Fallout Shelter and business ownership

I’m not a gamer. I do like to have a few “relaxation” game apps on my iPhone, though. So, when my 17-year-old son and my 40-something-year-old husband started talking about Fallout Shelter, I though, “Meh. Why not? I’m good at collecting things.”

Never did I expect Fallout Shelter to be a metaphor for business ownership.

What is Fallout Shelter?

Fallout Shelter is a free-to-play app based on the (I’m told) very popular Fallout game series. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, and you are charged with overseeing the inhabitants (called Dwellers) of your shelter (called a Vault.)

No, the post-apocalyptic world is not the metaphor for business ownership.

Each Dweller has a job to do producing food, electricity, water, medicine, etc. As the Overseer, you are responsible for maximizing production. But you aren’t only responsible for food, water, medicine, etc. Your Vault is only a success when your Dwellers are happy.

Fallout Shelter and business ownership

I’ve only had Fallout Shelter on my phone for a few days, and I’ve already failed spectacularly. At one point, my Dwellers were at 10% happiness, they all had radiation poisoning, and food, electricity, water, and medicine were all critically low. I thought about deleting the game and going back to Neko Atsume or Toy Blast, but then my husband asked if he could help. Once he explained how the game worked, I started doing better.

Lesson #1: It helps to have a coach or a mentor to show you the ropes.

One of my first mistakes was adding onto my Vault every time I had enough bottle caps (the game’s currency) to do so. I had this really awesome Vault going…and not enough Dwellers to keep it going.

Lesson #2: Growing too fast without adequate resources leads to failure.

Along with having too much space and not enough Dwellers to manage it all, I noticed I did have some really happy Dwellers. A small handful were responsible for my abysmal overall Vault happiness. You can “eject” Dwellers from your Vault, which seems really heartless, and I almost didn’t do it. But, my Vault was failing, and I knew I needed to take drastic measures. So, I ejected my bottom three Dwellers (sorry, guys!) The happiness level in my Vault increased immediately.

Lesson #3: Keeping on unhappy, underperforming employees with bad attitudes will pull down your whole team. 

I still feel bad about ejecting those three Dwellers, though. It wasn’t entirely their fault they were unhappy. I hadn’t provided a Vault where they could thrive.

Lesson #4: As a business owner, you are at least partially responsible for your employees’ happiness. 

(I’m going to expand on Lesson #4 a little more. If an employee is just a miserable person, you can’t do much to help them. However, as employers we are obligated to provide a safe working environment where our employees can thrive. Many things can lead to an otherwise terrific person being unhappy with their work situation, but if you have a good hiring process in place you should be able to identify before hiring if an employee is going to be a good fit in your company.)

Each Dweller in Fallout Shelter has their own set of strengths. And each Vault room operates best when it is populated by Dwellers with a specific strength. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what Jim Collins meant with his bus metaphor in the best-selling book, Good to Great.

Lesson #5: Getting the right people in the right roles is critical for employee happiness and business success.

Sometimes, disaster will strike the Vault. Radroaches might infest the water treatment plant. The power generator catches on fire from time to time. Raiders from the Wasteland tend to drop by uninvited after the sun goes down. The first time any of these things happened, I panicked. I wanted to help my Dwellers, but I didn’t know how.

Guess what happened? The Dwellers figured it out. The best equipped Dwellers figured it out quicker and minimized Vault damage. Everyone earned experience points. My only responsibility was making sure I had the right Dwellers in the right rooms with the right equipment to do their jobs.

Lesson #6: Give your employees what they need to do their jobs, and then step back and let them work. They will perform better without your micromanagement, and they will grow in the process, leading to increased happiness.

My son and husband aren’t as stoked about the business lessons in Fallout Shelter as I am. In fact, they think I’m a little bit geeky for getting so excited about it. Maybe they’re right. I doubt the creators of the game intentionally built it to be an extended metaphor for business ownership, but they succeeded spectacularly. Well done, Bethesda Softworks!

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