The Road to Success

What is the name of the ruling dynasty of Monaco? How many legs does a lobster have? Do you love trivia? 

My recent trivia night experiences have shown me that a game of trivia is so much more than knowing when the Jamaican Rock Iguana was first considered an endangered species (1944). Trivia nights might be the next successful model for a reimagined United Nations or, on a smaller scale, our community council. They can be a model for collective problem-solving, deductive reasoning, the benefits of risk taking, and cooperation in decision making. 

What a happy discovery to learn that groups of strangers gather together to eat, drink and play trivia games in pubs and coffee houses. I have been part of such a gathering over the last several months. We boast a team of about ten people and have won in a field of over 20 teams. What has been the secret to our success and how might we use it as model for community? 

While I love trivia games, I realize that I am not very good at them. I rarely know more than one answer in any given round. My teammates often have many more correct answers. However, my one correct answer may be crucial for the win. The lesson here? Every player on a team has value. I release a bit of ego, knowing that my time will come. (Recently it was a multiple-choice question involving the Italian grape variety Barbera.)

Another important lesson from Trivia Night concerns the guidelines needed to complete a successful game. The questions are given in a timed sequence. Each team has a finite amount of time to determine their answers to keep the game moving. Imagine, if you will, a world where bureaucratic duties are completed within an allotted time frame. A miracle!

During the game, everyone can voice an opinion. The team either goes with a majority agreement on a well-argued answer or the team may opt for one person’s intuitive opinion. When the time comes, answers are submitted for good or ill. Either way, everyone had an opportunity for input. Democracy in action.

There is a certain decorum or etiquette. You must respect your teammates. You must not shout out your answers, potentially sabotaging your own efforts. Successful team members learn to take their victory laps at the appropriate times. It is unseemly to laugh at mistakes. On the other hand, having a sense of humor is always helpful. Realizing your place in the grand scheme of things, with humility and a little self-deprecation, generally enhances team-building and your place on the team.

Players must consult with their teammates to reach a conclusion. You may have to admit to your own lack of knowledge in a certain area—reptiles, for example. Yield the floor to members who are experts in this field. In our case, the reptile experts on our team are the 20-something girls. (You should have seen them come to attention when that category was announced.) Any real-world committee benefits when this is the norm for an organization.

By far the most important element of our success is the spirit of inclusiveness on our team. SWAG (Secretly We Are Guessing) is a large team. Many of the teams we compete against are made up of three to six people. We are an age-diverse team of ten with members in their 70s down to middle-agers, and then to early 20-somethings. Each of us brings unique bits of culture, knowledge, intellect, education and life experience to the table. When we realized that this combination was the winning strategy, we were on our way. This is our way of making a bigger tent, or making a larger circle, instead of excluding people who are not the same as us. It has worked every time.

In trivia games, as in life, you never know what is going to come your way. Each round may have a theme or it could be a set of random questions. There is no way to prepare ahead for the question, except to trust yourself and your teammates. The broadest base of players provides the broadest base of knowledge and the best platform for reaching the right answers. 

Happy gaming to all.

Vicki Husted Biggs is a longtime social worker who lives in Home.

A Shift in Perspective