The International Appeal of Visual Collaboration Games

We love our work, especially when it challenges us to think about Innovation Games® in new ways. This post was inspired by a two-day strategic planning meeting that we produced last month for the Adobe Localization team. The event was a notable success, and you can read an interview with three members of the Adobe team (Francis Tsang, Senior Director Globalization at Adobe; Janice Campbell, Sr. International Program Manager 2; and Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Localization) here. In this post, though, I’m going to focus on what Adobe taught me about Localization, and discuss some ideas on how you can improve your ability to play games with a global audience. Bonus? Fans of Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics (which I love) will see the influence of his work in our games.

Background on the Adobe Event

With more than half of its revenue derived from outside the United States, Adobe has developed an amazing ability to localize its products. From my experience, Adobe’s approach to Localization is just amazing, and it accomplishes many things I didn’t think was even possible (for example, localizing an interface in every sprint). What makes this team extraordinary, however, is that they are simply not content to rest on their laurels. Their desire for dramatic improvement was the motivation for this meeting.

We started planning this event months ago, when key members of the Adobe team began reviewing my book as part of their book club. Peter Green, Agile Coach and Trainer at Adobe systems, had previously hired me to help bring the games to Adobe’s Agile development teams, introduced me to the Localization team. We quickly agreed that instead of just reading about the games, the Adobe team would use the games in a two-day strategic planning meeting whose:

… main objective was to develop a common Localization vision and identify short-term and long-term initiatives to progress towards that vision.

Joining us were Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators Peter Green and Deb Colden, who consults extensively on matters of corporate strategy. The planning process was extraordinarily enjoyable, as the Adobe planning team used this project as a way of deeply understanding the games and each phase of the planning. I especially appreciated the team’s focus on assembling the right materials and in recruiting a very helpful helper. You can read Janice Campbell’s excellent description of the event here.

Globalization Is More Than Just Localization

We’ve known for a long time that developing truly global products is more than just localizing the user interface. Certainly, translating strings in fields is an obvious first step. So are developing localized versions of help and technical documentation. And I wrote about localizing such things as installation and log files for enterprise software in my book Beyond Software Architecture.

The Adobe team demonstrated that localization goes much further. They discussed such things as the entire user experience, from advertising and order fulfillment on the web site to installation and use of the product. Perhaps more importantly, they discussed how to engage internal and external customers in making continuous improvements to all of these factors, and identified a number of cutting-edge strategies to make this happen. We know that we need to create a similar localized experience for our customers, especially since nearly a thirdof our sign-ups are from outside the U.S. (And we will.) But today, I want to focus on the international appeal and the globalization/localization of Innovation Games® and Gamestorming Games.

Visual Collaboration Games and Internationalization

Let’s compare and contrast three Instant Play games to explore what makes a visual collaboration game more or less globally accessible. (Note: Clicking on these images will start an instant play game).

Speed Boat SWOT Analysis Manufacturing Games

The left-most image is our Innovation Game Speed Boat. As a pure image of a boat, with no textual labels, it can be used in any culture around the world that understands boating. And while I would expect that different cultures have different styles of boats that they prefer, I suppose that this would work just fine.

The center image drawn from the SWOT analysis framework. As a well-known strategic analysis framework, I suppose it is acceptable that this game has English labels. But the moment I introduce words, I start to reduce the global appeal of my game.

The right-most image is drawn from the growing collection of public games. And I can’t play it because I can’t read Spanish, though I’m guessing it deals with manufacturing processes. But that’s probably OK, as I’m quite likely not the target market for this game. Unless they want to play this game with people in China.

For a long time, we’ve known that visual game designers need to pick an image that helps players find a solution to the problem  they’re trying to solve. This is the power of visual metaphor, and it can range from using a tree to represent the evolutionary growth of a product in Prune the Product Tree to using a stylized face to represent our understanding of a user when playing Empathy Map.

And when you’re playing a game that includes a global audience, like the games we played with the Scrum Alliance, or some of the games we’ve played for the HP.com FutureWorks team, you need to ensure that the image is accessible and understandable to the global audience. And a simple way to do this is to avoid text in the image.

Purchase Motivations for Independent Insurance Agents

Of course, you don’t always have to focus on a globalized image or avoid text. A great example of this is the image that Ryan Peel from Hastings Mutual created when he wanted to understand what people see as the advantages/disadvantages to working with independent insurance agents. This image, like the right-most image in the table above, is clearly optimized for Ryan’s target audience (as he described here).

Should Layers and Regions Be Localized?

Of course, the power of our platform is more than just collaborating on an image. The ability to create multidimensional layers and regions on images is what gives our platform such amazing and expressive power (see “How to Make any Doodle or Image a Collaborative Game” and detailed videos on how to do this).

However, in working with Adobe, I realized something quite important: Even if the image is “universal,” the layers and regions are textual. And, in our current platform, these labels are stored in one language. Meaning, if you enter your labels and regions in German, then I’m going to see German — even if I don’t speak German. Likewise, if I create a game with English labels for the layers and regions, all of my players will see English.

I’ve reflected on this quite a bit, and I’m not sure that this is a problem. I’ve played a lot of global games — with as many as eight different countries represented in one online game. In the games I’ve played, one language (usually English) emerges as the “lingua franca” of the players. I’ve discussed this with our several of our facilitators from other countries, and they have pointed out the same thing — one language emerges as the “lingua franca” of the players. This is a natural outcome of the need to collaborate with other players. We may all be using a second, or even third language, but until we can find a common language, we can’t communicate. And that common language, when used as the language of the layers and the regions in the game, actually promotes collaboration.

Chats and Shared Language

Our online games provide an online chat facility that allows players to collaborate as they play the game. And while we’ve had some requests to add video and voice capabilities to our games, we’ve also received several emails applauding us for our text-only chat. And while I consider some of the pros/cons of text chatting, you can play an online Pro/Con game and give me your opinion of text-only chatting by playing the Pro/Con game on the right.

Play the Pro/Con online!

Text chatting slows down the play of the game and keeps all players at a similar level of proficiency with the “lingua franca” of the game. Suppose, for example, that you work for SAP as a product manager in a globally distributed product development team and you want to play a “Whole Product Game” to identify changing perceptions of your product. Your native language is German, but since you’re playing with your colleagues from India and America, you choose to play the game in English.

Of course, each of the players playing your game have a “natural advantage” in their native language. But if even a small subset of the players is speaking a different language, everyone suffers. And, while I readily admit that audio and video provide additional information that is critical to communication (tone, inflection, body language and so forth), it is also important to point out that audio and video can intimidate and frustrate the players (for example, it can be hard to hear people, different cultures respond quite differently to visual cues and power distance among players, and the lags in communication can be quite frustrating). In the quest to obtain the best results, these differences are quite important.

