Version 3.9 offers users vastly improved usability and modern design, across both Visual Collaboration and Prioritization platforms

Mountain View, CA—July 25, 2014.  Conteneo Inc. today announced the release of Innovation Games® Online 3.9, the latest version of its flagship enterprise software engine. The Summer 2014 release offers users enhanced design and usability, along with several new feature sets, providing improvement in both its prioritization platform (a.k.a. Buy a Feature) and its visual collaboration platform.

“Innovation is at the core of everything we do at Conteneo—and that means providing software that evolves to meet our customers changing wants and needs,” said Luke Hohmann, CEO and Founder of Conteneo. “We want to ensure that users receive the most innovative and most stable release possible, and version 3.9 is a prime example of that. From making it easier to join and start games to an all-new player tutorial, Innovation Games Online 3.9 supports our mission of providing a best-in-class platform that enables the growth and success of our customers and partners.”


New features and benefits of version 3.9 include:

  • Easy entry into games using 9 Digit Access Codes: As part of our continued work on improved usability, players are now able to join games using a 9 Digit Access Codes. The 9 Digit Access Codes are also displayed in the project organizer, making it easy for users to join a game without searching for an email or opening the game invitation.
  • Galas 2.0—massive multiplayer games come to IGO: Galas are perfect when you have a lot of people who need to play your games—more games than you can facilitate. In this release, we’ve perfected and reformulated Galas for our prioritization platform, making them seamless to plan and play. Players are now able to play immediately after identifying themselves at the game’s front door. We’ve also added more producer controls, including the ability to configure the number of players (or slots) in each game, along with the total time allotted for play, and the time frame for adding players before the player “slots” are dropped. If no additional players show up after a configurable amount of time, then the slot is automatically dropped and the budget for that slot is distributed to all of the players.
  • How-to-Play tutorial. Buy a Feature Online, our prioritization platform, now includes a simple and elegant onboarding tutorial, explaining to first-time users the main features of the platform through a quick, click-through process.
  • Buy-a-Feature Player Usability Improvements:  Players are now notified when new players arrive, when a player slot has been dropped, and when they have received an increased budget. All Buy-a-Feature games (including Galas) now include a game clock. The “needs” column has been moved to the left-hand side of the game screen, so that players can more easily see the status of the items they are bidding on.
  • Re-styled Chat Windows. The chat and “whisper” windows have been restyled for ease-of-use in both Buy a Feature Online and the lobby.
  • Visual Collaboration improvements. While major changes to the visual collaboration platform are currently underway, this release did add several valuable improvements, including iPad support for Visual Collaboration games – both iOS6 and iOS7—and the benefit of collapsing player actions by default to enable easier chatting on iPad and other smaller screens.


Slide1Innovation Games Online 3.9 is currently available to all users, with more improvements coming in 2014.

Conteneo’s portfolio includes Innovation Games® Online, which launched in July 2009, and was highlighted in a by Forrester as a leader in the serious games industry for helping businesses “do work.” Other online collaboration game engines include Knowsy® and Common Ground for Action. Innovation Games® Online includes both a real-time visual collaboration platform and an online prioritization platform (Buy a Feature Online or Budget Games). The online platforms and games are based on Luke Hohmann’s book Innovation Games®: Creating Breakthrough Products through Collaborative Play.

About Conteneo

Conteneo Inc. helps private and public organizations super power business agility through the collaborative, social, serious games. Our online platforms and in-person services enable organizations to improve performance across the enterprise, including culture and change management, market research, strategy, complex sales and innovation and development. Current and past clients include Adobe, Armstrong Flooring, Cisco, Emerson Climate Technologies, HP, Rackspace, Reed Elsevier, Qualcomm, SAP, Yahoo! and others. For more information, go to

Solo vs Social Computing (or, you don’t collaborate with a crowd)

I just finished the second day of facilitating the Human Computation Roadmap Summit Workshop (through our partner, Sunni Brown, Ink.), in which a highly diverse group of world-class researchers and innovators are exploring the past and prospective impact of human computation to clearly delineate the research areas and activities that will lead directly to the most beneficial national and societal outcomes.

While cleaning up the room after today’s games I had a very interesting discussion with Seth Teicher, who manages Partnerships and Business Development CrowdFlower. I mentioned that I wasn’t a fan of the label “Human Computation” because I think the word “Human” implies there is one person involved in the task. Seth remarked that while he never thought of it this way, he thought my point made sense because at companies like CrowdFlower, the tasks are designed to be solo.

While not perfect, I prefer “Social Computing” because I think it better captures the kinds of tasks that customers use Conteneo’s platforms (Innovation Games® Online, consisting of our Visual Collaboration and Buy a Feature platforms, Knowsy®, and Common Ground for Action) to solve. Specifically, these platforms are designed to solve collaboration problems – which by definition are not solo. (And it doesn’t hurt that Social Computing is the term used in the White House OSTP pcast Report, though it is a real shame that the report mentions the value of cross-agency collaboration without identifying the tools that could be used to achieve this – tools like Conteneo’s platforms!).

Seth pressed me on this, and I’m glad he did, because it helped both of us clarify our respective products and services and the kinds of problems we tackle. Let’s say, for example, that you’re trying to categorize some data. If you can get this task into a form where a single human, working alone, can do what humans do well, then you’ve just created a terrible task for Conteneo’s collaboration platforms and a terrific task for CrowdFlower’s. And that’s the goal of CrowdFlower and platforms like CrowdFlower: design tasks (or micro tasks) that can be performed by humans in isolation, and ideally with low skills or quickly acquirable skills, because isolation in low-skilled tasks leads to scale, and scale leads to low cost.

I asked Seth to consider two different kinds of task, the first of which is certainly faced by CrowdFlower: Prioritizing a product backlog. This is a task in which we want the conversations among stakeholders and customers induced by Buy a Feature precisely because these lead us to not only understand participant priorities, but also understand the reasons behind these priorities and the conditions of acceptance. If you try to get this result through a survey, you’ve certainly reduced the task to n=1, but you’ve lost the rich data provided by Buy a Feature. And if you do reduce the “task” to a survey, then I suspect you wouldn’t use CrowdFlower, because you need much finer-grained control over the participants (market research means market segmentation).

