Trailer Beat The World – Let’s Play Innovation

Festival Beat the World – Let’s Play Innovation
Save the date: 11th of January 2013
Location: Driebergen, The Netherlands

During this festival (with partners like MIT Gamelab) we’re going to work with Playful methods and mindsets like Improvisation, Gamification, Rapid Prototyping, etc. etc. The goal is to find new ways to innovate to build a more sustainable society.

Jan’s Valuable Lesson

In a comment on the post Office of the future fit for Innovation, co-writer Jan Raes gave me a ridiculous challenge: “…I would like you to record and post a movie, where someone gives you something for free, that is actually not free to start with (a coffee, candy, food, some kind of service! Not money!) for making them laugh about one of your stories. This person must be a stranger to start out with.”. It is now several weeks later…

At first I was trying to find ways to influence people with NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) and brainwaves so that they would give me all their chocolatechip cookies, but that didn’t turn out to be a success. After a few hours I gave up, and became a broken man… Until last Thursday! I went to the studio of Suzanne Merritt to connect with her on Innovation an Creativity. Her studio is the greatest thing you’ve ever seen.

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After wondering around I fell in love with a strange little wooden guy with a spear, and I don’t know exactly why, but I took a picture of it. Suzanne noticed it, and gave it to me as a totally unexpected gift. She said she didn’t send it to her gallery for also some strange reason.

What is the Moral of this Story?
Don’t focus on what you want from somebody, but invest in the relationship with all your enthousiasm. Thank you Jan for this valuable lesson from the Netherlands!;) And of course, thank you Suzanne for this little man standing in our window-sill.


The rise of Urban Playing

Like many people I consider cities as a giant playground. Amsterdam seems to be particularly suited for this role. Skateboarders and rollerskaters have more or less pioneered the urban playing aspect of cities. Now also the more conservative sport of golf is turning towards playing in public city parks. At least the Vondelpark in Amsterdam was temporarily altered into a public golf course last Tuesday. I was wondering if litigation laws in the US would permit such a sport like golf to be played in a truely public park. Surely it is played with hard litte balls, that travel at fairly high speed,  that can essentially hit unexpecting pedestrians in the park. Question to the blog visitors: what other sports do we see taking themselves into the public domain? Do you see innovative businesses being built around them?

Jeremy Bushnell: The Flow Channel & Gaming in Courses

Can you turn a course into a game? Jeremy Bushnell teaches Writing Skill classes at Boston University and North Eastern University, and has a fascination for games. He asks his students to play video games, and write reflections on them during his course. He noticed that their engagement was much higher then when they had to reflect on novels. So he challenged himself by experimenting  with  the same principles used in games in his class (Read more in this article). The most important principle is called the Flow Channel “Get the challenge that matches your  present skill”.   

It would be great if the thousands of hours of engagement online could be simply copied in our working and even personal lives. No more trouble with my manager about my salary, because I give him a golden star when I get a raise. All discussions with my girlfriend about doing the laundry will vanish into thin air when I tell her that the dryer is the “End Boss” of the washing game. Could it all be that simple? When talking with Jeremy about his lessons learned so far in his experiment, it turns out that there are some bumps on the road that need attention like…

  • People love playing games because they’re trivial, but when things are real (like a course at BU)… people take things obviously very serious. With as a result that they don’t like it to fight four or five times with the Boss – Exam before they can get to the next level.
  • If you tell your students which skills you want to see during the course, and give them a lot of freedom in when to do so, some of them will wait until the last week (I would do so…). This makes playing and experimenting impossible. Most students are simply not used to this kind of learning environment.
  • Suggesting that a situation can be seen as a game may offend some people. The word Game can therefor be treacherous if the other is not acquainted with the gaming principles.
So, have we lost the game?
Yes, let’s go back to our old friends ‘Management’ and ‘Leadership’…;)
Or… we can learn from this really interesting experiment (and others): It could be very helpful to break a complex problem into smaller bits that match the skills of the person. Create easier games, and call them differently so people feel that they are taken seriously. Most managers are for instance really afraid to play “Tag, you’re it” in public. Not because they don’t know how to play it, but for other more personal reasons like afraid to be laughed at doing silly things. So break “silly things” in more easy challenges like “shake hands with somebody you don’t know”.