Play the Whole Product online!

Moreover, audio and video are hard to integrate in a way that allows players to privately negotiate during the game, something that we accomplish easily through whispering (a form of person-to-person chatting). And the post-processing of audio/video files is considerably harder.

That said, I’m sure that we’ll be adding audio and video to our games over time. It is natural and inevitable, and done correctly, it should enhance the experience and provide yet another option for global game play. For now, though, we are pleased that our system provides excellent results for globally distributed teams.

The Global Network of Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that a key strategic advantage that Innovation Games® has over traditional problem-solving and market research techniques is our global network of trained facilitators. We’ve trained consulting facilitators in countries from Korea and South Africa to Germany and Mexico. These remarkable people can help anyone who wishes to leverage the games develop games that fit their local cultures. And we’re happy to help connect you with a facilitation team in another country when you’re trying to produce a global engagement.

Player Appeal Matters More Than International Appeal

The appeal of a visual collaboration game starts with the universal power of a visual image to help people “see” — reason, explore, investigate, examine, study and ultimately solve — problems in new and novel ways. Suppose, for example, that you want to identify ways to improve your sales process by focusing on the buying process of your customers. Inspired by Scott McCloud’s amazing book Understanding Comics (Tundra, 1993), let’s explore three images that you could use for your game (note: only the boat is an instant play games):

Speed Boat Buying Process Home Buying Process

The left-most image is our familiar Speed Boat, whose enduring power is the metaphorical abstraction that it can bring to any process improvement game. It can be easily used to address and buying/selling situation.

The middle image, from Guuui, is less abstract, but still applicable in a large number of purchase scenarios — even though it has English labels.

The final image, from Rey Homes, is very concrete, as it represents the Rey Homes approach to guiding an American home buyer through the home purchase process. And it works great in America, but not so well in Brazil or Belgium, and not at all for buying a Cisco Router.

Ultimately, that’s my point: Innovation Games® online gives you an amazing palette in which to explore what kind of image will engage your audience. And, it is through this engagement that you’ll find the key to unlock the insights and understanding that drive innovation.


Serious Games for Strategic Planning

Who hasn’t shuddered when you get the email about required attendance at an all-day strategy meeting? In common parlance that translates to 8 hours trapped in a conference room with PowerPoint, coffee and catered lunches—if you’re lucky. Strategy meetings don’t have to be death by PowerPoint, though. They can be engaging, profitable and energizing—especially, if the participants are actively involved. Our recent experience producing a two-day strategic planning meeting for Adobe Systems’ Globalization team is proof of that day-long meetings don’t have to be boring.

Three Adobe team members—Francis Tsang, Senior Director of Globalization; Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Localization; and Janice Campbell, Sr. International Program Manager 2 – recently shared with us their perspectives on how and why using Innovation Games® was crucial to the event’s success.

Why did you decide to use Innovation Games for your strategy meeting?

Spider Web and Speed Boat games on the wall during Adobe's Globabalization Team's Strategy meeting.

Janice: We had read Luke’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products through Collaborative Play, in our Globalization Book Club, and decided to find a way to “put into play” our learnings from the book. Much to our delight, Luke was already working with some product teams at Adobe. What if Luke could help us drive the creation of our 2012 localization roadmap and three-year strategy?

Can you tell us a little bit about the strategy meeting and how you used Innovation Games?

Francis:It was a two-day meeting, with 40 participants, focusing on Adobe’s Localization Strategy. We used the games to help us do short-term and long-range planning around localization and long-range infrastructure needs—not only which languages and problems we may face in our globalization efforts, but also what kind of new localization experiences we want for our end users.

Who attended?

Janice: Along with members of our Globalization team, we invited internal stakeholders closest to the international customer. They represented CSO, ecommerce, product marketing, field marketing, developer relations and CHL, and regions such as APAC, EMEA and LATAM. The event took place during two full days at the end of August.

Sometimes people are concerned about the concept of serious games and whether the techniques can really be used to do “real work”? Did you have any reservations about the games?

Francis: To be honest, I was kind of skeptical in the beginning—how can we do this with 40 people over two days, but after the two days, I found the experience extremely useful. It was much more useful than a cut-and-dry strategy planning session with PowerPoint. The games force you to come down from a conceptual level to an experiential level.

Jean-Francois:
We were a little bit nervous before the event, because we had never experienced this approach. We had also invited senior managers from other teams, and they wouldn’t have shown much patience if things had gone wrong. We took a risk, but it definitely paid off. The energy level during the all event was high. We addressed very serious problems. Using games helped us change our perspective on these problems and generate more creative solutions

What about Innovation Games made the event a success?

Francis: Putting 40 people together for two days is a huge commitment of time for a company. It’s hard to keep people engaged during 16 hours of strategy planning. Thanks to Innovation Games, 90 percent were in the meeting the entire time. With traditional presentations, you would lose half the people, but the games kept the participants engaged.

Janice:We found that participants built better relationships with each other and communication channels opened up. We gained valuable insight into how an international customer interacts with our products — from the web to software purchase/download to documentation. Using games was a fun way of extracting serious ideas and it allowed people to be more creative and free in their thinking; they were less fearful of peer pressure in vocalizing their ideas.

Three games of Prune the Product Tree during Adobe's Globalization Strategy meeting.

Which game played during the event had the most impact? Why?

Francis: While we played many games during the two days, three Innovation Games stand out in my mind: Prune the Product Tree, Speed Boat and Buy a Feature.

Prune the Product Tree, for example, forced us to think about the sequence of events. It helped us understand benefits and costs. Speed Boat is always good to help understand what is slowing you down. Planning is often a one-way street, but Innovation Games counteract that. The game play forces you to visualize the possible anchors. The metaphor helps you understand the big picture/visualize the problem. The most revealing aspect of Buy a Feature was learning what assumptions play a part in ranking options. Specifically, it lets you see what a participant’s self-imposed limitations are.

What really stood out for me, though, is that the act of playing these games gave us insight into how different people look at problems, the different kinds of thought processes in play. We saw this thanks to the debrief process; the act of presenting the game results to the larger group meant other participants got to see how others thought. With other methods, it’s hard to get to the true story.

Jean-Francois:
The Show & Tell game helped create a friendly, playful mood, while helping us highlight critical issues in the way we localize our products. After the event, many participants still referred to the game to justify more investments in certain areas. The Prune the Product Tree game is a close second for me as it generated some very innovative ideas.

Janice: Stories from the field, in the form of the Show & Tell game. While often poignant or funny, the game play helped us experience first hand the hoops international customers sometimes have to jump through when using our products.