A second kind of Social Computing task I presented to Seth was large distributed team retrospectives. I told him the story about our client who wanted to improve the performance of several hundred developers in India. Again, conceiving this as a human (n=1) task reduces it to a survey – precisely what you don’t want! In Agile at scale, the unit that matters is the team, not the person. And the best way to get feedback from the team is to have the team play a game like Speed Boat online to identify their propellers and anchors. And when we play the game with multiple teams, we generate a dataset that provides deep insight into the opportunities for true organizational improvements.

I could continue, but I think the emerging classification is easy: When the task involves collaboration, especially collaboration between stable social groups, Conteneo’s platforms are the tools of choice. When the task involves perception, categorization, content moderation, and certain forms of content creation in which there is no requirement for collaboration, crowd-sourcing platforms like CrowdFlower are the preferred choice. For example, let’s say I wanted to determine, and potentially improve, the degree of alignment in a team. That’s a problem that Knowsy® is uniquely suited to solve, and one for which I can’t imagine using a crowd sourcing platform to solve, because I don’t collaborate with a crowd).

I’m pretty excited about this insight, because it helps further clarify the distinction between collaborative problem solving and other kinds of problem solving.

I’d like to also give some respect to Pietro Michelucci and the rest of the organizing committee for assembling a stellar group of people who have eagerly tackled a bunch of complex tasks. For example, today we played Missing Pieces, My Worst Nightmare while building a research roadmap that captured how research areas and activities leads to better understanding of solution components and how these solution components lead to robust and scalable solutions. The seven teams then presented their work to Tom Kalil, the Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council and a renowned expert in technology and innovation. His insights and feedback, and his ability to make recommendations and connections to other work was remarkable.

How to Run HUGE Retrospectives Across Dozens of Teams in Multiple Time Zones!

How to conduct 20, 30, 50 and even 100+ TEAM Retrospectives Using Innovation Games® Online

A few years ago, I was helping with a large scale enterprise Agile Transformation project lead by Applied Frameworks with several hundred engineers spread across multiple locations. Our client was a cloud based infrastructure company who had grown very rapidly both organically and through multiple acquisitions. A key part of Applied Framework’s transformation services is starting every transformation with retrospectives so that we can better understand what all members of the product development function – from developers and quality assurance, to product management and customer care – think about what is going well and what needs to be improved.

Speed Boat is our game of choice. But the size of the organization involved meant that we would be conducting multiple moderately large retrospectives of 30 to 40 people. This was costly, of course, and it took a lot of time, but the enlightened leadership of this company was committed to understanding the perspective of their employees before cramming Agile down their throats (sadly, too many companies are cramming Agile – a topic for another post).

Following my own recommendations on game design, we had several teams playing Speed Boat in the same room. I’ll never forget when one of the developers in the game I was facilitating stated: “You know, Luke, this game is fine – we’ve played Speed Boat before with good results. And if you ask us about our anchors and propellers, we’ll tell you, but honestly, it won’t make much a difference. You see, my company was acquired because we’re a really good Agile shop with a great product. But now that we’re here, we’ve found multiple source code control systems, multiple requirements management systems, at least two corporate content repositories, and different testing frameworks. The difference is that when we were small we could change these things. Now we’re just a few teams out roughly 60 teams. We can’t change key things on our own. If you really want to help us, focus on the enterprise, and map out projects that can affect everyone. And sure, we’ll complain a lot as you help us standardize, but the reality is, we’ve hit a wall on what we can improve as individual teams”.

This developer was right. I called an audible with my co-facilitators, grouped everyone into one big Speed Boat game and focused on inter-team and enterprise impediments. We then repeated this at three other development locations. It took time, and a considerable investment in logistics, but we identified and implemented some key projects such as standardizing on an ALM vendor and a source code management systems. These projects, which did indeed affect the enterprise, took months to implement, with high-impact results.

This was my first Large, Distributed Team Reprospective (LDT/LDTR). We produced it using traditional techniques with direct support from the highest leaders in the company. But it was too costly and took too long. Since conducting this retrospective, I’ve been asking other organizations with LDTs (20, 50, 100, and even 250+ Scrum teams inevitably distributed across multiple time zones) about their experience with retrospectives. The results are not promising: most LDTs are not doing consistently conducting substantive retrospectives (I’ll expand on this later).

If Retrospectives Are So Great, Why Do So Many LDTs Stop Doing Them?

The simple answer is that traditional approaches to retrospectives – assembling a group people in a room with one or more facilitators – are too costly, don’t scale, take far too long and fail to produce high-impact results. As a consequence, large organizations either skip retrospectives entirely or they relegate retrospectives to individual teams, which tragically limit their effectiveness in identifying and implementing enterprise changes that can profoundly improve performance. Over time, because individual teams are not obtaining material benefits from retrospectives, they stop doing them at all.

Since then, we’ve changed our process to use Innovation Games® Online for LDTRs. Switching to online games enables organizations to conduct scalable, efficient, cost-effective, and high-impact retrospectives. Our game of choice is still Speed Boat. The core process is that each individual team plays their own online game at a time convenient to them (usually one or two one hours games is all that is needed). Multiple facilitators reduces biases. The producers of the event then download the results and analyze them to identify patterns of issues that affect the enterprise using advanced analytic techniques. These are shaped into projects and one or more are implemented. The process is faster and considerably lower cost than traditional in-person techniques.

We’ve conducted LDTRs for Agile teams and even for other parts of the organization, such as sales. Given how much Agile has scaled over the past few years, I thought it was time to share our experiences and provide a playbook for others who want to use this process in their organization. In this post I’ll briefly review the motivations for retrospectives, review the challenges of existing techniques, and then present our proven process for conducting LDTRs. I’ll draw examples from several LDTRs we’ve conducted for our clients in sales and software development and present a framework that you can leverage in your organization.

Oh – one final thing. This post is designed for people working in moderately large (10 teams/60+ people) to extremely large development organizations (250 or more teams with thousands of people).

Retrospectives Really Are Great!

Early in my career I had the good fortune to take Gerry Weinberg’s Problem Solving Leadership class. Norm Kerth, author of Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews, was my instructor, and he instilled in us the power of retrospectives.

The same year Norm’s book was published we saw the publication of the Agile Manifesto, which lists retrospectives as one of the core principles of Agile Development:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Since then, we’ve seen increasing wisdom in conducting retrospectives. For example, Certified Collaboration Architect Diana Larsen and her colleague Esther Derby wrote Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, a book I find quite useful. And Diana continues to innovate in this space, sharing new retrospective techniques such as Circles and Soup and Anonymous Cards.

I could go on – there are a tremendous number of Agile-related or Agile-inspired retrospective techniques, blogs and books – too many to enumerate there. It suffices to say the Agile community has embraced retrospectives.