It is not only the participant who has a challenge in this game of life, but also the facilitator. Would life not be really boring for facilitators / trainers / teachers / managers / etc. if they would not be challenged? When you look at situations as a playground, everybody is a participant, and everybody is a leader. Let’s play with your group and get to the next level, or you will become that horrific “Boss” that is stuck forever at the end of  level 2…

Video: Jeremy Bushnell about the Flow Channel

Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world

This TED video about Seth Priebatsch was recommended to me by Jeremy Bushnell. He teaches (among other things) a writing class at Boston University in which he uses gaming principles. I’m going to talk to him on Tuesday, so please post your questions for him. 

I personally am interested in how we translate all these principles in real life and innovation processes. And, as I am an executive trainer, how can we use these principles in the development of the leaders of the future.

Gamification of Architecture

With the current attention for gamification, are you ready for a (rather silly) Game of Architecture? Take any building that you think is remarkable (or particularly unremarkable) and try to doodle as many visual identities on top of the building. This game is a bit similar to what people generally do when they lie on their back and watch clouds drift by. Most important difference is that buildings are man-made. The game is also partially based on a good old tradition of giving nicknames to buildings. e.g. Amsterdam has the shoe, the skate, the sandcastle, the false teeth, to name but a few… now the city of Amsterdam has the pacman, the dog, the fish, the goal keeper, the spying eye, all in one building. Game on for Boston?


Zohar Adner: Stop stressing out, start having fun!

“What is your advice for me when I’m in stress, and my head is full of thoughts?”
“What do you normally after you had such a stressful moment?”
“I normally take a beer and relax with some friends…”
“Well, skip the stress part, and just take a beer with your friends.”

That the solution for a problem can be simple becomes clear in the interesting and fun conversation  with Improvisation and Stress expert Zohar Adner in a coffee shop ‘The Bean’ in New York. It becomes painfully clear that deepening  what got you stuck, isn’t the logical way of starting to move again.

“Life is more fun when you stop stressing out”
Again a very simple sentence, so what’s the catch? If you say this sententence to somebody, this person might well say “He, my life isn’t that easy. You have no idea what I have to deal with. My manager… and the organization is… so I can’t… ”. This all can be very true, but do you have the inner drive to make a change? People who say “I don’t have a clue where to start, but let’s go!” can be regarded as naive but are open for new possibilities. Zohar’s advice: don’t put your energy in the first group. If a person doesn’t want to change, it will not happen before they really want to.  Painfully true I guess in the situations I worry about too much…  And the people in the second group can be positively influenced when they see the first group changing and want to be a part of that.

If innovation is about change, and therefor about taking risks: do you focus on the fun part or do you get stuck in all the potential problems? Can you see complexity, but keep it simple so you can play?  Iggy Gesell |(some blogs ago) connected me to a Risk Expert. I’m curious what his opition is about this all….

The Game about Stress
So it wasn’t a big suprise that Zohar already had invented a game about Stress a while ago. The concepts in this video are nevertheless made up no the spot. Put all your miseries in the hole of dispair, and you will end up with a mountain of good fortune. Let’s play!

National Institute for Play: Play state in Complexity

The National Institute for Play investigates Play. They have chosen a good name I would say. Why do people and animals play? And what would also the benefit be for professionals in organizations to play in certain situations? I think their approach is interesting to facilitate more scientific research on the topic, so we can support managers who have (most of the time) a focus on efficiency. 

“Demand for workers who understand complexity is increasing. Over 75% of the U.S. work force does information work which requires workers to collaborate with other information workers to make judgments and solve complex issues.

The practices that organizations need to be developing for their increasingly complex information work are those which infuse the state of play into their workers’ attitudes. They need to learn how to do the work of their organizations in a play state.