Were there any unexpected benefits?

Francis: The game mechanism helped us look at strategy from a different perspective. We gained unique insight. For example, in strategy, you need to look at what could happen, what would happen. The games helped us visualize these scenarios; they helped us model the future.

Jean-Francois: The game-oriented approach really helped build stronger relationships between all our participants. People flew in from around the world to attend the event and didn’t always know each other. Games are an effective way for people to quickly “gel” together, collaborate and deliver great ideas.

Would you hold the event again? What would you do differently?

Jean-Francois: Yes, we would definitely conduct such event in the future. However, I would make the point to include International customers. It would be priceless to hear their stories (Show & Tell) about how they use our products and have the opportunity to collaborate with them on building solutions they seek.

 

To learn more about Adobe’s Globalization Strategy meeting, check out Janice’s blog post, “Strategy Through Games” and Luke Hohmann’s blog post, “The International Appeal of Visual Collaboration Games”.


Intellectual Ventures, Software Patents, NPR and Innovation Games

 

Today National Public Radio ran a story on software patents titled When Patents Attack. Featured prominently in this piece was Intellectual Ventures, a company that has amassed a significant patent portfolio.The article raises some very thought-provoking questions about software patents and whether or not these patents are realizing the original goals of the patent system in promoting innovation. I won’t deny that the patent system, especially as it relates to software patents, could be improved. Unfortunately, the NPR article focuses only on software patents, and the real situation is considerably more complex. In this post I will explain how the global IP community has been using Innovation Games® to more deeply understand ever-changing patent landscape, with a hopefully more comprehensive perspective than that offered by NPR.

Three Years of Innovation Games Exploring Intellectual Property and Patents

For the past three years, Joff Wild, Managing editor at the IP Media Group, has hired The Innovation Games® Company to design and produce Innovation Games sessions in conjunction with the IP Business Congress. We started in 2009, with Rob Sterne and Ron Laurie helping co-produce our first event that was focused on the emerging role of the Chief Intellectual Property Officer. These games, which were attended by some of the world’s most prominent IP experts, allowed us to clarify the full scope and impact of the CIPO  (see the full report here).

The 2009 games were so successful that in 2010 Joff asked us to produce two events: a series of online Buy a Feature games to identify the most important topics facing CIPOs and a set of in-person games to explore the highest priority topics in greater depth. The key topics report is here while the full report of the 2010 games can be found here.

For the 2011 games, Joff asked us to design two events. The first was again focused on CIPOs and their perspective of the emerging future. You can read the full report here. The second, much larger event, was focused on a number of questions relevant to the global IP community. Participation in this second event included CIPOs, industry experts, and even Michael Pierantozzi, Director of Global Licensing Marketing at Intellectual Ventures. This report is not yet available from Joff Wild, but as soon as it has been published I’ll make it available.

Three years of Innovation Games data exploring IP and patent strategy from the world’s leading IP professionals gives us a unique perspective that can help us understand the enormous complexity of the patent system.

The CIPOs Worst Nightmare: The IP Policy Pendulum Breaks

One of the games that we asked CIPOs to play this year was My Worst Nightmare. Here is how we described the game to the CIPOs at the event:

Edvard Munch painted The Scream in 1893. It is a vivid embodiment of how many IP professionals feel when considering how the world of Intellectual Property may evolve.

In today’s session we want to understand how you might consider the future of IP. Not the good, wonderful, light, easy and easy future. Instead, we want to explore the dark, scary future that can often happen when policy makers make decisions that are not aligned with that people need in the future.

What’s the worst outcome that you can imagine that could occur in 2015 in the following areas:
1.    IP Policy
2.    IP Transaction Market Place
3.    Corporate Functions / Role of the CIPO
4.    International Cooperation / Open Innovation

We then assembled the CIPOs into groups and asked them to tackle this especially hard subject. One group, whose members represented a diverse group of companies (not just software) produced a result that is directly relevant to the NPR article. They called it the IP Policy Pendulum, and drew it like this:

IP Policy Pendulum
IP Policy Pendulum

Here is how I described this in our report to Joff and the larger IP Community:

IP policy can be thought of as a delicate, multidimensional pendulum in which the path of the bob represents the balance that must exist in the various dimensions of global IP Policy that must be managed in order to create successful outcomes. Key dimensions captured in this diagram include:

Domains: Technology, Biotech/Pharma, Small Business and the IP Marketplace
Qualities or Aspects Influenced by IP Policy: Strength, Speed, Quality

In the lower right, the picture depicts that will happen if any one dimension becomes too powerful: The bob will snap and become a terrible bomb that will destroy our future (as represented by a school bus filled with children).

In discussing this picture, the participants noted that part of the motivation of the metaphor was the acknowledgment that IP policy must be balanced between competing interests. Specifically, if IP policy becomes too favorable to the technology industry, it will “snap” because it will fail to meet the needs of the Biotech/Pharma industry. Similarly, if IP Policy is changed to emphasize “Quality” of IP (notably patents) over the “speed” of patent-processing, innovation may suffer because it takes too long to secure protection. Conversely, emphasizing speed over quality creates too much “junk” IP.

Participants were well aware that they are often paid to advocate positions that favor their domain or perspective at the risk of causing the bob to “snap”. Participants expected that governing bodies would continue to manage the balancing act represented by the multidimensional IP Policy Pendulum.

In addition to this nightmare, CIPOs also discussed the dangers of patent licensing, patent monetization, and the impact of patent trolls (read the full report for these details).

What NPR Missed About Patents

A careful examination of this and the other data we’ve generated through our games suggests that NPR missed several critically important items:

  1. The patent system is, in fact, a complex system. As so eloquently portrayed by the CIPOs, changes that benefit software patents could easily have a much worse impact in other industries. And determining what is, and isn’t, software isn’t so easy. I wish that NPR would have covered other perspectives for greater balance.
  2. It is a global software industry governed by a global IP system. NPR, for example, didn’t cover patent system harmonization, which many experts contend puts the US at a global disadvantage in managing IP assets.
  3. Inventors do not determine the patentability of an invention. The USPTO determines patentability. And the USPTO must follow the laws. NPR treated this far too lightly. Any sustainable patent reform must include what is, and is not, considered patentable, and provide the USPTO with the best possible tools to allow this to happen.
  4. CIPOs and industry experts also recommend legal reform, with greater oversight provided as to who can sue whom, and on what grounds, and where.

Several years of producing Innovation Games for the leading global experts in the IP industry leads me to believe that while the IP systems we have created are not perfect, they’re pretty good. And history has demonstrated that when change is needed, the global IP community responds. I remain confident that the IP community will eventually find ways to improve software patents that genuinely promotes the innovation that creates better software.


