Mark Young, The Power of Playful Negotiation in Solving Real-World Problems – InnovaBuzz 495

Mark Young

Mark Young, Rational Games

In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest, Mark Young, the Founder of Rational Games, where he teaches business negotiation to diplomats, senior business leaders, and other professionals by means of playful methods. He also uses the proceeds of what they earn to support projects that use games and play to resolve conflict.

Mark started his career with two large and famous American banks neither of which exist anymore. He then had postings at McKinsey and Company and as a trade negotiator in the US Government, followed by being the partner in charge of privatization at Price Waterhouse Corporate Finance in Germany. Since 2001, he is the Founder and President of Rational Games, Inc., a boutique consulting company focused on playful negotiation.

In our discussion, Mark talked to me about:

  • Negotiating to create value for all stakeholders
  • Getting clear about the assumptions we are making
  • Why games and play are so powerful

Thomas Lahnthaler in episode 431 introduced us to Mark.

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

Listen to the Podcast

The art of negotiating is all about creating value. It's about making the pie bigger and not assuming that it is fixed, but rather how much more you can make of it and share with others. @EvolvedThinking on #InnovaBuzz podcast Click To Tweet

Show Notes from this episode with Mark Young of Rational Games

Key points and takeaways from this episode include:

  • Negotiations are all about building relationships, creating value, and having empathy.
  • One way to create value in a negotiation is to first understand what you want and then understand what the other person wants.
  • Curiosity is one of the key skills of negotiation.
  • Curiosity and the art of questioning and preparation help you understand what other people value that may be different from yours. Through this understanding comes a mutual benefit because then you’re able to offer things that they want that you’re not so concerned about – so everyone wins!
  • There’s no such thing as a bi-lateral negotiation. It is never just you and the other person at the table. There are always people around you that are affected by it that should also be consulted. Always think about how they could help you.
  • The art of negotiating is all about creating value. It’s about making the pie bigger and not assuming that the pie is fixed, but rather how much more you can make of it and share with others.
  • Creativity starts when you know what your assumptions are and you start questioning them.
  • Negotiations are like a dance. People move together. They connect with each other and have fun. They get to know each other and come out of it better than they were before.
  • Get away from a win-lose mentality to a win-win mentality through creativity and questioning assumptions.
  • The urge to play is greater than the urge to fight. By redefining play beyond the win-lose paradigm, we unlock other parts of our brains and our experiences to enable everyone to enjoy, have a good time, and succeed.
  • “A finite game is played for the purpose of winning. An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing the play.” – James P. Carse.
  • By moving beyond finite games to infinite games, we are giving everyone a chance to succeed. Everyone’s a part of it and there’s no limit to what we can achieve.
  • Our urge to win is very strong but we can use that competitive urge in a way that is not destructive and does not require losers.
  • Keep questioning the word “win” and what it means for you. Then try to redefine it in a way that is not at the expense of other people.
  • Compassion is key to social responsibility. It’s being open to other people and understanding what they’re experiencing whilst wanting to change it in the best way possible.
  • You start to see things differently when you let go of the win-lose mentality and look at other people not as someone to defeat, but as someone to uplift. You’ll realise you can go beyond this paradigm and think bigger about humanity as a whole.
  • If your goal in business negotiations is to uplift other people while creating value for all parties involved, then you’ll start to think about what you can do to make the world better.
  • Mark and his team at Rational Games use games and play to teach negotiation to business executives; at the same time, using a large portion of their revenue and expertise to support nonprofits through game and play.
  • Music is a great connector of mankind.
  • Play is anything that brings people together.
  • The universe brings you things and you have to be open to it, without knowing where it will lead, because that’s where exciting things happen. Grasp the opportunity and go with it!
  • People want to have fun and play. As they do, they realise that there are interests that they have interests that are not only rational, but emotional as well. If you can get away from arguing about who’s right and who has the luck on this idealogy, you create a more holistic look at people and how to connect with them whilst bringing value to them and yourself in the process.
  • There’s a difference between interest and values. You can learn to negotiate interests and separate them from values. Be firm on what you stand for but realise that there are lots of other grounds to find shared values.
  • Negotiating is not about competition. It’s about how we get there.
  • Businesses need to be more flexible and move away from the traditional marketing, sales, and production to project-based systems.
  • Instead of having a big team, create a small team that is interdisciplinary around a project or a particular challenge. Be more flexible, agile, and do not depend on structured permanent ways of communicating.
  • Organisations need to think about how we can equip ourselves to form the right teams with the right expertise from different parts of the society to come together and create the value of tackling these problems without worrying too much about traditional structures.
  • Negotiation requires personal connection.
  • A refugee is not someone who’s running away. A refugee is someone who brings ideas and moves them from one place to another. They are carriers of ideas. They’re not a threat, but an enrichment.
  • Play is human connection at a basic level.
Compassion is key to social responsibility. It's being open to other people and understanding what they're experiencing whilst wanting to change it in the best way possible. Mark Young on #InnovaBuzz podcast Click To Tweet

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round 

Here are Mark’s answers to the questions of our innovation round. Listen to the conversation to get the full scoop.

  1. #1 thing to be more innovative – Be curious. Be open to new ideas and want to know more.
  2. Best thing for new ideas – Surround yourself with interesting people that believe in your idea and are united by the mission. Create good teams and let them shine.
  3. Favourite tool for innovation – Anything playful. Taking playful methods and applying them to serious issues.
  4. Keep project/client on track –  Good planning and flexibility. Let go, be flexible, and improvise. Improvisation guides things.
  5. Differentiate – Know your WHY. Know what’s driving you. Have a central idea that you really believe in and drives everything.

To Be a Leader

Figure out what your skills are and do something that matters.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Mark through their website.

Suggested Guest

Mark suggested we have a conversation with Bill Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes, Uli Egger of Egger Philips, and Craig Zelizer of PCDN Global. So Bill, Uli, and Craig; keep an eye on your inboxes for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz Podcast, courtesy of Mark Young.


Play is human connection at a basic level. Mark Young on #InnovaBuzz Podcast Click To Tweet

Listen to the Podcast

Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is The World's Best Human-Centred Podcasting Coach and the only Podcast Innovator with the signature bright yellow headphones, who masterfully crafts human connection for high-impact achievers in a vibrant community. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Flywheel Nation Community as well as on Innovabiz' InstagramTwitter, Facebook pages and his personal Photography website.  

Leave a Comment