The Boolean Life
Things are either True or False. Or not.
How is running a business different from playing Whac-a-Mole?
By Olibe.nu

I cannot wait to ask the above title as a question in an interview.

I am going to add it to what I have learnt from Joel Spolsky's book: Smart and Gets Things Done.

I can just imagine the responses.

Is that a trick question? No, it is not.

Are you serious? Yeah, like a heartattack.

What is Whac-a-Mole? Next!

Ok, you got me there. I would not really say 'next'. Expecting everyone to know about the game is like expecting Windows developers to know what a 'diff' means. Or iPhone users to understand freedom. It's a culture thing.

What is Whac-a-Mole? It is a popular arcade game invented in 1976. Typically, it consists of a cabinet with five holes in its top and a large, soft, black mallet. Each hole contains a single plastic mole and the machinery necessary to move it up and down. Once the game starts, the moles will begin to pop up from their holes at random. The object of the game is to force the individual moles back into their holes by hitting them directly on the head with the mallet, thereby adding to the player's score. The quicker this is done the higher the final score will be.


If the player does not strike a mole within a certain time or with enough force, it will eventually sink back into its hole, giving the player no score. Although gameplay starts out slow enough for most people to hit all of the moles that rise, it gradually increases in speed, with each mole spending less time above the hole and with more moles outside of their holes at the same time

Whac-a-Mole has many non-arcade variants today but the principles remain basically the same:

  • There are a number of moles.
  • Moles spend less and less time above their holes. And
  • More and more moles are outside their holes at the same time.

So, what is the answer to the question? It is simple. The difference between running a business and playing Whac-a-Mole is this:

The moles in a business do real damage.

Every other thing is the same.

In some countries of the world, running a business, say, a tech startup gets you started on a Whac-a-Mole with a beginner setting. The fact that you have some moles is acknowledged as normal by most. The second factor of moles spending a lessening time above their holes is also mild as you have those with experience who can predict the moles' actions. More and more moles outside their holes at the same time? No pressure, you are not the only one with a mallet therefore, you do not strike alone.

That might be a little cryptic. It will become clearer, be patient.

Suppose you are in another country (my oga at the top would not let me say which), the Whac-a-Mole is set on expert!

First of all, people ask you why there should be any moles. That is, why should the business have a few hiccups as it starts? Nobody wants to think that this is normally the case for most businesses.

Secondly, the moles are elusive, spending less and less time above their holes. You experience bugs which refuse to be replicated. Some things just decide not to work for no apparent reason (GSM Networks and their crappy internet, watch out for the mallet). Some moles are even bold enough not to retreat into their hole. No amount of clubbing works (that black mole PHCN is a good example).

While these are busy prancing up and down with no one to help you predict which hole one is going to leap up from so that your mallet will be ready, you begin to notice that the third principle is already underway. A lot of moles are outside their holes, daring you to do something. Perhaps someone steals your equipment (what can you do? When it happened to me, they (you know who) wrote it down on a sheet titled Conspiray and Rubbry [sic] and that was it, nothing more).

Or ...

You could just give up. Try whack the moles somewhere else where the setting is lower. A location where the number of uncertaintities in the system is much lower. For this dear country of mine, I fear that it looks more and more each day like Pandora (the planet in the Avatar movie). Everything is involved in the conspiracy. Insecurity, corruption, absence of infrastructure, and much more which I cannot hammer down. After all, are they not moles?