One of the most successful strategies we use at Innovation Loft to get teams of executives from large companies to think and work together in new ways (and ultimately come up with breakthrough ideas they can bring to market) is to turn the process of ideation and decision-making into a game. In fact, most of our 1 to 2 day workshops are really a series of 45-90 minute games, each with different objectives, rules and mix of participants. Let’s take a look at five characteristics of games, and why these characters are so helpful in getting people to think and work “outside the box.”
Unlike many meetings, games always have clear objectives. If you get the ball over the goal line, you score. If you don’t get the ball over the goal line, you don’t score. Objectives include the rules of the game, and clear objectives fire up creative thinking. Often, we want people to generate ideas within certain constraints – like ways to generate revenue that can be achieved this year within the current product set. People understand, when their brains go into “game mode,” that to win they have to reach the goal without breaking the rules. Naturally, you want to define the rules so they aren’t too restrictive, and limit the ideas generated, but not so broad that many of the ideas aren’t applicable to the problem at hand.
In any meeting or workshop, a key objective is participant engagement and focus. Most people respond with strong positive energy to a competitive situation.
Most games have some sort of time limit. Ours do, too. When a team knows they have 30 minutes to achieve a goal, it sharpens their thinking and helps them push past barriers to collaborate, because they have to get it figured out in a specific time frame to win the game, or even just be successful competitors.
Escape Normal Roles
At the company softball game, the middle manager can tag the CEO out, or the assistant can steal second base. The structure of games give people permission to step outside of their normal roles. This is highly useful in collaborative ideation.
Embrace a Fiction
Games typically define a fiction. Whether it’s Chess or football, the game represents a world with a different reality. We often construct different realities in our games to encourage thinking outside normal constraints. One popular game we play asks players to accept the premise that Google bought their company and in 1 year has doubled its revenue. It then asks them to figure out how Google was able to achieve that kind of growth. By thinking within the constraints of this fiction, instead of their everyday reality, players can often see opportunities they wouldn’t normally consider.
Many games are played with teams, where the whole group wins or loses. This isn’t usually the case for teams in the real world. But in games, people immediately understand they need to contribute in whatever way they can, placing a solitary focus on the team achieving its objective in the best, most effective possible way. The opportunity to experience true team victory with their work peers can be a powerful experience that influences behavior back at the office.
And — oh yeah — games are FUN.
And people come up with their best ideas when they are having fun.