ACTivity/ Build Back Boat

Photo by Cocoparisienne on Pixabay

Photo by Cocoparisienne on Pixabay


Jakarta, 5 June 2019 — Remember Tic Tac Toe? Here’s a new game for 21st century leaders to play anywhere, anytime.

People Celebrating Together

As I write this, my Indonesian friends are celebrating Idul Fitri, also called Lebaran, which is the culmination of Ramadan, the annual period of fasting for Muslims. It is, most of all, a feast of celebrating togetherness in life, within a larger spiritual context and purpose.

During this week, It is customary to hold open house and receive relatives, friends and colleagues to renew relationships. It’s a truly good opportunity to catch up, and people travel long and far to do so.

Additionally, it is also the time for atonement, to ask forgiveness for any shortcomings by saying mohon maaf lahir dan batin. The scope of this request covers anything we may have done knowingly or unknowingly by words, thoughts, and actions.

A celebration of coming together to remind ourselves of our shared humanity.

Similar celebrations were held recently in other wisdom traditions: Ascension Day for Christians, and Vesak for Buddhists. And Easter was celebrated not long ago.

While each of these festivals may be celebrated with language and rituals directed to a particular wisdom tradition, a closer look shows how much they have in common, to allow people to celebrate together what they are grateful for, or should be.

Shared Humanity and Crisis

Beyond a simple holiday break, they are meant to let us practice gratitude for who we are in this world, individually and together. Especially, together.

World Environment Day reminds us of that too.

This year, the extent of our man-made environmental crisis been communicated more powerfully than ever before, including by young climate activists around the world who are on strike from school for climate action.

Hardly a week passes without a new report being published about dramatic losses in biodiversity and risks to global sustainability on our planet earth. They shine a harsh light of what is broken in our society, what needs to be mended, to be fixed, to be brought back to a better state.

It’s our responsibility to translate this awareness into responsible actions in our everyday life at work, home, and in our communities.

A New Game

That’s where I thought that a game might help.

Most probably you have played Tic Tac Toe before, the game where you win when you score three XXXs or three 000s in a row or column of a 3x3 matrix.

Inspired by Tic Tac Toe, I created Build Back Boat, a simple game calling 21st century leaders to remind ourselves of our daily responsibility in service of sustainability, bridging divides, and starting or expanding collaboration.

In the diagram below you will see BUILD, BACK, and BOAT in three colored circles, purple for your Personal World of subjective experiences, blue for your Observed World of objectively measurable facts and processes, and green for your Social World of intersubjective experiences, norms and commitments with other people. Together, an appreciation of these three worlds can give you a more integrally-informed awareness of what is happening in your life and in the world around you, at any time and in any place.

Build Back Boat v2.jpg


In the purple circle of your Personal (private) World is where you align your own beliefs, experiences with your thoughts and responses in a world where we see more walls coming up almost every day, from political debates to echo chambers on social media to trade wars and threat of armed conflict.

As walls go up, the question is what bridges you are building so that people can cross these divides?


In the blue circle of your Observed World, we see how sustainability is coming apart, with climate change, energy shortages, environmental degradation, including our plastics crisis, as well as biodiversity losses and more.

As sustainability is more and more at risk, the question is what you will back for good, by committing to one or more positions that will advance sustainability over competing objectives.


In the green circle of your Social World, it is so easy to forget that we are all in the same boat when it comes to coping with today’s sustainability crisis and social divides. Rather than focusing on the differences between people and groups, we can choose to promote collaboration.

The question then becomes what shall we do together, through collaboration.

Playing The Game

You can play Build Back Boat anytime, anywhere, in any situation you find yourself.

Consider the situation you’re in, for example a meeting at work, and explore what the risks to sustainability are from the subject being discussed. What do you see happening among the stakeholders: where are walls coming up that hinder effective communication and building of trust? And what’s happening around collaboration: are the participants in your situation coming up with more activities to do together, or are they retreating to actions in their individual or corporate silos?

Now ask yourself these three questions in relation to your situation.

What is the risk for sustainability?

Score yourself with a + for positive change when you complete the sentence below:

+ Positive change: What I will BACK for good is ___________.

If you can’t, then you are coming up empty and you score yourself 0 (zero):

0 Coming up empty: Turn back or lose the way.

Now answer the other two questions shown below:

What walls have come up?

+ Positive change: The bridge I will BUILD now is ___________.

0 Coming up empty: It’s easier to criticize than to build.

What boat are we in together?

+ Positive change: The collaboration we start in our BOAT  is ___________.

0 Coming up empty: You’re might miss the boat.

That’s it for dealing with the questions, corresponding to each of the three colored circles!

Playing Solo

If you are playing solo and you score yourself 3 times with a + for positive change, congratulate yourself on a win!

If you didn’t get to a win, then give it a go again in a next situation where you decide to play the game. Become an expert through practice.

Playing with a Partner

If you are playing with a partner, compare notes how each of you scored and decide on a collaboration to start together. Congratulate yourselves on a win together if both of you scored 3 times + for positive change!

If you didn’t get to a win together, then that opens the door to a discussion to reflect on the lessons learned from the experience. How can you do better next time you team up again?

Summing Up

The Build Back Boat game is a playful way of reminding us of the serious issues we are faced with in our world today. Dealing with these issues requires continuous thought and action at both global and local level, including in our daily work and life.

As 21st century leaders, each of us needs to demonstrate that we’re part of the solution and that we are ready and skilled to bring others on board to collaborate.

Inviting a partner to play the game together, for example before you go to a work meeting, creates an opportunity to advance sustainability, build bridges, and create collaboration. This is what we, and our world, goodly needs.

In doing so, let’s be mindful of the many celebrations created by the world’s wisdom traditions that can bring people together with mindfulness and gratitude of our shared humanity. We are truly in the same boat.

Building on that sense of togetherness, we can advance more effective actions and local and global movements for sustainability and reaching solutions through dialogue rather than by building walls.

Set up a call to discuss how you can learn more about growing your leadership. 

Sign up here to expand your leadership skills with my weekly insights.