Culture, Lenses, Systems, Uncategorized

Game Design for Culture Design

The average age of a “gamer” is rising. Current research puts it around 34 years old. That means there is an increasing chance that any team you are part of is made up of self-identifying gamers. They’ve trekked across Skyrim. They’ve launched a blue shell in Mario Kart. They’ve flung an Angry Bird or two.

If this engages them, gets them in the flow state, and keeps them coming back… why would we not look towards game design when designing our team culture? Cody Royle, in his book Where Others Won’t, posits that we can borrow talent acquisition strategies from sports.

“A well-designed game is a guided missle to the motivational heart of the human psyche.” – Kevin Werbach

MDA Framework

We’re going to keep this simple for our analogy. For deep details on the MDA Framework, there are loads of articles on it. But here’s the basics:

90823As you can see, the game designer and the game player approach the game differently.

The designer can only control the mechanics so they build their game by creating mechanics, which impacts the dynamics, which influences the aesthetics.

The player comes at the game in the reverse order. The game is chosen because of the aesthetics they want (looking for “fun”), which they get from the dynamics, which is created by the rules. You never pick up a game because of a rule. You buy, play, and keep playing because of the feeling.

“Many of the traits, habits, beliefs and actions that teenagers and young adults pick up playing electronic games and working with handheld gadgets will help them as they enter the ever-changing global workforce.” – Karl Kapp

As a Lens for Culture

Like the game designer, we can really only control the mechanics of our culture. Mechanics are not your mission statement or your vision, but they are part of it. It’s more the rituals and operationalized mission. But instead of establishing rules we like and force the aesthetics we want, why not start with an end in mind?

We can think of culture design as game design, with a design thinking twist. Backwards by design. We’re going to start in the endzone, and figure out how to get there.

Granted, there are organizations that try to establish culture at the aesthetic level first. But they are trying to control the aesthetics as designers, which can’t be done. This will run in opposition with the established mechanics or clash with the personal narratives of the staff.

We can’t control the end, but we need to start there. If we work backwards, we can increase the likelihood of the aesthetic we want in our culture.

  • What feelings do we want our team to have?
    • Not only when they are “playing the game”, but also when they are at home or in their community.
  • What interactions can our team have to promote these feelings?
    • Interactions within the team, with the work, with the clients. All the interactions.
  • What rules of play can we establish to encourage those interactions?
    • These mechanics need to have boundaries that allow a little wiggle room but includes the interactions.

 

 

 

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Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Pre-Mortem, Systems, Uncategorized

7 Mechanics of Innovation

A game is a series of interesting choices. – Sid Meier

A common game design framework is called MDA, or Mechanics – Dynamics – Aesthetics. Players experience it back to front; from feelings (Aesthetics) through how they interact with the game (Dynamics) due to the rules (Mechanics). Game designers, however, create the game by starting with the basic moves that build how the player interacts and leaves them with feelings.

It’s said that good mechanics are instinctual and invisible to the player. And yet they are still designed first. As an innovative leader, you are the game designer. So I’ve compiled 7 of the top mechanics you’ll need.

Process

Having structure and templates for innovation feels oxymoronic, but a well-defined process means people don’t have to waste mental muscle figuring out HOW to innovate. Constraints often spur on change and growth, similar to pressure on a tube of toothpaste. Your clearly communicated innovation process will have people pushing more ideas forward and allows others to jump on the idea because they’re all familiar with the process that it graduated from.

Metrics

As a business analyst, this one is true to my heart! You wouldn’t think that something as amorphous as “innovation” would have measurable KPI’s, but that makes them even more important in your culture. Some sample metrics would be “process efficiencies”, “prototypes developed”, and “hypotheses validated”. It is important to not lose sight that the key byproduct of innovation is knowledge gained.

Problem-sourcing

Many places picture their innovation process as a funnel, with disruptive products exiting out the narrow end of the funnel. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that. But what we can control is having enough raw material coming into the wide end of the funnel to work with. There are multiple channels for sourcing problems. Check your social media channels to see what your users are saying online. Set-up focus groups at regular intervals. Go to where your users are and experience it through their eyes. Open it up to internal communication channels. The more sources you can use, the clearer your understanding of the problems becomes.

Rituals

Don’t confuse rituals with routines. Rituals involve mindful participation towards the desired end state. Routines are practiced behaviors that you can tune out and still accomplish (like making that pot of coffee Monday morning without thinking about it.) Rituals are designed by the leader and are focused events. Maybe it’s a Friday meeting to share team victories from the week, or maybe it’s a weekly challenge using work skills on a non-work challenge. Whatever your rituals are, keep the end in mind.