Help Us Transform Government Through Innovation Games and IndieGoGo

This is both a very simple, and a very personal, post. It announces our IndieGoGo project to use Innovation Games® online to engage thousands to millions of ordinary citizens around the world in working together to identify and prioritize the best possible solutions to our challenging budget problems. Please donate $25 to our cause. When you’re finished, please ask your friends, colleagues, neighbors, from everywhere in the world, to join us.

Don’t want to watch the video? No problem. Here is a transcript. But the video has some very helpful captions that you may not want to miss.

For over 10 years, we’ve been using our serious games to help companies around the world do serious work by having serious fun. But Innovation Games are about more than just helping companies work better. Which brings us to IndieGoGo.

We’re a little silicon valley startup. Which means we dream big. And one of our biggest dreams is to revolutionize the way that citizens interact with their governments.

We all know that our governments, federal, state, and local, are broke as a joke. Worse, no one seems to be able to come up with solutions.

We have. And we’ve proven it through the in-person version of our games.

Often, special interest groups don’t really represent the priorities of mainstream Americans, and therefore most people have no way of effectively expressing their priorities to their representatives. If thousands of ordinary citizens could truly engage with the difficult budgeting decisions that governments face, they could work through competing priorities together, and achieve the compromises that these problems require.

We’ve already made it possible for hundreds of citizens to engage in this way. With your help, we’ll take our proven solution online, and engage tens of thousands of citizens in solving our toughest problems.

On January 29, 2011, we made history, working with the mayor’s office in San Jose, California to empower community leaders to express their shared priorities through our games.

The result? Over 100 people from all parts of the city, representing every constituency engaged each other to fund and cut programs cooperatively, giving the mayor’s staff unprecedented insight into the real budget priorities of ordinary citizens.

And they used these insights to craft a better budget.

We know now that games can work for serious civic engagement. And now we need your support to bring our community games to thousands of citizens around the world.

While we already have an online version of Buy A Feature, our powerful virtual market game, we need further development to create an online implementation that supports the customized game design that we created in San Jose.

Once we have made the necessary changes to the game, we will then engage between 24K and 40k citizens of a major U.S. city—three cities have already expressed interest: San Jose, wants to play these games at a large scale, as do Lafayette Louisiana, and Portland Oregon.

Our game will be carefully timed to the budgetary cycle of the city in question, to maximize the impact of the game, and to ensure that the insights generated have a direct effect on budgeting decisions. We will then make this system available to other municipalities interested in engaging their citizens to produce the type of actionable results we generated for San Jose.

We will also use a small portion of these funds to promote the program to other interested civic leaders.

You’ll know we’ve succeeded when you join thousands of your fellow citizens to play in-person and online games, and the results of those games lead to specific, measurable actions from your civic leaders. We will measure these results continuously, and provide up-to-date information through our website.

We’re ready and willing to apply our proven games to large-scale problems. We just need your help to get started.

 

Since you’ve read this far, I thought you might like a summary of links that describe our commitment to civic engagement.

  • The San Jose, CA, Budget Games:  Take a look at our game design, results, and how we envision Innovation Games can be used to to help nonprofits and governments in the future.
  • Watch how ordinary citizens can use the Innovation Game Product Box to promote their city to small businesses, using San Jose, CA as an example, in this post.
  • Attacking Poverty Project with Grameen America and PDMA : In this video, Katherine Rosenberg of Grameen America gives us her initial impressions of the Attack Poverty games we designed and produced at the 2006 PDMA conference.
  • Pro-Bono Work by our Globally Trained Network of Facilitators: Over the years, we’ve helped churches and other faith-based communities, the Agile Alliance, the Scrum Alliance, the Agile Product Leadership Network and the Project Management Institute, to name a few.

We have a proven record of using serious games to solve complex problems. Our unique approach is such that the same game design can be used with both in-person and online populations. But we need your help to bring these tools to the global community.


Buy a Feature Games For Water.org, the Boy Scouts, and Compassion International

Water.org, the Boy Scouts of America and Compassion International are three of the many thousands of truly wonderful nonprofits and NGOs from around the world that are tackling some of the world’s toughest problems. And while The Innovation Games® Company hasn’t had the good fortune to work with these organizations, some my conversations over the last few weeks with friends associated with these organizations, and a recent Fast Company article about Matt Damon and Water.org, encouraged me to keep the conversation flowing about how Innovation Games® can be designed to solve some very hard problems. My hope is these ideas inspire these and other nonprofits to leverage both in-person and online games.

Getting Dads Involved With Their Sons

A few Sundays ago I spent a bunch of time with Brad Waugh and other facilitators at the IP Business Congress, facilitating what is now an annual set of games on the role of the Chief Intellectual Property Officer (CIPO). Brad, who works as an IP Attorney at Cooley, was helping facilitate the CIPO games as a subject matter expert. On the way home from the event, our conversation turned to Brad’s work with the Cub Scouts. Brad asked if the games might be able to help him get more parents involved in planning events with their sons. This was a golden opportunity to practice game design skills, and the other trained facilitators in the car, including Francine Gordon, Greg Cohen of the 280 Group, and David Carter, both a trained facilitator and patent agent, jumped at the chance.

We find the best results are obtained when we follow our standard game design process. So, we started asking Brad about his goals and the actions he wants to take, since the players of these games — the Dads — are already well known.

It turns out that every year the Cub Scouts create a list of potential events for their different packs. Each event needs a parent to manage the event, something that Brad tells us varies based on the complexity of the event from as little as 3-5 hours to as much as 20 for more complex events. Getting parents involved is crucial, as events can be canceled if no parent agrees to be the leader. Brad also noted that many times parents are willing to contribute to making the event a success as long as they are not the designated leader.

Thus, the goals are to get the parents involved in making shared, open commitments about events that they will lead and/or events to which they’ll contribute their time.

Greg, David, Francine and I put our heads together and pretty quickly suggested that a variation of Buy a Feature was the best choice. Here is how we designed the game.
[list style=”disc” color=”blue”]

  • The items in the game would be the events.
  • The cost of each item was the estimate of the minimum number of hours that an event would require from the parent to plan manage the event.
  • Parents would ask for time from Brad. This time, which is a form of currency, would be used to make bids against the various events.
  • An event would be “purchased” when enough parents committed the minimum number of hours for the event, with at least one parent committing to being the event leader.
  • A calendar would be placed on the wall. Once an event was purchased, the event leader would claim his spot on the calendar.