But Agile is not the only community to embrace retrospectives. Sales and Marketing Teams use retrospectives to improve their performance in two common ways. First, they conduct internal process retrospectives to identify opportunities for improvement. Second, they regularly conduct Win/Loss analysis to understand how to improve the entire marketing and sales process. You can find a practical guide to Win/Loss Analysis by Steve Johnson and Certified Collaboration Architect Jim Holland here.)

The Retrospective Performance Curve

If retrospectives are so great, why do large organizations stop doing them? To help answer this question, we’ve been asking hundreds of agilists to draw a retrospective impact curve. A composite of many individual curves is presented below. As you can see, there are four distinct phases of retrospectives for individual teams within large distributed teams.
Retrospective Performance Curve


Why Bother?The last stage of retrospectives is when teams stop doing them. Oh sure, they might conduct a retrospective as a token ritual – a means to share beer at the end of the Sprint – but no one takes it seriously. And while we’re all for sharing some Tequila (or beer, as you wish) at the end of a Sprint, we think it might be better to change this curve.

Phase Description
Early Adoption In the early adoption phase, teams experience rapid improvements because they are often new to Agile and retrospectives help them fine tune their processes, learn new processes, understand new roles, and identify opportunities for improvement. This is often a time of substantial team-based productivity improvements, as teams focus primarily on their own team dynamics.
Team Maturation As teams mature, the impact of their retrospectives starts to wane: The problems they identify are bigger and harder to fix, often involving coordination with other teams. We start to see a shift in focus from intra-team issues to inter-team issues.
Organizational Limits To address these issues, many teams spontaneously choose to hold bigger, more comprehensive retrospectives, often with collocated teams with whom they collaborate. These retrospectives typically identify inter-team improvements and often some process and technical improvements. As these improvements are made, teams start to lose interest in retrospectives because they are no longer providing material value.

Summarizing a bit, the root cause of large distributed teams stopping retrospectives is that they bump into the limits of what they can improve. And if they can’t improve, why bother with the retrospective?

As a corollary, note that another root cause of large teams stopping retrospectives is that they conduct them too frequently and therefore too trivially. The Agile Manifesto never said to conduct a retrospective every Sprint!

Challenges With Scaling Traditional Retrospectives

Traditional retrospectives assemble participants in a room for a structured meeting that can last anywhere from 1 hour to as long as 1 day (you can find LOTS of very good advice on how to conduct traditional retrospectives; I won’t repeat that advice here). While getting together a single team for an in-person retrospective is often not more complex than booking a conference room, as the number of participants/teams increases, costs and complexity increase dramatically. We’ve produced in-person retrospectives for 30 people; and other Certified Collaboration Architects such as Henrik Kniberg have produced retrospectives for 65 people (see here).

And while 65 people might seem large, we’ve produced dozens of in-person events that are much larger. We regularly produce Innovation Games® sessions with more than 100 participants; our record is a 500 person event for Intuit, and we’ve explored producing a 2,000 person event for the City of San Jose, CA as part of our Budget Games initiative through our non-profit partner, Every Voice Engaged Foundation.

The two limiting factors for in-person games are costs and logistics. You can play around with a cost estimator later in this post. I’ll focus on various logistics challenges.

Challenge Description
Facilities Complexity Unlike a conference room or a team room, in-person events involving hundreds of people require special space: ballrooms in hotels or conference / event centers. This causes scheduling and materials complexity, because you have to schedule the retrospective when space is available and you might need special materials.
Scheduling Complexity Managing the travel of the people involved LDT is complex – multiple flights, hotels, food. Ick. And if the retrospective really is HUGE (say, a 600 person development organization organized in 80 teams) you’re going to have to plan your event carefully to ensure you’ve got the right space (see the previous row!).
Agenda Complexity Larger events require more carefully planned, more strictly controlled agendas: It is pretty trivial to swap out one retrospective activity for another when you’ve got one team– really, hard if you’ve got even more than 5 teams, and effectively impossible when you’ve got 20 or more.
Staffing Complexity Great retrospectives share many qualities of great qualitative market research: the facilitators / moderators ensure positive outcomes with minimal bias. Like other components of “largeness,” as the number of facilitators increase, the effort to coordinate them also increases. To minimize coordination overhead, it is very helpful that all of the facilitators share knowledge of the same techniques. Add to this additional staff for managing the event.
Materials Complexity Many great in-person retrospective techniques, like Speed Boat, require customized materials and lots of wall space. That’s easy to get for small teams – hard for large teams. And always check with your facility to confirm they’re OK with you taping stuff to the walls – because if they’re not, you’re going to have to rent more gear for your retrospective.
Food and “Other” Stuff More people means increased food costs, etc. And it often means a longer retrospective than truly necessary: if you’re going to invest this much money on a retrospective, you sure better structure the event to consume at least an entire day of time!

To get a sense of just how much of an investment you might need to make in your large retrospective, you can access our handy calculator in the future.

When the calculator is done we’ll put it here. I promise.

Online Retrospectives Are the Answer

Speed Boat is a well known retrospective technique. Taking it online provides the scale you need. I’ve presented the overview of the process earlier. Here it is again in a handy checklist – with a lot more implementation details.

6 Speed Boat Game Results 6 Speed Boat Game Results

Step 1: Each team will play Speed Boat online creating a single result.

  • Keep each team intact – because at scale, teams are the unit of all organizational engineering.
  • Use multiple facilitators to reduce unnecessary facilitator bias and improve results.
  • Have them use the same facilitation scripts like this one.
  • You can use facilitators within your company or consultants.

Step 2: Results of each team are downloaded into a centralized spreadsheet. This is easy – each facilitator just downloads the results of their games and uploads the results into a common spreadsheet.

Step 3: Results are coded by People / Process / Technology AND by scope of control. Although a large team should be used to facilitate the games, we recommend a small team of 2-3 people be used to code the results for speed and consistency.

  • Each item placed into game is coded – if you’re using Speed Boat, this means every anchor and propeller!
  • We recommend coding items into a Primary People / Process / Technology and an optional Secondary People / Process / Technology. For example, “My PO doesn’t attend review meetings” could be coded as primarily as People, secondarily as Process, and “We should switch to GitHub,” would likely be coded primarily as Technology.
  • The online chat logs are invaluable in identifying underlying issues.
  • We then recommend using Diana Larsen’s Circles and Soups taxonomy to assess the perceived degree of control a given team has in addressing any impediments.
    • Team: This is an issue that the team should address. For example, a PO not attending review meetings should be handled by the team
    • Product / Group: This is an issue that the team can’t address, but is likely the scope of the product or group.
    • Enterprise: This is an issue that requires coordinated effort at the enterprise. For example, moving to GitHub is likely to affect all of the teams within the enterprise. As such, it should be carefully assessed as a potential enterprise project and compared with other high-impact projects.