Our experiences indicate that executives require sufficient immersion in the science of play before they understand and value it. The intellectual and scientific basis of play can provide the understanding – and permission – to deploy new play-based practices in their organizations. But, they must also value the new practices; without a positive play ethic, the climate for innovation is spoken of as important, but is not acted upon.” (The National Institute for Play)

Founder Stuart Brown on

He doesn’t say it very playful, but most trainers train in subjects they have had some trouble with, because else they wouldn’t understand why it is so important:)

The House always wins! Gamification principles at work.

We all like to play games with friends or relatives, but do we even play games at work? We have heard about war games, or political games, but even the small talk at the water cooler is a small game. Some rules of this game are described in the new buzz word Gamification. Maybe this is all about social media, but I think we can learn from their funny principles. 

Gamification means ‘Integrating game dynamics into your site, service, community, content or campaign, in order to drive participation.’. Gabe Zicherman wrote a book about it called Game Based Marketing. How can you drive customer participation and engagement by gaming principles?  So for instance, using a game environment like Farmville to sell more books. People gain status by virtual rewards, and engaging with their friends.


What I liked most in this video in my search for the game of Innovation was:

The game always favours its creator.
The house always wins.
So… be the house, or be played.

I recognize this as an executive trainer in the games that people play at work like ‘Negotiating’ or ‘Being a Manager’. The person who understands best what game is played has the biggest chance of winning. Personally I don’t like to call this winning, because this suggests that the other person will lose, but you could say that the goal of this person is best served.

I believe that you could interpret most interpersonal situations as a game. There is a goal, rules, players, framework, etc. But most people don’t know their goal (or thye think they know, but is really vague), and understand the game played even less. I had for example a practitioner who wanted to give an employee a warning. I suggested that he could try it on me. He knew that he wanted something to change but didn’t know exactly what, and that he gave me a lot of space to make the situation even worse. The house always wins… I won. He could have been the house if he knew what he wanted, and that the game was called ‘who manages this department’.

Find out what kind of player you are by the Bartle’s Player typology, and know that 80% ends up as a socializer. I don’t know if that is helpful I must admit.

Let’s play innovation: Go to Start!

In search of the game Innovation
This website is in search of a practical description of the  game we call Innovation. I follow the assumption that it would be useful to look at innovation as a game played between ‘professionals’. Who are the main players, what cards are used, what does the playing field look like, how can you cheat, how can you win, when do you lose? The outcome is hopefully a simple visualization of this innovation game that helps `professionals` to play.

In my work as an executive development trainer I found that almost every subject could be looked at as a game that people play. Political games, the game of negotiation, war games, the black-sheep-game, conflict games, etc. etc.  Even this blog is a game. Together with students I described some of these interaction games, and it helped them and myself to look at apparently complex systems in a more simple and therefor accessible way.

Keep it simple
People get stuck in complex systems. They don’t know what is the best thing to do. On the other hand is my experience that a lot of people make simple things (most of the time unconsciously) complex so they don’t have to choose. I for instance thought it was very complex which new laptop to choose… “It is so complex, there is much to choose, which processor do I need…”. Bottom line is that we are afraid of something, like afraid to fail or being excluded by the group. This is nothing different in innovation where you have to become visible with your new idea, and failure is more likely than in normal processes. So, let’s approach Innovation as a game that people play, don’t take it to personal, and look at failure as a step on the game board. Next round is for you!

Be a participant
Hundreds meters of books have been written about Innovation; the only problem with books is that you have to read so much and afterwards I personally forget most of it. Games on the other hand help you to feel the flow of a process, and make you an active participant. I get active by visualizations, music, funny models, games, and examples. They make me creative. I will therefor try to approach interesting innovators and ask them to approach the Game of Innovation with the use of images, self-made models, etc. I will combine this with my stay in Boston, the innovation hub of the US! My personal rule will be to keep it simple, because we don’t want to get stuck in complexity nor in high ego.

So let´s play innovation, and I welcome you as an active participant to this website. Share what is needed, and make simple what is to complex. Roll the dice and have fun!