Cohado: The Game for Systems Leaders

January 30, 2018


In June, a couple of our team members participated in the Kauffman ESHIP Summit on entrepreneurial ecosystems. When they returned to Tucson, we wanted to keep this conversation going. So, a small group of us came together and asked ourselves: What does it take to co-create and lead regenerative systems?

Using curated resources and participatory activities, we created a space to ask each other hard questions and dig into the nuances of what systems leadership really asks of us. We challenged each other to consider new perspectives: to zoom out and look at the whole system; to zoom in and examine our role in creating or reinforcing structures within the system.

Cohado gives players a shared experience to frame conversations about systems.

One of the activities that guided us in this conversation is the game Cohado, invented by ecosystem builder, Paulo Gregory Harris. Cohado is the only game I have ever played that is not based on transactional moves to accumulate points, wealth or territories. Winning the game is not dependent on individual skill or competition between players, but rather winning is determined by players’ ability to collaborate, minimize waste, and maximize generative connections.

Cohado is rooted in seven principles of systems growth:
  • Vision: Playing Cohado is a shared experience. For us, this experience shaped conversations about our vision of co-creating and leading regenerative systems. It rooted our shared purpose in something tangible – playing a game. Similarly, coming together as a community around a shared vision can create a foundation for action.
  • Viewpoint: Cohado demands diverse perspectives. When we were playing, each player had a piece that we all needed in order to win. We had to put aside our assumptions, keep an open mind, and work with other viewpoints because they were part of the game. Considering all perspectives is critical for overcoming the rigid “either/or” choices of static, non-systemic thinking.
  • Relationship: Cohado asks not only that we consider other viewpoints, but that we respect each contribution as it comes. In other words, we had to put aside judgement to work together. In our experience, this respect allowed our collaboration to progress. We avoided stagnation and distrust by refusing to dismiss any idea. Relationships rooted in mutual respect and psychological safety make collaboration and progress possible.
  • Creativity: Cohado embodies creative problem solving. As we played, we found ourselves engaging in both divergent and convergent thinking–we had to analyze the connections individually and then collaborate to find the most advantageous approach. To spark creative problem solving and innovation in our communities, we need to challenge ourselves to actually embrace strategies for ideation and creativity that work.
  • Structure: Cohado is a well-designed system – the goal of the game is not one of competition or domination. The game is structured to promote collaboration and mutual benefit. While playing, we noticed a shift in our behavior – we were more transparent and quicker to share. In our everyday lives, systemic goals and norms impact the way we choose to behave. When we take time to examine and address these structures, we can create spaces that foster more inclusive interactions.
  • Embodiment: Winning at Cohado requires you to physically and emotionally embrace the work of generative systems building. In order minimize waste and achieve a high score, every player has to fully engage. When we played the game, we found ourselves truly learning by doing, rewiring thought patterns, creating muscle memory for new ways of being and interacting.
  • Community: Through shared purpose and intentional action, throughout this process, something happened to us as individuals: we stopped comparing ourselves to one another and instead focused our energy on the collective good. No longer was it about who had the best pieces or was quick at math. Instead it was about how we could play to our strengths, together.

Cohado taught us valuable lessons about systems, leadership, and the conditions necessary for regenerative collaboration. Playing the game gave us a new way to experience what’s necessary to build inclusive and equitable systems: suspending judgment, getting vulnerable, listening closely, thinking differently, questioning existing structures and learning by play. And as we often say, the best way to learn something new is to DO it. So, on February 21st Paulo Gregory will be in Tucson to share the game and give our community a chance to play together and rEvolutionize leadership. Join us to explore the principles of Cohado alongside your neighbors and friends.