We often do extended analysis to identify various kinds of biases that can creep into the game play. Here are some biases that can affect your results:

  • Positivity Bias is a pervasive tendency for people [teams], especially those with high self-esteem, to rate positive traits as being more true of themselves than negative traits. This can happen when a team is asked to identify Propellers. To catch this, we look for propellers or chat logs with aspirational language, such as “We could do this…”, or prescriptive language, such as “We should do this…”.
  • Sampling Bias occurs when a small portion of the organization plays (e.g., 20 out of 60 teams) or only one kind of team is engaged. Your goal should be at least 90% of the teams participating.
  • Method or Question Bias can inappropriately guide participants into answering questions. By keeping things open-ended, Speed Boat and other games minimize method and question bias.

We expect producers of LDTRs to take into account any potential biases and to provide assessment of potential biases in their research reports.

A visualization of the pattern of results in a large retrospective.
A visualization of the pattern of results in a large retrospective.

Step 4: Results are analyzed to identify patterns. One of the great advantages of digital results are the ability to analyze data using sophisticated tools like R and Qlikview. Here are the results from a 42 team retrospective with nearly 1000 unique anchors and propellers. A “Pod” is a grouping of related products. For those of you who are trying to convince Senior Leaders that an organization wide impediment exists, this kind of visualization of results is invaluable!

Step 5: Patterns are shaped into potential projects. This step can take a week or so – which is a good thing! You’re looking for incredibly high-impact opportunities. Investing time in identifying them will pay incredible dividends.

Step 6: Projects are selected. If there are a small number of projects we just select them. Or we use Buy a Feature for large numbers of projects.

To help you put this playbook into action, the end of this post has links to additional reference materials, sample scripts and post-processing of results.

Case Study: Large “Captive” India Team Retrospective

Our client was a EUR1B technology company with centralized product management and business leadership and three large development centers. One of these was a Captive in India, with 54 teams and approximately 450 people. The client wished to engage their development teams in identifying more substantive and actionable feedback than traditional retrospectives.

We scheduled the teams, trained the facilitators, conducted the retrospectives, processed the results and made our recommendations. We organized our recommendations by Scope into Team and Enterprise; by Area into People/Process and Technology. An example enterprise technology recommendation was increasing the budget for hardware associated with testing and simulating production operations in development. An example enterprise process recommendation was changing certain processes associated with DevOps. Our client is now implementing these items.

Case Study: Cisco Sales Enablement Retrospective

Cisco Sales Retrospective Games
Cisco Sales Retrospective Games

This project as engaged as part of Cisco’s broader ACT program: Accelerated Cisco Transformation, a multi-year program to implement major improvements at Cisco. Cisco wanted to engage a global team of Account Managers, Sales Engineers and Product Sales Specialists to identify sales improvement opportunities.
Conteneo designed and produced a series of online games that engaged hundreds of Cisco’s sales teams. I’m including it here to illustrate that LDTRs can benefit every functional unit within a company – not just software development or product development.


  • 490 unique ideas defining opportunities for improvement in Culture, Process & Technology
  • 15 thematic business challenge areas
  • 20 tactical projects
  • 15 strategic projects

The Cisco sales leadership team subsequently selected and engaged key projects that helped the globally distributed team address many impediments.


To continue to gain the benefits of Agility at Scale, organizations must move beyond traditional, in-person retrospectives focused on making individual teams great, and shift towards low-cost, online retrospectives focused on making organizations great. Innovation Games® Online provides a low-cost, efficient, massively scalable and extremely high-impact collaboration platform upon which organizations product Large Distributed Team Retrospectives.


Here are several resources that will help you in implementing a Large Distributed Team Retrospective in your organization.

Resource Description
Speed Boat with Propellers and Anchors This game has 25 propellers to represent positives or things going well and 40 anchors to represent impediments or opportunities for improvements. The game has three regions to capture the “weight” or “badness” of the anchor and two regions to capture the “goodness” of the propeller.
Facilitation Script Here is a sample Facilitation Script that you can download and edit for use in your games. Distribute this to all of your facilitators to help ensure consistency in the process. Note that while players do not have to have an account, every facilitator must have an account so that we can authenticate them.
Post-Processing Guide This is a sample Excel spreadsheet that is reflective of the kind of download you will get from Innovation Games® online. We’ve included helpful examples on how you might want to post-process results.
Sample Presentation Need some help in putting together a presentation to convince your organization you could benefit from a LDTR? This presentation will help you!

Best Practices in Participatory Budgeting

Because we have produced or co-produced successful Participatory Budget initiatives since 2011 in cities around the world, I was thrilled when the White House promoted the use of Participatory Budgeting in its Second Open Government National Action Plan. In this plan, the White House has specifically requested for “tools and best practices” for implementing Participatory Budgeting. That’s sharp thinking and having experienced practitioners share their work helps the global community. It’s also a timely request, as we’re in the midst of preparing for the largest ever Participatory Budgeting event: We’re recruiting 10,000 citizens for a series of Budget Games Jan 23-25, 2014 for San Jose, CA (want to help? Sign up here).

So whether your goal is engaging 10 people or 100,000, read on: You’ll be able to leverage our wisdom to make your event a success.


Seven Best Practices

Based on our experience, here are seven best practices when implementing Participatory Budgeting.

1. Start with a Serious Game.

The essential element of Participatory Budgeting is participation. The most powerful, most compelling, and most thorough from of engagement occurs through serious games that are carefully designed to help citizens deeply understand issues, develop empathy and insights, and create the actionable results that drive policy decisions. Our Budget Games meet this quality: They have been carefully designed and proven through years of use to create the results needed by elected officials. And, our games are a stark contrast to traditional forms of “town hall meetings” in which citizens may or may not participate, may or may not speak, and are frequently criticized for their inability to generate actionable results.

The games also provide unprecedented scale, enabling you to leverage the in-person versions of our games to engage dozens to hundreds of citizens, and our online gaming platform to engage thousands to millions of citizens using standard web-based technologies that enable powerful analytic capabilities on the results. (Our dream is to see 500 Million citizens using our platforms to engage with their governments.) The best news is that these are not mutually exclusive: We have produced hybrid events, in which participants are playing both in-person and online games. You can, too.