Showcase

Knowledge doesn’t do well locked up. It needs to spread, grow, and spin-off into new questions and that means you need to connect brains together. Provide a forum and method for the sharing of all knowledge; from failed prototypes to focus group responses. These showcases must include the problem, the audience, the solution, the test plan, and (of course) the metrics. Not only do you need to create mechanics around the creation and sharing of showcases, but you also have to create the mechanic of others reviewing the showcases.

Reflection

As fun as it is to look 3, 5, 10 years ahead, it’s as important to look backward as well. Not through a lens of nostalgic status quo, but through a lens of “what could we do better?” Continuous improvement is needed with your processes, rituals, and all of your mechanics, just like it’s needed for your products. This will become more beneficial as the candor in your innovation culture grows stronger.

Absent-mindedness

Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you walked in and only remembered once you started doing something else? Creative ideas can strike like that. Sometimes putting focused effort on solving a problem is like being stuck in the mud. You’re just spinning your wheels. What you need is to shift gears. Allowing some time for distracted focus or absent-mindedness gives the brain time to make unique connections. This can be accomplished through challenges or cross-departmental conversations to name a few. The important aspect is to give people time to think of other topics.

By now you’ve noticed that I haven’t given you step-by-step instructions on how to apply these mechanics to your organization. It’s up to you to tailor them to your team, your product, and your problems. You are the game designer. I’ve just given you some mechanics for you to now craft the dynamics and aesthetics around.

What interesting choices will you make?

 


Check out more of Go Forth and Be Awesome‘s Authentic Innovation series

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Being Awesome, Bias towards action, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Pre-Mortem, Systems, Uncategorized

Thinking like a Producer vs Producing like a Thinker – And Three Things You Can Do About It

bigproducinglikeathinker

A bias towards action.

It’s one of the most sought-after characteristics in a lean, mean innovation team. However, can too much of a good thing be hazardous to the quality of your work?

Creating movement and getting stuff in the hands of the user is great, but just quickly delivering what was asked for only perpetuates mediocrity. We need a strategic bias towards action.

“Work smarter… not harder.” – Allan Mogensen

I have succumbed to blind efficiency in the past. And to be honest, I’m not cured of it… but I am getting better!

I wanted to be a rapid responder. I was delivering what was asked for at lightspeed. Yet after completing task after task, I was able to look at my products and realize… I wasn’t solving the job to be done. I was merely doing what was asked for.

I was thinking like a producer when I should’ve been producing like a thinker.

All of my thoughts and energies were around producing a large bounty of checked-off to-do items. I wasn’t making an impact. I was delivering the “fast food” version of my craft; speedy and filling, but it wasn’t a noteworthy meal.

My bias towards action was misplaced.

“You can not dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” – Edward de Bono

“Thinking like a producer” and “Producing like a thinker” is not a dichotomy. Instead of seeing one as bad and the other as good, view it as more like a sliding scale. There are times when one mindset will serve us better than the other. Unfortunately, we can get stuck in ruts.

So let’s get unstuck!

One of the original goals of Go Forth and Be Awesome was to not be another voice providing abstract discussion on theoretical ideas. Oh, I will get theoretical and abstract, but I will also provide tools, process, and things you can use today. I want to be more “activity book” and less “newsletter”.

So let’s dig into how I got myself unstuck, in hopes that it can help you do the same.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.” – C. R. Jaccard

Before we start chopping away at jobs and projects, these tips will help you sharpen your axe, before you strike your first blow.

Identify Triggers

If you’re like me, there are enough projects in your past that you can analyze. Look for the key phrases or situations that shift your mindset into thinking like a producer. Is it a rapidly approaching deadline? A small project window? An easily completable request? Find your triggers.

Add a Process

With your triggers identified, you can now build a gameplan. Do this before your triggers are triggered; outside of the heat of battle. When you’re in the thick of it, you become blinded by the pursuit of progress. You need a calm heart and clear eyes to devise this process. When the triggers strike, what will you do? How might we stay in the “Producing like a thinker” mindset when our reactions argue differently?

My “response to triggers” process  is to go through a quick succession of questions, including:

  • What are they really trying to do?
  • What are alternate ways to accomplish this?
  • What fits with their story?
  • What would I do if time was not a constraint?

Reflect

Developing a process for triggers is like a pre-mortem, so it makes sense to have a post-mortem as well. However, we often don’t make this kind of time for ourselves. It is very crucial to check the direction we’re sailing often, or we will run aground on the shore while trying to sail out to open waters. Make time for this. Schedule it.

“If you create a vision for yourself, and stick with it, you can make amazing things happen in your life.” – Pete Carroll

Get out of the ruts and be free to steer where you need to. Don’t serve up the “fast food” version of your skills. Give them your five-star finest! Make time to identify your triggers, design a process, and reflect on your work. It’ll feel like some projects are too short and too quick to work in a “thinker’s” process. But I say the shortest projects with the tightest timelines are the ones most in need of a strategic bias towards action.