[/list]
Brad pointed out that while this design sounded pretty good, he was still worried that parents wouldn’t come prepared to lead an event. This struck Brad as a bit of a paradox, since the kids of Dads who lead events are very happy, and the Dads nearly always report high levels of satisfaction with the event. So, we asked him about what kinds of things have worked in the past to get parents involved.

Brad told us a wonderful story about a child who asked his Dad to lead an event for his birthday present. We felt that we could use this to help prepare Dads to play the game at the meeting. Specifically, Brad will prepare a list of possible events for the coming year and give the list to the children. The children, in turn, will highlight their top three events and ask their Dads to be the event leader at one of them as a birthday or holiday present. The more popular events, like camping, will be asked for more frequently, but Brad thought that this would be a benefit, as these are the events that typically require more parents to be involved in the planning. Brad also liked the fact that the game would produce a visible, transparent record of which parents had made commitments to specific events.

Brad hasn’t yet played this game — he’s thinking of doing it in September, just after Labor Day. I promise to keep you posted on the the results if he does.

Funding Projects in Emerging Countries

Both Water.org and Compassion International help to fund specific projects in emerging countries. While the financial structures of these organizations and the flow of the money from the donors to the recipients is different, both organizations work hard to create sustainable outcomes. Here is one way they could leverage Buy a Feature to meet their needs, using Compassion International (CI) in my narrative.

[list style=”disc” color=”blue”]

  • A CI person identifies a set of projects for a targeted village. The project should be listed as a lump sum, with a bit of a buffer, so that when the project is funded it will really be accomplished. For example, sinking a new well for a village might cost $120, while purchasing a bike that villagers can share might cost $35.
  • CI invites 6 to 8 donors to play the game. To be play the game a donor must commit some minimum funds up front. We normally recommend playing the game with 40% of the cost distributed evenly among the players. I still think this would be good for this game, because it sends a clear signal to the donors that CI isn’t requiring that every project be funded and it ensures the donors are in control. Example: Let’s say the total cost of all projects is $2000. 40% of that is $800. If you have 8 players, that’s $100/donor. Ask the donors for a $100 donation to be added to the game.
  • We can now discuss the role of the facilitator. The ideal facilitator would be the CI person from the village in question, accessed through the internet and our online gaming platform. The reason for this is that this person would be able to answer questions from the players (donors) during the game and provide additional insight into the real needs of the village.
  • During the game donors purchase projects virtually. These virtual purchases in the game can translate into real projects. And because projects are being funded as “whole projects”, the village will be assured that they have the funds for the entire project. If the players want more virtual money, they can request it from the facilitator. The system will keep track of these additional funds, and CI will be able to go back to the donors after the game for their additional real money.

[/list]
Like a “regular”Buy a Feature game, not all projects will be purchased. I think this is actually a good thing, because it makes it clear to the donors that they are in control of their money. And donors can also work with other donors to fund projects, making the experience of working with a charity far more social.

Extending This To Your Interests

At its core, I’m proposing the use of a virtual market to allow groups of people to collaboratively allocate two very scarce and important resources: time and money. Here are some other ideas for the collaborative allocation of time, both in business and in non-profits; the allocation of money in ways that benefit your organization I will leave as an exercise to the reader :-).
[list style=”disc” color=”blue”]

  • A sales team could use Buy a Feature to allocate sales engineer resources (something I discuss at length in this post).
  • A city, school, PTA, or church group could use Buy a Feature to allocate volunteers to a variety of projects.
  • An engineering team could use Buy a Feature to allocate their time to projects of their choosing.

[/list]

While I reference Water.org, the Boy Scouts of America, and Compassion International in this article, I’d like to state that none of them are customers of The Innovation Games Company.

 


San Jose Thanks Innovation Games

On Thursday, 23-June-2011, Luke Hohmann was a panelist at the City of San Jose, CA “Growing your Business with Social Media” conference. Luke was speaking about Knowsy and how small companies can use emerging social tools to grow their business. Jeff Ruster, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the City of San Jose sent Luke this very thoughtful note.

On behalf of the City of San Jose, I wanted to offer my sincere appreciation for your support and participation in yesterdays’ “Growing your Business with Social Media” event.

You all did a wonderful job in presenting not only your services, but also in helping the more than 300 small business representatives that were preset to think strategically about how best to use social media.  One really great indication that the attendees found the event particularly interesting and informative, was that many of them returned to the Rotunda following the panel, and another 100 or so attended the workshops held at the Library.

Again, we are grateful for you  playing a critical role in the success of yesterday’s event, and look forward to building on this initial momentum and “buzz” as we move forward and towards the Fall launch of the Shop San Jose Campaign.

Warmest regards,

Jeff Ruster
Director of Strategic Partnerships
City of San Jose


Transforming Enterprise Collaboration Through Expertise Communities

As organizations around the world have embraced Innovation Games® to address an array of needs within their own internal business, or, as consultants who use our techniques to provide games-based services to their clients’, we have constantly tried to generate the materials and documentation needed to support those efforts. And while we’re pleased that we’ve made progress in creating these materials (books, websites, a LinkedIn group, reusable templates and other assets), we know that we can do even more. In this post, I’m pleased to announce the release of prioritization.playknowsy.com, a community-friendly, comprehensive, adaptive and customizable website focused on helping you leverage one of the more common uses of the games: The tactical and strategic prioritization of product features, project portfolios, sales deals and other items with internal and external stakeholders.

But this post isn’t about the http://prioritization.playknowsy.com content (we call it pcom for short).This post is about is about the pcom strategy and why we think pcom represents the future of how enterprise software companies must foster their customers and their larger ecosystem through a new approach to the development and sharing of expertise. When you’re finished, I hope that you’ll want to copy, extend and improve pcom inside your own expertise community. Yup. You read that correctly. I want you to copy pcom into your company.

Prioritization Through Games

Our goals for pcom are quite straightforward:

The objective of this system is to collect and enhance all of the techniques and tools that are available to help improve your prioritization efforts.

We’re starting with the obvious – lifting chapters from my book and rewriting them for the web, providing examples, and expanding the content with more hints and techniques. All of this makes pcom sounds like lots of other websites: nice documentation. And, since it is built on top of WordPress, it is easy for us to open the site to fellow contributors in our growing community. However, while many companies think this is the end of their documentation, we think it is just the beginning.

The Rise of Enterprise Expertise Communities

Homo sapiens has always organized expertise. Urg, the expert ax maker, communed and collaborated with Pulm, his apprentice, to impart knowledge. Urg and Pulm, in turn, sought out other ax makers from other tribes, and so knowledge grew. It wasn’t always easy to share knowledge; certain cultures guarded certain kinds of expertise carefully, and others took knowledge by force. Leaving this kind of knowledge and expertise-sharing aside, we’re left with a massive amount of healthy sharing and knowledge within lots of communities. And the story of the Internet making it easier to find, join, and collaborate within these communities has been well told, typically under the banner “Social Software”.

