The Un-Game

"Competent observers have experienced the power of observation in producing extraordinary results."

- Un-Game, vii

Ingrid Martine, in her new book, The Un-Game: Four-Play to Business as UNusual, talks about the need to be observers of our own experiences. “Competent observers know they are just feathers in the wind when they stay inside their experiences…competent observers say ‘no thank you’ to being the feather”, she writes. “They know the secret of becoming the wind.” Through the power of observation, Ingrid invites readers to expand their “meaning-making” system and learn the effective four-step process that her fictional character, Sam Adler, experiences in The Un-Game.

Ingrid is no stranger to being the observer. Her “world was rocked” when she moved, at the age of eleven, from her native Germany to New York City with her family. This early assault on her senses taught Ingrid, then a “cross-culturally naïve” young person, to “unquestion her certainty” about different worlds and ways of thinking. Ingrid’s early experiences motivated and led her to the conviction that “learning should be fun and life-long.” She is now an internationally certified executive and team coach with expertise in adult learning, archetypal psychology, language, and leadership development.

Ingrid wrote The Un-Game as a demonstration of a skill-set meant to help managers, and in turn organizations, reach their potential. Throughout the book, Ingrid employs helpful quotes, a “Dear Reader” section at the end of each chapter which invites personal reflection, and a story-telling approach meant to connect the information to the reader’s ability to convert it into action. Ingrid also introduces a lot of “un” words to show that the idea is to deconstruct preconceived assumptions. A manager’s role is as catalyst, she suggests, and undoing, to uncover, and reach the unconventional are key goals.

So, how do you learn the Un-Game?

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Be A Catalyst, Not A Controller and Corrector

"Uncovering unexamined assumptions with unflagging consistency positions you to produce uncommon results, often in an unusually short span of time."
- Un-Game, page 93

“This is what the un-game is – identifying our most closely held thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and conclusions, and examining them to determine if they still serve us.”

What Sam learns along the way is the distinction between “wanting” and “being willing” and how this difference relates to choice. Sam is asked to not just “do something. Sit there” in an effort to avoid quick action and instead connect what you decide to do, with what’s really important.  Here are some of the unexamined assumptions Sam is challenged to reconsider:

  • There’s a right way to do something

  • Tough conversations hurt relationships

  • There are difficult people

  • We make conclusions based on evidence we’ve gathered

  • There is such a thing as security

  • Action is the ultimate challenge

  • People can hide what they strongly believe

  • People don’t change much

  • Work is not expected to be fun

  • A manager develops his or her people for promotion

Perhaps, being uncomfortable with change can offer valuable information, Sam learns – in terms of achieving desired growth and real change.

How can a feeling of discomfort be valuable?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Lose your assumptions

"Our discomfort may offer us valuable information. It pays to be interested in it."
- Un-Game, page 34

“Choosing who you are willing to be, moment by moment by moment as you move through life,” may sound simple. Really, it is observing your actions, in the moment, that can lead to new choices. Change is difficult since we are hard wired to seek comfort and – often – the idea of change threatens our peace of mind since it challenges our mental models of how we think things should be.

Throughout The Un-Game, Sam meets a number of great coaches and leaders who introduce him to COSA, the four step process which helps him learn the thinking which creates a great leader:

1. C = Choose
2. O = Observe
3. S = Say Yes
4. A = Act

At its heart, COSA, as Ingrid reveals, is really about learning to avoid the “three most dangerous words in the English language: I already know.” COSA is meant to create an “environment in which deep, authentic learning that makes sustainable change possible can take place.”

How can you create this environment?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Engage Your Team

"Managers would do well to create a learning environment in which employees have the freedom to try and the courage to fail."
- Un-Game, page 266

In The Un-Game’s afterword, Ingrid talks about the results of a large, twenty year long, world-wide research project designed and implemented by the Gallup Organization. This poll was meant to identify the core characteristics of great managers and great workplaces. There were more than a million employees interviewed, from around the world – companies of all sizes – various industries – hundreds of questions. In the end, just twelve questions were asked of employees. Employees must answer all questions with a resounding “yes” to create the foundation for a great company. The questions were:

1. Do I know what’s expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development? (Stop here if you get any “no” answers for questions 1 through 6. Questions 7 through 12 would then be irrelevant.)
7. At work, do my opinions count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. During the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

How do your answers fare with regard to your company?


As a leader, I found The Un-Game to be a valuable, and supportive, guide to accomplishing the most important goal that a company should have: Fostering a passionate, engaged team. This is a theme I encounter in much of my business reading and yet it remains elusive to so many companies. As Ingrid says, “It’s not enough to be driven by financial goals and results. Any 21st century business must also aspire to benefit people, our global environment, and society overall.”

One saying from the book that both resonates and sums up the book’s meaning nicely: Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated famously, “I don’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Ingrid Martine, through The Un-Game shows you how to get there.

How do you plan to Un-Game?

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Tracy Shea-Porter

ABOUT Tracy Shea-Porter

Tracy is an entrepreneur, coach, trainer, writer, speaker, and improviser. She provides the motivation and action plan for businesses to grow. With a new marketing communications plan, and a sales support program designed to get results, Tracy will take your business to the next level.
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