______________________

I am a big process junkie. I believe even the most amorphous and intangible concepts can have their own patterns and processes.

Let me know what your process for producing like a thinker is!

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Systems

Divergence, Convergence, and Roses

I’m going to show you an image and tell you a story, and you will believe it. You’ll believe not because I told you to believe it, but because you want to believe it is true.

The Story

plant cementThis is a place where mankind has sanitized, homogenized, and developed using a rigid and typically unforgiving material; concrete. A downfall of concrete’s hard-line take on the world is that sometimes cracks form. Cracks that let the organic spurt through. Dirt and rain make their way down, plants make their way up, and we’re left with this analogy. Creative ideas can grow in restrictive environments.

And it is true. I’ve even written about it here. But there is caution to the tale.

The Balancing Act

Just because creativity can grow like a plant in concrete doesn’t mean we don’t have to nurture it. You can’t go laying concrete everywhere in your innovation and expect the good stuff to always break through.

There is a time to let things diverge and a time to let things converge.

rosebush
Your brainroses can growses, you knowses.

Imagine creat be thought is like a rosebush. You nurture it and let it grow; branches twisting and turning in their own way. Some are full of thorns, while others yield the most beautiful and fragrant blossoms. You, as the gardner, have your choice of the best idea roses for your bouquet.

Now imagine that when the rosebush was very small, you had placed a funnel on top. Everything that the rosebush wants to do, must be forced up and out a narrow opening. It’s like the Highlander but for plants; in the end there can be only one blossom. The funnel converges too soon. The only divergence happens just above the root, but it’s not enough to allow a variety of blossoms because they’re all now competing to get out of the funnel. When you go to trim, you don’t get a choice. You get the one idea-bloom that managed to make it out of the funnel, and you’ll never know if it was the best you could have produced.

The Summary

Constraints and restrictions are still valid. We put up fences because we don’t want ourroses rosebush growing into the neighbor’s yard. These restrictions come from your users (it needs to be mobile, it has to do [task] faster, etc). However if we don’t let solutions diverge from the root of the problem, we wont have a chance to converge them into the best bouquet of products possible.

Wouldn’t you rather have your choice and trim some back than stake it all in one bloom?

The Challenge

How might you encourage the timing of divergence and convergence in your life?
Being Awesome, Diffusion of Innovation, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Systems, Tool, Uncategorized

Beyond the Right Tool for the Job

Today I did a few odd errands around the house. A typical Sunday afternoon. I finally went to hang the new tiles with our house number on them. For 30 minutes I bore into the front of my house. I switched screw types and drill bits. The sad truth was I had barely made a dent. The tiles lay on the front lawn mocking me.

powertools
Notice the state of the art powerdrill I was using. And Jebediah was no help at all.

I decided to do some research online and found just what I needed. And thus the standard pilgrimage to the local home improvement store rewarded me with some concrete screws. The tiles went up almost instantly.

I had chosen the correct power tool, my handy dandy drill with screwdriver bits, but I failed to be detailed in how to apply the tool. I was using the wrong screws and all that got me were unhung tiles and two shallow, but noticeable holes in the front of my house.

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhn

This can be the bane of the innovator as well. Powerful tools within their grasp, but the details about the application and the context evade them. This has two potentially disastrous outcomes:

  1. Problems remain out of reach, still unsolved.

2. You can cause new problems, like holes in your house.

It is important to invest time in identifying the details behind the tools you use. Even if your innovation toolbox is stocked with the best tools around, it’s the details and the context that can throw you off.

“Stop. Hammer time.” – MC Hammer

The following places have excellent tools for your innovation toolbox, and some supporting details to help you know when to use them.

Stratgeyzer by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith- Value Proposition Design is always within grasp. I may keep a spare in my glovebox. From learning cards, to testing matrices, Strategyzer’s VPD is a solid foundation for any innovator.

Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie – This fantastic book has tools and details around the full innovation timeline. From “What is?” to “What if?” to “What wows?” to “What works?” No matter what your question is, Designing for Growth has something for you.

Joe Greaser has a post over on his blog about some tools for detecting weak arguments.

Also, we’ve got stuff right here at Go Forth And Be Awesome!tools

  • New Lenses for finding new ways to look at the world around you.
  • Donkey Dice for rapidly going through lenses with a little bit of chaos.
  • Premortems help you prepare for failure before you test a prototype.

Avoid the frustration and embarrassment of drilling all afternoon with nothing to show for it. Even if you’ve got the right tool, pay attention to the little details too.

Brainstorming, Going Forth, Grand Canyon, Ideation, Innovation, Lenses, Prototyping, Systems, Tool

The Donkey Stuck in the Status Quo

Once upon a time, there was a donkey. This donkey, with all other conditions being the same, would eat from the hay closest to him. Kind of an easy win strategy. Well one day the donkey was walking down the road and his hunger grew immensely. There was a bail of hay up ahead, and an equal sized bail of hay, the exact same distance behind him. With neither being closer, the donkey stood still, not choosing one nor the other until he died.