2. Ensure Elected Officials and Citizens Are Included.

When we implemented our first Budget Games event in San José, CA in 2011, we worked with elected officials to develop the set of budget choices for the games. This ensured that the issues being presented to the citizens would produce high-impact, actionable results because the elected officials were quite explicit in seeking the feedback of citizens.

In 2012, we extended our process to allow citizens to suggest new projects to the list of projects included in our game. These “write-in candidates” provided a means for the City to identify critical new projects while also framing new projects in the context of existing initiatives. Five new projects were added by the more than 100 citizens who played these games.

Our formal recommendation is to always start with elected officials to ensure that they will act on the results. The elected officials, in turn, can choose the degree to which citizen input will drive the choices presented in the games. And if you want to produce an event that is focused exclusively on developing ideas, our game Make My Neighborhood Great! is a proven approach.


3. Organize in Small Groups.

A key design requirement of any event designed to motivate participation is organizing the participants into small groups, ideally between 6 and 8 participants. Simply put, humans do not collaborate in large groups. The advantage of this approach is that instead of one large mass of people failing to meaningfully discuss issues or make choices, our game events produce a unique result from each game played. We can then analyze results to identify key patterns of produce the high-impact results desired by our elected officials.


4. Include Subject Matter Experts.

Our Budget Games are carefully organized to include Subject Matter Experts (like the Fire Chief, Police Chief and other representatives from different departments) who are present to answer questions from citizens. This helps citizens understand complex system dynamics (for example, more police won’t improve public safety if the roads don’t have sufficient quality), creates empathy in experts who are at risk of losing touch with the concerns of “ordinary” people, and builds relationships with citizens and civic servants, a critical component in restoring trust between citizens and their government.


5. Use Certified Facilitators.

A well-designed Participatory Budgeting session tackles complex issues directly, exploring multiple perspectives and considering many scenarios. There is no obvious “right” or “wrong” choice. Instead, citizens must weigh competing factors, explore various options, and find ways to reach a meaningful outcome.The careful design of our serious games helps ensure that citizens collaborate to create actionable results. However, our years of experience producing Participatory Budgeting events confirms our experience in working with many for-profit entities around the world: Certified Facilitators produce the best results. Certified Facilitators ensure the event is planned thoroughly, help manage the flow of the conversations, ensure that no one dominates the conversation, draw out shy or reticent participants, and gently help citizens explore choices. We are proud that our global team of Certified Collaboration Architects has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in pro-bono services.


6. Provide Food.

Food should be a part of any event. Of course, you must tailor your food to local customs: Jurgen de Smet, a Certified Collaboration Architect has produced a series of successful events in Aalbeke (Kortrijk) Belgium, writes that participants enjoyed a beer during an evening event (read the full story here). In San José, CA, participants enjoy coffee and pastries in the morning and a boxed lunch in the afternoon (though beer is not involved in the San José games, I sometimes wonder if it should be ;-).


7. Share Outcomes.

As described by the White House, “Participatory budgeting allows citizens to play a key role in identifying, discussing, and prioritizing public spending projects, and gives them a voice in how taxpayer dollars are spent.” While this is a great start, we have found that citizens want more than just being heard: They want to know, in a very real way, that elected officials are incorporating their feedback into the process. They want to see the changes in policy and understand which projects are being tackled.

Some Participatory Budgeting events do this directly, as in the 2013 Participatory Budget event in Vallejo, CA, in which citizens directly prioritized $2.4M allocated by the city council for this purpose. Early that year, San José, CA, citizens did this indirectly, when they provided input into more than $81M in potential spending, $63M in revenue generating and additional budget cuts, and $295M in a 30-year bond paid through a $100 parcel tax to rehabilitate pavement in deteriorating streets. These results were then included after additional analysis into final budget choices.

Our experience is that direct Participatory Budgeting projects are based on smaller, more tactical/near-term budget issues, while indirect Participatory Budgeting projects are better equipped to address larger, more strategic/longer-term budget issues. Regardless of whether or not your Participatory Budgeting is focused on smaller items or larger items, the key is to show participants that every voice was not only heard but that they were engaged in producing identifiable results.

While I could add additional best practices, these seven are enough to get you and your Participatory Budgeting projects focused in the right direction. Now let’s explore some critical mistakes to avoid.


Five Things to Avoid

  • Large Groups. It’s surprising how frequently we encounter event designers who think that 20, 40, 100 or even 1,000 people can engage in Participatory Budgeting as a single group. This is just not possible. Humans do not collaborate in large groups. If you’ve got more than 8 people in a group, you don’t have a collaboration model– you have a broadcast model. Some event designs try to overcome the issues of large group size by presenting an issue to a large group and then giving each person an electronic voting device. This is nothing more than a real-time survey and does not produce the level of meaningful participation we seek in Participatory Budgeting.
  • Trying to Change the Structure of Representative Democracy. We are not trying to change the structure of our democracy. We are trying to increase the degree of civic engagement. For anyone looking for anarchy or revolution, move along: You won’t find it here!
  • Changing the Rules of the Game. All of our games have been designed through years of experience to produce the right result for the problem you’re facing. We recommend that you follow the rules of the games we’ve designed until you’ve gained enough experience to change them. Once you’ve built that experience, have fun experimenting. (More next month on adapting other games for use in Civic Engagement!).
  • Anonymity. Unlike voting, in which anonymity is considered essential, in our Participatory Budgeting events, whether online or in-person, we neither promise nor promote anonymity. For obvious reasons, in-person games cannot be anonymous. For potentially long and boorish technical reasons, the more you play online games, the more likely it is that we can uniquely identify you. So, we don’t promise anonymity when we don’t want it or can’t grant it, and neither should you.
  • Underestimating the Planning. A well-designed and produced Participatory Budgeting event is incredibly powerful, deeply engaging, and hugely impactful. A poorly designed and rushed event is frustrating, disenfranchising, and ultimately fails to produce the desired result. The root cause in both cases is planning: Adequate planning in the former, inadequate planning in the later.To ensure success you must invest in planning. Don’t worry if you haven’t produced a Participatory Budgeting event before: There are thousands of Certified Collaboration Architects around the world who can help you.

Like our best practices, this list can also be extended. But, if you follow the rules of the games we’ve created, you’ll find that you can easily avoid these negative outcomes.


