Innovation Games at Work: Better Broadband

CCA and Agile Coach Karen Spencer is putting Speed Boat to work to bring better Internet Service to her community

Committee Meeting

When it comes to using game to collaborate, Karen Favazza Spencer, an Agile Coach living in Gloucester MA, has a longer history than most. Although she’s been in the business world for over 20 years, she started her professional career as a kindergarten teacher. “Using collaborative games is like Innovation Games is coming home for me. I taught school using similar techniques and now I am using collaborative approaches with adults.”

She’s even using games in her work as the Chairperson of the Gloucester Cable TV Advisory Committee. Recently, Karen took the time to tell about how she’s using Innovation Games® for creating change in her community.


Conteneo: How did you discover Innovation Games?

Karen: At an Agile Boston Event in 2011. When I first saw the Innovation Game® Speed Boat, I immediately recognized its application as a data-gathering exercise for Risk Assessments or FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis). Since then, I’ve used that particular exercise many times, as well as taught it to others. I’ve always believed in making things visual and interactive. It’s the former teacher in me.


Besides Speed Boat, are there other Innovation Games or techniques that you use in your work?

All kinds. Product Box for feature discussion, 20:20 Vision for prioritization, Remember the Future for initial planning. I also frequently use games from the Gamestorming portfolio, like Fishbowl and Plus/Delta. Whenever I have a problem that requires collaboration, I scan both the Innovation Games® and the Gamestorming inventory for inspiration.


 You’re tackling the problem of Broadband connectivity in your community. Can you tell us about that?

In Gloucester, MA, many residents have only one option for Internet service. We’re on an island, and because of our geography, some residents experience fluctuating service levels and very slow upload data transfer speeds, particularly at certain times of day. We also have challenges with our wireless reception due to granite outcroppings, but our biggest concern is economic development. Our fishing industry is struggling, and our unemployment level is higher than the state average. We want to ensure that new businesses interested in establishing themselves in Gloucester have the broadband environment that they need to flourish.

Happily, our city has taken steps in the past several years to improve our levels of broadband service. However, to attract the type of new businesses we want, the type of maritime and marine research business we need to augment our community’s slumping fishing industry, we need to understand the broadband industry and the telecommunications environment much better. We intend to develop a sustainable long-term strategy and infrastructure that will allow us to compete with any other New England region.

On January 25, we held our first in a series of three exploratory meetings for the purpose of engaging and educating the community and enlisting new committee members. We now have six committee members who are passionate about improving our circumstances, and most of whom have technical expertise in this telecommunications. We have also made contact with several of our neighboring communities. It feels like we went from 0 to 60 in just 6 weeks!


Tell us more about how you used Innovation Games.

I decided to use Innovation Games® to engage residents, businesses, schools, and nonprofits in a discussion about our “as is” Internet environment and our imagined “to be” environment. I used a visible agenda and survey to open the workshop, and then progressed to a game of “Sail Boat” (also known as Speed Boat) for data gathering around the issues.  Then we used Cover Story to articulate our vision for the community. We had about 20 residents playing these games, using post-its and flip chart paper at our local library.

I enlisted three of my Agile associates (Gloria Shepardson, Pat Arcady, and Gary Lavine) to act as observers during the games.  After the residents left, the four of us used the game, Empathy Map, to organize the observations they recorded on index cards during play and to generate insights. The output from all of the games used that day created a very usable foundation that I expect we will build on.


How did your fellow residents react to playing Innovation Games? Any surprises?

I asked for feedback and a numerical rating on index cards after the event. The participants rated the event as “good” to “excellent” across the board. That was a relief because I knew I was sticking my neck out using these games. Comments on the index cards included “Great interactive meeting,” and “I wholeheartedly like this dialogue focus. Thanks!” I was also gratified by the emails I received after the event and the number of great folks requesting to sit on this committee.


What’s the next step for Broadband in Gloucester?

We’re just getting started! Broadband is a complex problem that involves many stakeholders, an ever-changing environment, and complex technology. Each member of our new committee is currently working on a different aspect. When we meet as a committee, I’ll continue to use game techniques to facilitate the knowledge share, so that our committee and our community can continue to move forward. I expect that will involve developing municipal or regional plans that will be eligible for economic development grants.

I’d also like to contribute to the national conversation about broadband. Given the January 14 DC US Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Verizon over the FCC regarding Net Neutrality, and the pending acquisition of Time Warner by Comcast, this is currently a hot topic. Providing our American businesses and citizens with sufficient affordable and reliable broadband to be globally competitive requires the involvement of passionate people. It isn’t something that we can afford to be blasé about.