Social Software, as a label, misses some key points when applied to what everyone is really trying to accomplish at work. At work, “social” isn’t the goal, and social software only exists as a collection of tools and capabilities that serve a larger purpose: helping each person develop enterprise expertise.

As I was working on this post, Harbrinder Kang, from Cisco, reminded me that humans commune because of a shared interest. At work, this shared interest is (typically) solving a problem. The need for expertise is driven when the means to solve the problem is associated with skill. One advantage of the wide-open internet is that it is super easy to find those people who have shared interests. And a key advantage of social software platforms is that they allow companies to develop knowledge and skill in an area deemed important.

You put these two together and you find that “Innovation Gamers” are members of an expertise community–a community that has developed a set of skills around solving certain kinds of problems. Our community members have expertise in designing, producing, facilitating, and post-processing in-person and online Innovation Games®, as well as related serious games, like the Gamestorming games. The specific sub-community of interest in this post deals with prioritization. We suspect other sub-communities will emerge.

Generic vs Enterprise Content

The benefit of pcom is that anyone can use it. Anyone can access it. And, over time, anyone in that community will be able to extend it. The drawback to public sharing of expertise starts with the content: pcom has generic content. What I mean by this is that the content in pcom is not tailored to any specific company or problem domain. The facilitation advice, while sound, isn’t really based on the juicy details that go into truly making any game great, from writing an invitation letter to answering challenging questions during the game.

Another way to think about the content of pcom concerns the nature of our clientele. It is pretty well known that companies and organizations like Qualcomm, Emerson Climate Technologies, Cisco, SAP, VeriSign, Reed Elsevier, the City of San Jose, Adobe, and Armstrong flooring are using Innovation Games®. And people are genuinely curious about the results of these games – “Hey, Luke, can I see a copy of the game results that you did for Yahoo! or Cisco?”.

Uh, No. You can’t. Those results are private.

But, not completely private. Just private to people outside of the company. They can and should be shared within the company. What these companies need is all of the content of pcom, customized and tailored to their needs. This customization would include, but not be limited to, the following:
[list style=”disc”]

  • Examples and advice for writing company-specific invitation letters, with the right branding and tone.
  • Suggestions for finding game participants, including links to the corporate marketing team and/or people who manage user groups.
  • Lists of Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators within the company and trusted suppliers of Innovation Games® facilitation services.
  • Preferred vendors for producing in-person events.
  • Company policies for managing online games, especially Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
  • Controlled access to previous games for learning and sharing, and so forth.

[/list]
This kind of sharing is the foundation of the transformations that companies adopting the games need in order to make the games a natural and normal part of their collaboration culture.

Kick-starting the Enterprise Expertise Community

A challenge of internal social platforms is “kick starting” the expertise that transforms a company. Innovation Games is one example of the many kinds of expertise that can transform a company. Agile Software Development is another. And so are things like Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, and, yes, social software itself (because to use social software effectively requires its own kind of expertise). However, as stated above, an enterprise expertise community needs the ability to extend the content in ways that are important to that community.

Which brings us back, full-circle, to pcom. We want you to copy pcom content, and implement/apply it in your (or your client’s) business. For Cisco, that means bringing it into an existing, thriving social software platform. For other companies, it might simply mean starting a new WordPress site (just like we did). Other implementations will grow and thrive in other environments. But in each case, it should change. It should be extended. You should make it your own.

Don’t worry about version control. There is no one “right way” to write an invitation letter, just like there are is no one “right way” to facilitate a game. We trust that when beliefs and practices of the public community diverge too much from the beliefs and practices of the private community, someone in these communities will take the initiative and make it right.

And, while we encourage you to immediately copy whatever you feel is useful, and begin adapting it to your companies’ needs (or, if you’re a consultant, to your clients’ needs), we want you to know that pcom is definitely a work in progress: as time goes on, the community will continue to expand and enhance the information found there. We’re doing this right now at Cisco – integrating pcom directly into Cisco’s IWE on Quad internal expertise community. We’re starting with a copy of the pcom content, which we’ll then tailor based on the work we’ve done with Cisco.

We’re looking forward to hearing your initial thoughts, and to building an ever-more robust tool for playing games to do real work.


Using Product Box to Promote Small Business

Like the people who work at The Innovation Games® Company, many people in our global community are deeply motivated to improve civic engagement and their own, local, city, and national communities through the use of the games. One of the most important ways to improve communities is through locally owned, small business. Strong, locally owned businesses create strong communities. We are real believers in small business, and our Knowsy® platform is designed celebrates the relationship that small businesses have with their loyal customers while drawing in new ones. You can learn more about getting your own, customized version of Knowsy for your business here.

In a recent class I asked the participants to use Product Box to “sell” the City of San Jose to small businesses. The results, as you might expect, were remarkable. Here are the videos. I apologize in advance for the quality. I left my Cisco Flip at home and was forced to use my camera’s built-in video. How do you think we can continue to promote civic engagement through the games?


Gamification, Innovation Games and Seriously Fun Executives

Arguably the most amazing change I’ve experienced in the 10+ years that I’ve been playing serious games is the change in attitudes among senior executives regarding Innovation Games® and other serious games. A decade ago, we had to spend an extraordinary amount of time convincing quite skeptical senior executives that “serious games” could solve complex business problems and provide amazing insights into market needs. In 2004, O’Reilly, rejected my Innovation Games book proposal as being too novel (fortunately, Addison-Wesley had better insight about market needs). And when we launched Innovation Games® online, let’s just say that our servers didn’t crash from an overwhelming amount of traffic.

How things have changed. We’re now getting calls from senior executives who have clear goals and wish to work with us to explore how games can be leveraged in their business. There are more than a dozen books on serious games and gamification, including O’Reilly’s book Gamestorming (for which I wrote the foreword). We’ve sold enterprise licenses to Innovation Games® online and sign-ups are increasing. And although we have a long way to go – just this week I had to explain to a skeptic that “real” companies like Cisco, Reed Elsevier, SAP, and Oracle play Innovation Games® – the changes I’ve outlined are here to stay. In this post, I’ll share some of the reasons why executives are embracing the seriously fun side of business, and why serious games are no longer a trend, but a new business reality. My inspiration for this post is the May 2011 TTI/Vanguard Serious Fun conference, in which I’ll be a speaker.

Serious Games Means Serious Results

Let’s contrast two game contexts: playing Blokus with my family on a Sunday evening and playing Buy a Feature with our customers to help prioritize our development backlog.