Participatory Budgeting and Games

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 inspired you to examine how serious games can be used to strengthen civic engagement and communities. And if you’re inspired, we hope that you will join us in helping to support the 2014 Budget Games for the City of San Jose, CA, or put the games to work in your community.

We Knew We Were Good … Research Proves We’re Great

Research studies back up years of anecdotal evidence. Games really are a valid method for doing work.

If you’ve used Innovation Games® or Knowsy®, then you know our game platforms, well, just work. Over the past decade our customers have used Innovation Games and Knowsy to answer questions, solve problems, unearth serious insight and foresight, align their organizations, and a whole host of related work. We have years of anecdotal and experiential data, and there’s no question that serious games are becoming more common solutions in the business world. However, we feel it’s still critical for us to assess the effectiveness of games for solving problems. After all, we want to know if our gaming platforms are producing as high-impact results as other techniques–or if they are even better.

Playing Knowsy to find team alignment.

Fortunately, the preliminary research that I’m sharing confirms our years of practical experience: Our games are good. Really good.

Practical Experience Drives Research Design Parameters

For a number of years, we’ve been collecting the feedback from our customers on the business impact of our games. They’ve told us that the games generate a number of hard and soft benefits:


  • They improve the novelty of new product concepts. Let’s define “novelty” as an idea that your team or company had not yet identified or considered. Customers report that using our games creates more novel ideas.
  • Increase the number of novel ideas. Getting one novel idea is great. Getting ten is better. We’ve produced games that have generated hundreds of novel ideas.
  • Strengthen Intellectual Property portfolios. You don’t have to bring a new product to market to get value from a novel idea: Many organizations use the results of games to stay two moves ahead of their competition.
  • Reduce time to take decisions. While pundits tell us that we need to “move faster” in business, they often fail to give us better tools. Our prioritization games are especially effective at helping businesses move faster: Cisco, VeriSign, HP and others have told us that Buy a Feature alone has saved them months of time.
  • Increase engagement. Novel ideas and efficient decisions are enhanced when employees are actively engaged in their work. As you’ll see later in this post, one of the reasons Innovation Games® produces the previous benefits is that the games increase engagement.
  • Enhance strategic relationships. Executives and Strategic Account Managers know that strong personal relationships are the foundation of strong business relationships. Playing games like Knowsy® creates these foundations.
  • Strengthen corporate brands. More broadly, companies that demonstrate they’re understanding their customers and using this understanding to drive offerings create the strongest, most effective brands.


Playing the Innovation Game Start Your Day in Chicago, IL.

While this is an impressive list of benefits, it is by no means exhaustive. Quite often the highest impact result of a game is its ability to directly solve a specific problem. For example, reducing the time it takes to prioritize product features often pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars of direct savings from avoiding unnecessary or unwanted products or product features.

My experience in business suggests that for senior executives these benefits are typically sufficiently compelling to start leveraging the games. My academic training, though, motivates a desire for deeper explorations: To what degree and in what situations are the games better than traditional techniques? To what degree and in what situations are online games more effective than in-preson games? What kinds of players and facilitators produce the best results? And while we have more questions than answers, the answers we’ve got are pretty darn exciting.

Measuring Novelty and Feasibility

The benefits listed above provide a good starting point for research design. The first study I wish to share is from Hadi Ghanbari from the University of Oulu in Finland, who compared the online versions of Prune the Product Trees effectiveness at generating novel, or previously unknown requirements, again traditional requirements gathering techniques and Buy a Feature‘s effectiveness at identifying the most important, most feasible requirements.

Prune the Product Tree Online

Hadi found that Prune the Product Tree was significantly more effective at identifying previously unknown requirements. Perhaps more importantly, the identified requirements were more clearly understood by the stakeholders precisely because the collaborative structure of the game enabled participants to share information clearly.

Hadi also found that Buy a Feature was also significantly more effective at prioritizing requirements, and that the requirements selected through the game were judged to be more feasible, because the game structure generates prioritization data, conditions of acceptance that shape the requirements, and deeper understanding of the motivations for the requirements which creates greater clarity on the problems these features are designed to solve.

In reviewing these results, I found that Hadi was testing a relatively small sample size compared to what we see in corporate implementations of our platforms. This suggests that the advantages that Hadi identified to our online games may be magnified as the number of features and players increase.

Unfortunately the paper is not yet cleared for publication, we will post it as soon as it is available!

I’d like to see this research extended to see if we could identify more fine-grained aspects or dimensions of “novelty” and which of the visual collaboration games are optimal for what aspect of novelty we’re trying to identify.

Measuring Engagement

Buy a Feature game results.

Our second research study comes from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, which worked with Daimler Financial Services to explore the effectiveness of using Buy a Feature in prioritizing the ideas that employees submitted to an internal “idea catcher”. Historically, these systems excel at capturing “spur of the moment” thinking, but are typically weak on prioritization. After all, if all you can do is give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” on an idea, you’re not going to be engaged in trying to select the best idea possible.

While the full results of the study have not yet been released, Daimler has approved sharing some key insights. These include the following:

  • The Daimler team found that preparing the ideas for inclusion in the game produced a much better result, because items in a Buy a Feature game must fairly state benefits. By “fairly”, I mean that a project with outlandish claims of benefits (for example, 1000% ROI) won’t be purchased, and projects with too few benefits won’t be purchased. Playing Buy a Feature results in more fairly defined projects.
  • Employees reported significantly higher levels of engagement, when prioritizing ideas using Buy a Feature.
  • For the reasons previously mentioned, the Daimler team also found that the selected projects were more feasible, and that the chat logs provided significant insight that made the proposals even better.

Like Hadi’s study, the Daimler research was based on a relatively small sample size. Increasing either the number of employees engaged in the study or the number of projects would likely show even greater impact.

Making Your Move

For those of you who have already experienced the incredible power that comes from playing our games, I’m sure the results from these studies are no surprise, and will only confirm what you know to be true. However, you may find that the results may sway others who are still skeptical about the role serious games can play.

If you’re new to our games, or perhaps still on the fence about whether games are really a valid method for solving business problems, I hope these studies provide you with a reason to make the move toward using serious games for solving business problems.

Finally, ff you’re a researcher who’d like to join us in assessing the effectiveness of our games, drop me a line. We’re eager to support you in your efforts to explore the effectiveness of our games.