The Mayor of Gloucester provided the platform, and I used Innovation Games® to engage the community in this dialogue. I’d like to use our local experience and, perhaps through the  Innovation Game® Trilicious, to engage the entire nation in the creation of better broadband for all of us.


Serious Games At Work

Serious Games At Work, iPadpalooza & more 

One of the best parts of putting this newsletter together each month is unearthing how Innovation Games are changing how people do work, all over the world. This month we have reports on Remember the Future, the launch of a website dedicated to how work can be all about serious fun and more… 

Remember the Future at IPADPALOOZA 

Remembering something that hasn’t happened yet sounds weird, but it’s just the kind of cognitive dissonance that can spark creativity, uncover a breakthrough idea. It’s one of our core games and one the original 12 Luke featured in the book that started it all. And we’re always excited to hear about how it’s being used in the field.

Remember the Future IPadPalooza
Playing Remember the Future


Jeff Brantley, Product Marketing Director at Compass Learning (and one of our Qualified Instructors) recently used Remember the Future at IPADPALOOZA to unearth how mobile is going to upend K-12 education in the coming years.

Jeff played the game with 50 K-12 educators and stakeholders, dividing them into 5 groups, each tasked with a different future scenario around mobile technology and education:

  1. The role of the library in the mobile world
  2. Professional development and mobile
  3. Parental involvement and parent education in mobile
  4. Rethinking Physical Design Space in a Mobile World and
  5.  Creativity, art and soft skills in mobile

What did he uncover? Personalization is big. Libraries aren’t big containers with books, but a central hub and a place for collaboration. Another highlight: one group strongly supported political candidates they described as “right brain creatives” who valued the entire education experience. Want to learn more? Check out this blog post on the entire game.

Audacious Gaming

The January/February 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review caught my eye with a series of short articles on audacious ideas. Some of the ideas are really audacious, and challenge you to think differently about the world. Others strike me as pretty mundane. And others could go much further with a dose of Innovation Games®. And not to be denied, in this post I’ll also add our own audacious idea on using Innovation Games can change the world.Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2012 Cover

Pay for Performance

I understand — and generally agree — with Bruno Fey’s and Margit Osterloh’s assertions that “pay for performance” compensation models have serious flaws. However, sometimes there is no other way to accomplish an organizations’ goals without some kind of pay for performance scheme. Consider my company. The excellent growth we’re experiencing in Europe suggests that we should hire a European Business Development manager. Since we sell mostly to executives, that person must be experienced. Which means he/she will want a fat salary that he is likely worth — and one we can’t afford. Performance-based pay to the rescue! By offering a commission plan based on results, we can safely grow our business. And sales people love simple plans that put money in their pocket. So, for me, the more audacious idea, which is surprisingly not all that audacious, is to thoughtfully approach job and compensation-design with an awareness of what your company can safely afford and what truly motivates your workforce.

Patient VCs

Bruce Gibney and Ken Howery from Founder’s Fund have an entry about how VCs should  “learn patience” and invest in companies that show real progress. While their article sounds nice, I don’t believe a word of it. I think VCs are just like any other buyer: they buy with their heart and they justify with their head. If they see a start-up they like, they find a way to fund it. If they don’t like the idea, no amount of demonstrated growth or proven results will convince them otherwise.

Fortunately, true commitment in a start-up has nothing to do with the VCs who might invest. Instead, the true commitment of a start-up is found in its employees and customers. When the employees gives up, you’re done. When the early customers don’t come back, you’re done.

I speak from experience. There have been plenty of times when my team should have quit. Like the time we had zero money for payroll. Or the time a key client threatened to cancel their company’s enterprise license because they were justifiably upset that our system crashed at 2:00am Pacific time and no one fixed the server until 8:00am. Which was a real problem since they had planned a large number of games out of their European office. I could go on, but why bother? Most every successful company goes through such challenges.

What matters is how the start-up team finds a way to overcome these challenges. The day we were going to run out of cash a large customer listened to my dilemma and pushed through a new contract for enough money to cover payroll in one day, for which I will be eternally grateful (and if you work in a F500 company, tell the truth: could you push through a contract in one day?). My European client rescheduled the game, and we improved our network monitoring and management systems by moving to Rackspace (full disclosure: and apparently Rackspace likes us too, as they are a customer).

My point? A patient VC is nice. A VC who is not just patient, but who genuinely believes in your idea is more than nice. But a more audacious idea, that frankly is not audacious in the least, is building a team devoted to solving your customers’ problems as best as you possibly can. In the process you might find yourself living a truly audacious idea (at least audacious by Silicon Valley standards): a start-up that doesn’t need venture capital.

