Innovation Games Revisited: A New Methodology That Helps Organizations Deal With Changing Times

Andrew-Simon2Innovation Games are an effective way to transform the way business leaders listen to consumers, staff and each other.

Several years ago, I blogged about how at Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we have become Innovation Games experts and have helped countless businesses and municipalities arrive at breakthrough ideas and innovative solutions by playing Innovation Games. For those of you who didn’t read that blog, or who did but don’t remember or understand games, let me give you a 30-second refresher course.

Games use serious play to free the brain, allowing it to freely associate and create new ideas

Usually adjusting to changing times is akin to trying to hit a moving target. Businesses are in the habit of trying to precisely define the future. However, it is clear that today, when we apply what we know about the past to help us craft a path for the future, focusing on predictability doesn’t always work.

Today, the path before us is far less predictable. We see the future as having fuzzy goals. Thus, games, and in particular, Innovation Games, allow for fuzzy goals while they convert new ideas into real, actionable possibilities.

Without a doubt, we need these types of games faster than ever before because times are changing faster. And we need to involve everyone, from the internal development folks to customers.

Two things are happening: one, there are multiple options for the future, and two, there is a need to test options for what’s coming on the horizon.

One could argue that businesses are already doing this by fast prototyping, something that Eric Ries talks about in his book, “The Lean Startup.”

So with that as a way of introduction, let’s talk about SAMC’s experience with Innovation Games, and why we use them as part of the Simon Associates tool kit.

1. They help develop brand strategy. We have had great success with three particular games when companies needed help developing brand positioning. In particular, they’ve allowed us to work with employees as well as consumers for one of our healthcare clients. They validated the organization’s positioning to ensure that “our brand is our brand,” developed a preemptive position in a cluttered marketplace, gave us ammunition to allow for the development of an external brand copy strategy, and generated significant qualitative data for an internal rebranding campaign.

2. They help define consumer need. At SAMC, we led an Innovation Games session for a group of consumers who wanted a new set of financial services and offerings. Prior to the application of games, these consumers had difficulty defining or even describing what they needed, yet they were dissatisfied with their experiences in the marketplace. Innovation Games helped them shape their issues and then devise a solution. This direct-from-the-consumer articulation gave serious direction to financial services organizations, enabling them to develop targeted offerings that were consistent with consumer need.

3. They help define products. Last year we worked with a plumbing hardware manufacturer and introduced them to Innovation Games. I remember the CEO saying to us, “Don’t expect many new ideas. These guys are engineers.” Well, using games, we developed six great ideas. Of course, all six probably will not come to fruition but remember what I said before about fuzzy goals. You probably need this many ideas because the times are changing, and most likely, at least one of them will match up against future scenarios.

4. They help set priorities. We conducted Innovation Games for an IT company, using a game called “Prune the tree,” whose objective was to identify the roots of the tree, the trunk, the branches, the leaves and the fruit. This helped the participants determine what was systematic and essential, and what needed to be harvested. It also enabled them to eliminate unneeded elements by placing some of last year’s initiatives in the compost pile…you get it!

5. They help establish transparency. I have already talked about priorities, but Innovation Games also promotes transparency. For the past four years, Budget Games has been run in the City of San Jose, helping that city’s government generate levels of transparency while educating its citizens. And as previously stated, it helps the council members understand citizen priorities.

At Simon Associates, we have conducted more than 50 Innovation Games sessions for clients in various fields over the past two years, have found them to be equally applicable to any particular category.

To learn how Innovation Games could jump-start new solutions for your company, please contact us. We’d love to talk with you!