Innovation Games as Story Listening

I recently completed an unusually fun project: Paul Mantey from NetApp invited me, and my colleague and Certified Collaboration Architect John Heintz from Gist Labs, to make a series of short, educational films for the NetApp sales team. John covered Agile and DevOps, Paul presented NetApp’s completely unique value proposition for Agile DevOps, and Paul and I discussed how NetApp’s Impact Discovery Workshops, which are powered by Innovation Games®, radically change the sales process. It was a lot of fun hanging out in the NetApp film studios–Green screens! Super cool video gear! “On Air” signs!

NetApp’s Cathie Staley moderated and helped produce our sessions. In one session, Cathie interviewed Paul and myself on the art of story telling in sales. Our focus was on helping strategic account managers use stories to connect NetApp value propositions and market differentiating features to customer needs. And I loved this session because it allowed Paul and myself to make a full-circle link between the storytelling that shares value propositions in a compelling way and the story listening that is the foundation of Innovation Games®.

Beware PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy

Two of my favorite negative salesperson stereotypes are PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy. PowerPoint Paula blows into your office, demands an overhead projector, and then proceeds to bore you to tears with her carefully rehearsed slide deck. Her carefully rehearsed stories (cue customer story 3 on slide 7) is what I call a “show up and throw up”. Paula shows up, throws up slides — and you simply want to vomit.

The What and Why? Guy is at the other end of the spectrum. He comes into the office with a notebook, a pen and a set of questions that always seem to end in Why: “What do you need? Why?” or “What are your strategic priorities? Why?” or “What can we improve? Why?” At best, the What and Why Guy is sincere (albeit creepily sincere). At worst, the What and Why Guy is merely interrogating you in an effort to close a deal.

In stark contrast to this, are the approaches that Paul Mantey is pioneering at NetApp and Kevin Parker is taking at Serena.

Changing Complex Sales Through Story Listening

A NetApp Impact Discovery Workshop is a structured workshop in which NetApp customers play tailored Innovation Games® to identify high impact business opportunities. In the process, the NetApp account team and NetApp partner sales and service teams gain a deep and thorough knowledge of customer needs.

The key is that these workshops are designed to allow customers to tell their stories. And when customers are telling stories, NetApp is learning what is really needed to serve them.

For example, in one workshop NetApp customers played Speed Boat to identify the anchors that would prevent them for rapidly deploying a new production system. By asking customers to draw their own boat, describe their destination, and then identify the anchors that might prevent them from moving quickly, NetApp was able to create an environment that allowed customers to tap into their true goals. By simply asking customers to share stories about their anchors, NetApp was able to identify a significant number of opportunities.

Creating Alignment on Priorities Through Knowsy®

Every salesperson involved in a complex sale will tell you that to close a complex sale you must do at least two things: You must determine the priorities of the each person, and you must create alignment on a shared set of priorities that will drive the sale. While most successful salespeople go about this process a bit more effectively than the “What and Why? Guy”, the reality is that determining decison-maker priorities in a complex sale is not all that much fun. Until now.

The Social IT Game is Serena’s game to identify IT buyer priorities in a complex sale. Powered by the Knowsy® platform, The Social IT Game turns the act of identifying and understanding the degree of alignment that exists within a team a super fun game. And once a salesperson has a group of decision makers talking with each other about their shared priorities, they know that a deal is in the making. Check out Kevin Parker’s video explaining this game.

Becoming a Better Story Listener

Everyone who has taken a Certified Collaboration Architect course featuring Innovation Games® from one of our qualified instructors learns that one of the most important aspects of an Innovation Game® is the way that a game induces the participants to tell stories while playing the game. More precisely, we strive to teach Facilitators how to induce stories during games, we discuss how Observers should be listening to stories, and we even lightly explore what kinds of stories each game is likely to produce.

And while there are a lot of articles and books about becoming a better story teller, to build truly innovative products and services, you need to become a better story listener. Here are some suggestions on how to improve your story listening skills.

  • Match the game you’re playing to the stories you want to hear. If you want stories that explain relationships, consider Spider Web. If you want stories of an uninhibited future, or stories that capture the passions of your customers, consider Product Box. Stories of how adversity was overcome can be motivated by Remember the Future.
  • Listen for stereotypic story structures. Here are some common structures: I need (feature or capability) {so that, in order to, because} I want to accomplish (goal). My friends in the Agile community will recognize this as the User Story format, which is a great way to capture and communicate requirements. The key difference, however, is that in this post a Product Owner isn’t just sitting down and generating a lot of user stories. Instead, the user stories are generated directly by your customers through game play.
  • Let the rules of the game you’re playing help you draw out stories from your players. Consider a common scenario: Branden, a Product Manager for a car company, is playing several online Buy a Feature games with customers to help them prioritize their product backlog. During one game, Branden notices that Susanne has made a significant bid on a new feature which allows the car to be configured so that it can automatically send signals to devices like garage doors to open them when the car is within a preconfigured distance of a specified location. This bid positions Brendan to learn more about the reasons this feature is so important and the conditions or requirements of acceptance by using the structure of the game to drive get the stories that drive requirements.

Branden: Susanne, you’ve made a substantial bid on the automatic arrival feature .What can you say to the other player’s to convince to join you?
Susanne: C’mon everyone — get the automatic arrival. It’s cool.
Ming: Susanne, don’t put your money there — buy the MPG monitor instead. We all need to save gas.
Satish: I agree — gas savings are really important.
(Brendan, whispering to Susanne): It looks like the other players are interested in saving gas. You’re going to have to work a bit harder to convince them.
Susanne: I agree that saving gas is important.
Susanne: But I live a kinda bad neighborhood so I installed an alarm system. Sometimes I forget to turn it off properly when I get home, so we get false alarms. If my car could somehow tell my home when I’ve arrived, I’d feel safer.

The important point is that it was the rules of the game that motivated Susanne to tell a mini story on why a feature was important to her. This information can be used in a number of ways: determining the requirements of home alarm system interactions, improving marketing messages, developing more compelling personas, building patent fences around novel technologies, and so forth.

Making Your Move

While the popular press is motivating you to tell better stories, we think you might find that listening creates even better results. What’s your take? Let us know at

Innovation Games® Webinar with Tom Grant

Innovation Games® Webinar with Tom Grant

  Tom Grant, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, gave the closing keynote at the first Innovation Games Summit in  January 2013. Tom’s keynote, “It’s Time to Change the Rules of Work”, covered real-world examples of how collaborative play and serious games are providing leading companies with powerful advantage over their competitors. On April 5th, 2013 Tom Grant delivered his keynote speech via webinar.

