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Innovation Games – A Fun Way to Discover Customer Insight and Improve Product Marketing

In my recent article “The Game of Process Improvement”, I referred to a book called “Innovation Games”. The book is packed with details on how any of us can leverage Innovation Games to gain greater insight into our customers and users. Something that is critical to the success of BPM and Process projects, but also can be applied to the vendors of these, and other products too. Last week I spend some time talking with Luke, the author, about the book, the games and his company.

When it comes to the use of games in business I am a firm believer that they should enable people to learn. As I mentioned in my previous article, we learn more by play than by analysis. Luke, though, is concerned about making sure people understand that his games are not seen as simply a learning tool, but a business tool directed towards delivering specific outcomes. Of course he still believes that they can and should be fun!

Luke has undertaken a lot of research into the linkages between the brain and productivity. In his words: “Productivity Games are not simply ‘more fun’ – they are literally more effective. This is due to the fact that the concept of play is deeply integrated into human beings’ mental development.”

“Studies tell us that there are parts of the brain that we do not access when we are simply discussing our views, or trying to think through a complicated situation. However, when we play a well structured game with other interested players, our actions, interactions with other players, and explanations of our behaviour can provide a better, more comprehensive view of how and why we make certain decisions.”

Innovation Games, although a relatively young company, boasts an extremely impressive customer list. Companies, including Adobe, SAP, Aladdin, Wyse, Google and Qualcomm, have all leveraged Innovation Games to to improve holistic design thinking, discover new business opportunities, drive strategy and product road map decisions, improve the effectiveness of sales and service organisations, fine tune marketing messages, and create more intimate, durable relationships with customers.

One of the challenges that Luke has faced over the years is the stigma associated with the idea of using games in business. In part this is due to the mistaken understanding that games do not equate to work. This has led to him and others using the term “serious games”, although he (and I) prefer the term that he also uses – “Productivity Games” – to try and overcome these obstacles.

I agree totally with Luke that the objective has to be to deliver objective, useable business outcomes, and Innovation Games amply delivers on this front. I also come from the perspective that, for effective change to take hold, then people need not just outcomes but the learning. The ability to come to their own “Aha!” or “Light Bulb” moment. So for me it is also about going back and seeing how people learn most effectively and, as we say, this is through structured play.

What I can see is that there is a need for people to be able to understand how to differentiate between unstructured and structured play. I can also see that even the most boring of analysis tasks can be made to be more fun through games. So perhaps we could use terms like “Strategy Games” or “Objective Gaming” to make it clear that in board game terms it is more like ‘Risk’ or ‘Diplomacy’ rather than ‘Ludo’ or ‘Snakes & Ladders’ – e.g. it is a game, should be fun, but is directed toward a targeted outcome. As mentioned in the previous article, there are many business leaders who have successfully grown businesses using their love of, and skill at, the game of chess to succeed.

Truly successful games need to deliver both concrete outcomes and learning. The outcomes ensure that you are making good use of your time and getting business value, while the learning ensures that your people continue to grow and develop. The great thing about the Innovation Games concept, as developed and promoted by Luke, is that it delivers on both counts. One only has to take a look in more depth at the success stories to see how much has been saved/made/changed to understand that the results are definitely there. If you take the time to talk with people who have been involved in those projects, you will hear them enthuse about learning things that they did not even realise were important.

Next week, during my trip to California, I hope to meet with Luke and learn first hand more about the way he and the team leverage Innovation games.

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