The end.

This heartwarming tale is called Buridan’s donkey and it is a paradox about free will. Often, we become the donkey. There are disruptive ideas out there to follow, but we sit in the middle, too afraid to give up one for the other.

Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, says that “when some systems become stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free.” The donkey just needs a little push; just one fly to land on its ear and nudge it towards one hay pile.

Organizations, teams, and people need that dose of random, unexpected, and different to get ideas moving.gonowhere

These little nudges can feel scary, but there are ways to minimize the risk and fear. Start by breaking down the problem you want to solve into its core pieces; boil it down to its base essence. Then start looking for small things to move the needle. If you were to solve this problem, what’s the first thing you need to figure out? Find a way to prototype and test that thing. Prototyping is great for keeping cost low and risks at a minimum (especially when it is with paper).

“Prototyping is one of the most effective ways to both jump-start our thinking and to guide, inspire, and discipline an experimental approach.” – Peter Sims, Little Bets

Regularly we will need to unstick ourselves. Each idea we naturally think of is a byproduct of your point of view, past experiences, skill set, and what you had for lunch. That’s why I am going to give you a tool to help, a tool forged in process-driven chaos. It’s called…

Donkey Dice

The rules here are very simple. In fact, there’s only three:

  • CARD: On a notecard, write down six lenses and number them.
    • Things like “How would WordPress do it?”, “How would I never solve this?”, or use a random word. (Random words should be generated before each use of Donkey Dice.)
  • ROLL: Roll 1 six-sided die and identify lens selected
  • THINK: Generate ideas with lens

It’s simple, but effective. As you get good at Donkey Dice, expand your card up to 12 lenses and use two six-sided dice. You can unlock the extreme level and list 20 lenses and roll a twenty-sided die. Soon your donkey will be making his way towards relief, instead of stuck in the muck of status quo.

“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” -Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care

 

Being Awesome, Failure, Going Forth, Lean, Learning, Like a Startup, Motivation, Systems, Uncategorized

Happy Systems Evaluation Day Eve!

It’s that time of year again! The internet is littered with “Top 10 [these things] of 2015” lists. Tweets and updates center around what friends and family plan on accomplishing within the next 12 months. But every time you see a “I’m going to lose X pounds this year” update, know that you are reading a goal.

“Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners.” Scott Adams

I’m not saying they are losers. I’m saying they are playing a losing game. Boardgames are no fun when halfway through you realize that you have no hope of ever catching up to the leader. I’ve played these games with my younger brother who will CRUSH all in his path. I’ve looked over at his gargantuan pile of cardboard wealth and watched mine wither more than once. But a good game has mechanics that keep all players in the game. There are ways to get back up front. The Bullet Bill power-up is only available to those trailing in Mario Kart.

goals (1)Setting a goal is playing a game where you are constantly in failure, until you’ve succeeded. If my goal was to get a promotion, everyday that I don’t have my promotion is a day that I haven’t hit my goal. And even when I do, what then? I’ve reached a waypoint but I don’t have any other direction.

Goals are waypoints; places to be reached. Systems are a compass; they provide global direction.

Instead of setting a promotion as a goal, I should define a system that makes me more valuable to my company. Maybe, along the way I will earn that promotion. Both before and after, I have the ability to work successfully within my system. Success is within my grasp and in my control, each day.

“A good system shortens the road to the goal.” Orison Swett Marden

Don’t abandon goals altogether because when used with a system, they are still hugely important. We set them constantly in innovation. They are the success metrics for each prototype. They are the conversion rates in A/B testing. Running lean and using design thinking are systems; systems that leverage and make use of goals. One can not live on goals alone.

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” W. Edwards Deming

If you’ll allow me a short sports metaphor real quick, let’s talk about Notre Dame football. I don’t have details but I do have experience and I am 87.3% sure that Notre Dame’s players decide what their goals are going to be for the season. Probably “Beat Stanford” or “Play in a major bowl game” are in there. Until they play Stanford, that goal has not be achieved. When they do play Stanford, success and failure are equally within grasp. After the game, they cross that goal off as either DONE or FAIL and then… focus on a new goal? Drift directionless in a sea of college football powerhouses? No. Notre Dame has a system that is more important than their goals.

“Play like a champion TODAY.” Notre Dame Football’s system

Goals are good as measures of your system, but make sure your goals aren’t vanity metrics.

So as you and I and everyone on Facebook sets goals for the upcoming year, also think of a system that can help guide you through those goal waypoints to a you beyond your expectations. And we’d be honored if “Go forth and be awesome” was a part of your system!