When playing Blokus®, the result I want to achieve is pretty simple: Having a fun time with my four children. And, if you press me, yes, I also want the pleasure of beating Cres, my second son, every now and then (hey – he’s really good!). That’s it. Pure entertainment. And while you can certainly argue that playing Blokus increases critical thinking skills, helps develop spatial thinking, and teaches important life lessons about turn-taking, rules, and fairness, I don’t need all of that when my goal is fun with the kids. That’s enough.

The result I want to achieve when playing Buy a Feature is a prioritized feature backlog, one that is informed by critical feedback and candid conversations amongst my customers as to how they want our products and services to evolve to better meet their needs. This result needs to be multi-faceted: I want their preferences and priorities (the purchased features) AND I want to understand why these features were purchased. I want the conversations to help me shape the features to better meet their needs. Oh yeah – I want my customers to have fun, because if they’re having fun they’ll provide more actionable insights, they’ll have a higher perception of my company and our brand, and they’ll develop their own relationships amongst each other. And people playing Buy a Feature have a boatload of fun. Instead of sitting through a boring PowerPoint presentation or taking a painfully dry survey, they are actively engaged in negotiating features with other players, buying the best features, and identifying ways to get what they really want.

In both games I want the players to have fun. In the case of my family, fun is the primary goal. In the case of Buy a Feature, fun is the secondary goal. Which leads me to my first point. Don’t misinterpret executives who are focused on the results of a game. They’re just doing their job. However, if you show them that serious games produces serious results, my experience is that you’ll find they’re eager to have fun.

Serious Games Uncover Serious Motivations

Discussing the benefits of serious games to the businesses that play that feels a bit one-sided. And it is. If the only beneficiary of the games are the companies that produce them, then people won’t play. So, let’s consider some of the benefits and motivations of the players.

And while I’ve already talked about fun, let’s start with fun. Serious game players playing games like Prune the Product Tree or Bang for the Buck are having fun, just like I’m having fun with my family when we’re playing Memory® or Cows in Space. But it isn’t the same kind of fun. “Serious Fun” is more related to the concept of Total Engagement that Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Read cover in their book of the same name. When I’m playing a serious game – a game that involves topics I care about, and in a way that motivates me to demonstrate expertise, knowledge, wisdom, and skill, according to a set of collaborative rules that govern play, I’m totally and completely engaged in the game. Serious gamers find themselves wrapped up in the flow of the game, losing track of time and often expressing disappointment when the game is finished.

More broadly, serious games enable their players to express themselves more thoroughly and more completely than traditional forms of interaction. This has critical implications for market research and market insights. Instead of quickly answering a survey, or sitting around a wooden table eating stale pastry and drinking burned coffee at a focus group, serious games engages players in a way that produces unusual results. And contrary to many people’s perceptions of marketing and market research, your customers would much prefer the challenge and engagement that comes with a game than the relatively simplistic approaches taken with most market research.

Serious Games Benefits Everyone

So, it turns out there is a pretty simple explanation as to why we’re seeing businesses embrace Innovation Games® and other serious games. Business gain benefit because these games create better, more actionable results. Players benefit because they appreciate the engagement that only games produce. The question then, is not if you are going to start playing games with your customers, but… when.


A Realistic Vision For Citizen Engagement Through Games

In this third of three posts on the San Jose City Budget Games, I’ll present a vision of how serious games like Innovation Games® can motivate a new kind of civic engagement that has the potential to radically improve the quality of our governments and our lives. More importantly, instead of presenting some pie-in-the-sky vision that would costs tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to create and require a highly unlikely set of behavioral changes, I will present a series of pragmatic, cost-effective and engaging solutions to common problems facing civic leaders. Along the way, I’ll make what might turn out to be obvious comparisons to the problems facing most companies. My hope is that you’ll find a scenario that matches a problem you’re facing and that you’ll be inspired to try solving it through a collaborative game.

The first post in this series is here. The second post is here.

Civic Engagement Is The Goal

Simplifying a lot of history, let’s consider the structure of a representational democracy. Wikipedia tells us that a “Representative democracy is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy.” I quite happily live in a representative democracy. And while no governmental structure is perfect, I’m convinced that representative democracies are an effective form of government.

One area of representational democracy that has me concerned, however, is the degree of participation of the citizens within their governments. Participation in government is declining, and that’s not good:

  • Citizens can’t elect the best representatives when they’re not engaged in understanding the issues and the actions that potential representatives intend to take if elected.
  • Elected officials can’t make the best choices unless they have some way of understanding the preferences of their citizens.
  • It is very hard to find innovative solutions to the hard problems that we’re facing when we’re not engaging in dialog and debate about both the problems and the solutions.

Ultimately, a lack of broad participation means that we simply won’t realize the benefits of a representational democracy: Too small of a set of citizens will wield a disproportionate influence over the political process.

We believe that Innovation Games and other serious games can help solve the problem of citizen engagement. Our experiences in the San Jose, CA, City Budget Games confirms this idea. Let’s explore a few examples to see how games can improvement engagement, provide elected officials with better data for decision-making and drive innovative solutions to tough problems. My focus will be on genuinely realistic ways that we can improve engagement. I will cover:

  • Budget Priorities
  • Relationships Between Programs and Services
  • Identifying Ways To Grow Cities
  • Understanding What Needs To Improve
  • Creating and Implementing Compelling Visions of the Future.

 

Budget Priorities

This is an easy one. Just read through my first and second posts on the San Jose Budget Games. They provide a realistic, practical and actionable approach to establishing budget priorities using a tailored version of Buy a Feature, a game that uses a virtual marketplace of ideas to determine priorities. And while the San Jose Budget Games were played in-person, our online version of Buy a Feature can be used to engage large numbers of citizens. The relationship to the kinds of problems that companies face in establishing budget priorities is quite obvious, considering that Buy a Feature was originally created to help companies prioritize product requirements with customers. Facebook marketing guru Paul Dunay blogs about Buy a Feature here.

Bang For the Buck As a conscientious blogger writing a three-part series, I don’t to merely repeat the previous posts. Instead, I want to offer other ways collaborative games can solve problems, including prioritization problems. One game that I think could work for governments who might like to try improve their internal prioritization efforts is known as “Bang for the Buck.” See Scott Selhort’s post on this topic here.

The goal of this game is to collaboratively rank a project backlog based on estimated value and estimated cost. The y-axis is the value of an epic or story and the x-axis is the cost. Each axis is organized as a Fibonacci number. We use Fibonacci numbers to help with the “relative value” and “relative cost.” We don’t use actual costs estimates, because these will change rapidly throughout the game.