If you missed the session click here to watch!

From “Oh Shit” to “Oh Wow” in 30 Minutes!

A few weeks ago the the Innovation Games team was facilitating a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meeting for Rackspace. While preparing for the meeting, we had designed brand new game, Dozens of Diamonds, which asks participants to add gemstones to an empty brooch to create a truly valuable piece of jewelry. In this game, the brooch represented the Rackspace Enterprise and Cloud offerings portfolio, and gemstones represented aspects of functionality that would make the brooch truly valuable to Rackspace’s customers.

Find that unknown jewel of insight via Innovation Games.

After the game had started, I noticed that Joanne, an Observer and one of the many Rackers involved in the event production, had been taking a tremendous amount of notes. During a break, I walked over and thanked her for her help, as Observers are a critically important element of a successful Innovation Game® event–especially those focusing on market insight. It was her reply, however, that really got me smiling.

“Luke, this game is great!” she expounded. “I’m getting so many insights and taking so many notes that my hand is getting tired! I gotta be honest, though: When I walked into the room and saw the brooch on the wall and the junk on table, [paper, pens, scissors, tape, stickers, and other materials], I thought to myself ‘Oh Shit. This is going to be some stupid arts and crafts team-building thing.’ But, this is totally awesome. Our customers are really into the game, and I can’t believe the feedback. And they’re loving it! You took me from ‘Oh Shit’ to ‘Oh Wow’ in 30 minutes!”

While I’ve heard variations of this from different people over the years, I must admit that this was the first time someone said we took them from Oh Shit… to Oh Wow! in a half hour.

Making Your Move

When you’re ready to have your Customer Advisory Board, market insight or sales meetings with customers go from Oh Shit… to Oh Wow!, give us a call. Just be forewarned: Your journey might involve stickers.

Why Yahoo! Is Playing Games Instead of Working From Home

Hi everyone! This blog post has been temporarily unpublished while I work with the Yahoo! team on making sure all aspects of this great story are properly shared. Thanks for coming – and come back soon!


Using Innovation Games to Craft Sustainable Gun Legislation

While my country can find common ground for grieving over the loss of innocent lives in Newtown, it appears the United States is as divided as ever on how we might be able to change our system of gun control laws to prevent future massacres. Perhaps the challenge lies in rushing too quickly to legislation without spending too much time in trying to deeply understand the positions of fellow Americans. Here, then, is my gift to my fellow Americans: a recipe on how Innovation Games® could be used to create broadly supported and sustainable gun legislation.

We Can’t Always Agree To Disagree

Because Innovation Games® are often used to help organizations reach agreement on often deeply divided points of view, we’ve learned over the years that the phrase “Let’s Agree to Disagree” can have pretty disastrous consequences. Organizations who can’t agree can’t take coordinated actions to better futures. They really do need to find agreement. And they turn to our games to help them.

And that’s my concern over the current proposals for gun legislation. They appear to be based on the belief that it is OK if large numbers of Americans simply don’t agree. That’s never going to work in the long run, because as soon as the winds of politics blows in a new direction we’ll find ourselves changing course.

We’ve found that the root cause for organizations who take a “Let’s Agree to Disagree” approach to matters of strategic importance is a lack of time spent understanding the problem, the context surrounding the problem, that values and goals of the actors, and the potential outcomes of decisions. That’s not terribly surprising, for really understanding someone else’s point of view—especially when you find that point of view different or in opposition to your own—is hard work. And it isn’t the kind of hard work that is satisfyingly hard work, like building a shed or planting a garden. It is the kind of hard work that can leave you exhausted, emotionally drained, and even more unwilling to try again in the future.

But what if the hard work of understanding others wasn’t quite as hard? Let’s see if Innovation Games® can help.

Understanding is the Precursor to New Agreements

I’m designing these games for a large number of people who have mixed and likely opposing beliefs. The specific topic is gun control legislation, but this can be of course any topic that the group is struggling with. The process is loosely based Ideas to Action™, with a significant emphasis on problem understanding. That said, I’m pretty confident that any Certified Innovation Games® Facilitator could help Congress implement this!


  1. Identify and Prioritize Values and Fears. The gun debates are driven by deeply held values and fears. If we don’t understand these values and fears, we won’t understand how they’re motivating various forms of legislation. I’d use a custom version of Knowsy® to identify the values of anyone who wishes to engage in a discussion about gun control. I suspect we’d find high alignment on values (e.g., “Keep Children Safe”) and fears (e.g., “Limit Government Control”).
  2. Identify Relationships Among Impacted Parties. Next, I’d play several games of Spider Web to gain a better understanding of the various people and organizations who are involved or affected by changes to existing legislation. I’d want to make sure that I was including them in the legislative process, even if this means that it takes longer to craft a bill.
  3. Clarify Nightmare Scenarios. Before moving into specific solutions, I’d play My Worst Nightmare to understand the “nightmare outcomes” each side believes might happen if the current legislation is changed and/or remains the same.
  4. Identify Potential Solutions. While this process focuses on understanding, and not on generating solutions, it is also true that trying to generate solutions helps us understand problems more thoroughly. So, as part of the overall process, we need to try one several potential solutions to see which fits, much like a runner might try several running shoes before finding one that meets his or her needs. The question is how we might generate potential solutions. I’ll offer two games for this purpose.
    1. Trilicious: Trilicious is a game I created to solve complex social problems by having players develop novel solutions through industry, academic, and government partnerships.
    2. Product Box: I’d have people build product boxes of the ideal bill – the bill they want to pass – and then have them sell it. Which legislation is considered the best? Why? I’d make this game really hard and require that there were a minimum of 3 people with different points of view collaborating on the box.
  5. Understand What Might Happen If the Bill is Passed. I’d complete the sequence by playing Remember the Future: I’d have players imagine a future state 10 years in the future and then have them explain how they got there. I’d want them to both imagine the beneficial future state they want to create, how they got there – and the risks along the way.


Many readers will recoil in horror because this whole sequence is devoid of fact-based decision making. This is a conscious choice: we’re dealing with actual and perceived rights and deeply held cultural beliefs (e.g., Americans tend, as a whole, to be less trusting of their government). So, starting the conversation from the rational side of the brain is not going to produce the result we’re seeking. (And yes, of course, let’s bring facts into the discussion—when we’re ready to accept them).

It would, however, be a powerful way to bring people together by seeing multiple sides of a complex issue and could form the foundation of a sustainable solution. And that’s worth playing for.