3 min read

Smart Actors Play Mastermind

We love us a good board game. Video games have a lot to offer, 100%, but board games possess an inimitable charm, no?  

Yet, even within the board game universe, two stand apart in our mind: Cluedo and Mastermind. We'll be referring to the latter here, but you can bet we'll find a way to (not-so-subtly) wiggle Cluedo into future Dojo training.  

For those who haven't had the pleasure, Mastermind is kinda like the OG Wordle. Invented in 1970, this two-player gem pits a Code Maker against a Code Breaker. The Code Maker's job is to set a "code" of four coloured pegs, hidden from the Code Breaker at one end of the board. At the other end, the Code Breaker tries to guess the combination. The Code Maker then marks the guess with white pegs (right colour, wrong position) and black pegs (right colour, right position), and the tango repeats until the Code Breaker either cracks the code or runs out of space. It's a wild time.  

Excepting those who game the game (*sigh*), the Code Breaker has two main approaches: the one-by-one or the total re-haul. Until we crack the code, both have their time and place in the world of Mastermind, and both have a time and place in our world as actors.

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Using our Mastermind metaphor, "cracking the code" means achieving our current goal. And each element of our actor strategy (i.e. Training Menu) is a coloured peg. On route to our goal, the one-by-one approach sees us choose a single peg to switch out for another. If we're successful the first time 'round, yay! If not, we simply switch out the next.

For example, we know that holistic actor training comprises five pillars: Skills, Marketing, Immersion, Creation, and Team. If we aren't moving towards our goal, we might start by looking at our Skills Pillar and asking ourselves the following:

 1. What's definitely working?
 2. What's definitely not working?
 3. What are we unsure of either way?

Our responses will give us data. They won't necessarily give us the exact answer, but neither will the Code Maker in Mastermind.

So in a hypothetical case, let's say the answers are:

 1. Weekly stage combat classes.
 2. Weekly singing lessons.
 3. Daily yoga sessions.

In this scenario, we might decide to replace our weekly singing lesson with a weekly accent class. This move could be right, it could be wrong — we'll soon find out. But we continue switching out one variable each turn until we crack the code.

The one-by-one approach may take time, but it's not as overwhelming as a total re-haul. In our experience working with actors, most have only needed a tweak or two. Yet, there have been a handful of occasions when we've needed to help whip up a whole new Training Menu.

Total recall

Impatient souls (🙋) will lean towards this strategy, but it's really only best employed after hitting several brick walls using the one-by-one. Patience, fellow grasshoppers. Patience.

However, if we do find ourselves needing to re-haul, re-haul we must. In this case, we're likely keeping the same goal but wiping our Training Menu clean. In a few rare instances, we'll have realised we were waaay off with the goal itself and need to start from square zero.

This may sound like a monumental feat, but it ain't. Our guides on defining "success", setting goals, and The Five Pillars will do most of the heavy lifting, and the Dojo is always on call for One-on-One Coaching backup.

Efficient and effective goal setting is a skill. If it isn't one we've developed, it's understandable we mightn't hit a home run our first time at-bat. As one of our mentors likes to say, "We either win or we learn".

Maggie Smith, "I don't believe in defeat" gif

When coaching, we always advise patience first. Give your initial approach a chance to work (easier said than done, we know). Generally, if you haven't seen any sign of success after three months, we'll suggest moving to the one-by-one. If three rounds of conscious one-by-one-ing (at a month each) shows no improvement, we'll point you to the total re-haul.

What's critical to remember is that shifting strategy (intelligently adapting to reality) never means we've failed. In fact, we only fail when we continue mindlessly pursuing an unsuccessful strategy out of laziness or pride.

Also, have fun. We're all just playing a cosmic game of Mastermind.

Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.

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