Clicking on the image to the left will start an “instant play” game on our serious games platform. You’ll see this image as the “game board” and an icon of a light bulb in the top left corner of this window. The light bulb represents the projects you want to prioritize. To add a project onto the game board, simply drag it from the top left and describe it.

Now the fun begins! While any player can move a light bulb at any time, the game works best when the person or persons who are responsible for assessing the value provided by a project focuses on getting the light bulbs in the right place vertically, while the person or persons responsible for understanding the costs puts each project in the right place horizontally.

Our gaming platform includes an integrated chat facility so that players can negotiate about the items. And any player can edit the items to keep track of the agreements of the team. This means that items will move around during the game as the value of an item increases or decreases or the costs change as the team considers various ways of implementing an item.

To get the final results of the game, simply download the Excel spreadsheet from our platform. All of the items and their Fibonacci values will be available to you for post-processing, including all of the chats. You can then convert these items into actual costs.

We’ve seen our corporate customers gain value in prioritizing projects using this grid. We believe city managers and their workforce would gain similar benefits.

Relationships Between Programs / Services

One of the concerns that citizens raise about government is the potential for waste when city agencies perform dual or overlapping functions or when citizens don’t understand the relationships between various programs and services that may be offered by different departments. Another kind of relationship that is often misunderstood is the relationships that exist between businesses, community agencies and nonprofits. In many cases, these organizations would happily work together more effectively — if they could only identify these relationships.

Businesses face nearly identical problems. Customers often don’t understand the complex set of relationships that exist between products and services. More importantly, businesses seeking new revenue opportunities or cost-savings can realize them through a better understanding of product and service relationships.

We have a game for this, Spider Web, in which the players collaborate to create the web of relationships that exist, or might/could/should exist between products and services. By collaboratively exploring these relationships from multiple perspectives, participants generate amazing clarity. Spider Web is a very low-tech game. We typically play this game with whiteboards and marker pens, or on big rolls of paper with Sharpies®.

If cities assembled citizens, businesses and nonprofits and asked them to play Spider Web to identify ways in which the natural relationships that exist between these organizations could be leveraged to solve complex problems, the potential benefit would be enormous. Shawn Crowley and Carl Erickson of Atomic Object discuss how Spider Web helps their clients generate new ideas for products and services here.

Identifying Ways to Grow Cities

Complex products and services aren’t static. They evolve over time as technology improves, tastes change, old requirements find themselves obsolete, and new requirements emerge. To help companies better understand and manage the growth of their products and services, we’ve invented the game Prune the Product Tree. In this game, which can be played in-person or online, we typically use images of trees to represent the growth of a technology product or service, and apples or leaves to represent new features. By moving items around, players can shape the growth of the tree to best meet their needs. In the process, companies gain tremendous insight into product roadmaps. Josh Lannin, Senior Director of Product Manager at Oracle, describes how Prune the Product Tree helped engage his user community and set the direction of his product and service here.

It is, of course, trivial to say that cities are constantly changing. Sometimes cities are growing. At other times, they are decaying or dying. And based on our experience in the corporate world, perhaps a better way to engage citizens in shaping the desired growth of their cities would be our game Prune the Product Tree. One reason is that choice of metaphor is quite intentional: A fruit tree does not bear the best fruit if it is not periodically pruned. I’m confident that citizens, if given the chance, would relish the opportunity to share their perspectives on growth with civic leaders. I’m equally confident that the rich metaphors would also help participants discuss challenging topics in a more open, honest, and forthright manner than traditional means of debate.

 

The rich metaphors of a tree can be extended in any number of ways. For example, consider the idea of assessing the kinds of benefits attendees of a conference or meeting received during and after the event. You can play an online version Prune the Product Tree that does this. Clicking on tree at the right will open an online version of our game. You can drag the following items onto this tree:

  • Red Apples are benefits you expected — and got!
  • Rotten Apples are benefits that you expected — but didn’t get.
  • Presents are unexpected benefits that made the conference great.

Keep in mind that that this is a collaborative game. This means that you can invite other players to play. And when they drag something around — you’ll see it in real time!

Understanding What Needs To Improve


Businesses have learned that if you ask someone to give feedback on a product or service … they will. And while it can be challenging to listen to negative feedback, it is often the complaints of customers that create the greatest opportunities. We use the game Speed Boat to help our corporate clients capture this kind of feedback. In this game, a product or service is represented by a boat. Everyone wants the boat to go fast. Unfortunately, there are some anchors that are holding the boat back. By asking your customers to write down these anchors and reviewing them as a team, you can better understand how to improve your product or service. The celebrated user interface expert Richard Anderson discusses how he used Speed Boat to understand what is preventing or promoting User Experience at work in this post.

Given the amount of energy that citizens expend complaining about their government, the applicability of this game is pretty obvious. But should governmental officials play it? I ask this because as I wrote this post, I found myself empathizing with government officials: If I were a government official, I’m not so sure that I’d want to ask citizens for their anchors. But, you know what? Business leaders face the same emotions as government officials. They can be just as nervous asking for negative feedback from customers.

The answer, of course, is yes. Simply stated, no matter who you are, asking for criticism is not easy. And yet, we need to do it.

Fortunately, Speed Boat is carefully designed to obtain critical feedback in a way that keeps everyone focused on the issues without losing control of the process. And because Speed Boat can be played both in-person and online, every organization can leverage our game. In this post I’ve provided a link to on online version of this game. Clicking on this image will open an “instant play” version of Speed Boat, with 25 anchors that can be shared among the players. And playing this game online will enable governmental leaders to play LOTS of games, efficiently gathering critically needed input. And this input — once shaped — can be fed into our prioritization games for program implementation.

Creating and Implementing Compelling Visions of the Future

Leaders of all sorts find it easy to set grand visions of the future. Devising plans to realize these visions is a bit harder. As you can guess by reading this far, we have a game that can help business leaders, elected officials and other leaders both create and realize compelling visions of the future. This game is Remember the Future. As explained in this video by trained facilitator Lowell Lindstrom, who used this game to help the Scrum Alliance, Remember the Future engages players to create and define how they will realize compelling visions of the future.

I’d be thrilled to see government officials invite community leaders to play this game on how their cities could collaboratively work together to realize key goals. For example, suppose one of the shared goals is a reduction in crime. Remember the Future is the perfect game to identify how this goal — and many others — could be realized.

Playing Games For Engagement

Whether you’re a concerned citizen, a community leader, the head of your PTA or the General Manager of a $220 million dollar product line, I hope that this post has given you some concrete examples of a realistic vision of Citizen and Customer Engagement through games. I look forward to playing with you!