career, I have come to realize the extent to which this philosophy influences my thinking. In short – despite all obstacles, failures or setbacks, never scratch Yahtzee. Never give up the possibility of doing something truly excellent.

To me, it’s more than positive optimism. It’s surely not a mathematically-influenced risk management strategy.

It is, quite simply, a way of viewing life.

I believe we all aspire to excellence. We are all fascinated with it – whether it be professional sports, music, or mountain climbing. We love inspiring stories of plain, ordinary people like us achieving great things because they refused to quit. Against all odds, they endure.

Too often, when faced with adversity, we are quick to jettison our aspirations of excellence, and feel the victim of circumstances beyond our control, and in so doing, we scratch Yahtzee.

Much of this insidious process happens inside our heads. We generally don’t see it as giving up. In many cases, we prefer to see it as “accepting reality”.

But not me.

Realist? Probably.

It’s not that I don’t see the challenges we all face. Some of us face, quite frankly, some overwhelming circumstances. But there’s a big difference between accepting our new reality, and letting go of what it feels like to aspire to excellence.

“Excellence” is different for each of us. There is no universal standard for what’s “excellent”. It’s not athletic achievement, professional acclaim, fame or fortune.

For some, it’s teaching at-risk kids how to read, in hopes of elevating them out of poverty. Excellence.

For another, it’s competing in the Olympics or other athletic endeavor.

For many, though, it’s the pursuit of a lofty goal, a childhood dream, or career and personal aspirations. Naturally, our dreams and goals are different, change over time. That’s not what I’m talking about.  Scratching Yahtzee is more about giving up on the possibility of achieving excellence, ragardless of what that is for you.

And that’s a very different proposition altogether.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you cant – you’re right”. 

Henry Ford

To Henry Ford, the ability and likelihood of achieving a goal is not externally empirical, but rather inward; cerebral.

Scratching Yahtzee, then, is something that happens inside of us, and can have a significant impact on what we’re able to accomplish externally.

How many, wanting to be an astronaut, eventually recognize that, regardless of how hard they try, they just don’t have the requisite traits to be an astronaut.  Undaunted, that same dream might morph into being an engineer. Or a high school science teacher. Or a dad that brings up his kids to shoot for the stars.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

Theodore Roosevelt

It’s not about what you have, or where you find yourself. It truly is what you make of it that defines excellence.

Don’t scratch your chance of being excellent.

[1] The odds of rolling a Yahtzee by only throwing the dice once are around .00077%. But if you’re playing a true game of Yahtzee, which allows you to hold dice you’d like to keep in play and roll up to three times, then your chances of hitting five-of-a-kind increase to 4.6%.

Posted in: Leadership
  1. Vickie
    February 23, 2019

    Excellent and thought-provoking. I don’t think I’ve ever played a ‘true’ game of Yahtzee! I’ll have to try increasing my odds to 4.6% sometime . . . 🤔

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