Using Innovation Games for Tough Conversations in the Conversation Project

Ellen Goodman’s article on the Conversation Project resonated deeply with me: we need to have thoughtful conversations about how we die. And motivating people to do this, and radically improve health care, strikes me as an inspiring, audacious goal. And while I think many people find the prospect of these conversations scary, or painful, I believe that by using Innovation Games® we can share conversations on how we die in ways that are engaging, uplifting, and even fun. Here are three games that you could play as part of the Conversation project.

  • Knowsy®: Businesses make the mistake of thinking they know their customers’ priorities – until a failed product reveals their misunderstandings. Families make similar mistakes, assuming they know the priorities of their loved ones nearing death. Knowsy makes learning the priorities of others fun. And we can brand Knowsy so that business can learn the priorities of their customers through play (details here). By playing Knowsy on serious topics like death, aging, and health care choices, we can foster the crucial conversations that lead to better outcomes.
  • Product Box Death: ask participants to imagine their ideal death – and then build a box to sell that death to their family. In the process, people creating the box will have the chance to explore their own feelings. And the projective teochniqueofthebox and the result will help them share this conversation with others.
  • Remember the Future Afterlife: ask participants to imagine that they have died and that they are looking backwards on their last 6 months of their life. How will they have lived? What choices will they have made? By “remembering” their death, participants can have better conversations about their life.

I hope that Ellen or a member of her team will find this post, and take me up on the audacious idea that serious games can help create the conversations promoted in the Conversation Project, as I hereby commit that The Innovation Games® Company will create, free of charge, a version of Knowsy for the Conversation Project that can be used to foster conversations on life priorities.

What are your audacious gaming ideas?

Success Stories: Quova: Innovation Games for Sales Training

Tami Carter, VP of Marketing, interviews Steven Dodds, Quova’s VP of Global Sales and Services about Innovation Games’ use for Sales Training.

Steven Dodds, VP of Global Sales and Services at Quova, recently shared how Quova incorporated Innovation Games into sales training to encourage the sharing of best practices. Click on the image above or this link to hear how Quova used Spider Web and Remember the Future to explore relationships between and inside account and improve sales performance.

Your Next Move! December 2010

Welcome to latest issue of Your Next Move!, our monthly newsletter covering the latest news, events and announcements from the Innovation Games® community.

This month in the Innovation Games at Work section, we profile PKG’s Robert DeNola’s use of Remember the Future, as his team uses the game to move a key client towards an aggressive goal. Luke stokes the flames of debate with his post on Gamification–and the fact that most folks miss the point entirely. There’s also several thoughtful blog posts from the community on such topics as the neuroscience behind Remember the Future, product pricing and company reputation, and Innovation Games around the world.

Click here to read the newsletter online, or download a PDF version.

PKG Thinks Back from the Future

Remember The Future

A few months ago, CEO and Founder Luke Hohmann met PKG Consulting’s Robert DeNola on a flight back to the Bay Area. Long story short, Luke introduced Robert to Innovation Games, and Robert put the games to work in short order. We recently had a chance to ask Robert about his experience using Innovation Games, in particular his use of Remember The Future on a client engagement.

Tell us about your experience with Innovation Games.

At PKG, we recently faced an uncommon amount of resistance when attempting to implement a technology that could dramatically enable important strategic objectives for our major client. We were concerned with avoiding a logjam, but when Luke first mentioned Remember the Future to me, I immediately sensed its potential. In fact, Remember the Future is the most game-changing technique I’ve ever used.

How did you put Remember the Future to work?

We used the game near the beginning of a seven hour, 15 person meeting. I posted a 2 x 3 foot poster of the Remember the Future illustration, along with instructions to imagine that “today is the past” and that the “future is today”. I asked the team members in the room to imagine that we were three years out and we had doubled our packaging sales. What were we glad we had done to accomplish this audacious goal? What difficult topics were we glad that we had worked through in light of the benefits we’d gained?

And what were the results?

The game was like a fast-acting virus, invading the ordinary thought processes of many in the room. With Remember the Future’s implied “today is the past” fundamental truth, and the consequent “the future is today” corollary, every issue brought up could be framed in its perspective. This effect influenced not only the meeting participants, but also had a profound affect on my thinking. Suffice it to say that after this experience it will be impossible for any of the participants to think through process-change challenges without the “thinking back from the future” perspective.

First published in Your Next Move! Issue December 2010.