In Part 1 of my interview, Sunni Brown, business owner, creative director, speaker and co-author of one of Amazon’s Top 100 Business Books titled GameStorming: A Playbook for Rule-breakers, Innovators and Changemakers, described graphic recording and the definition of Gamestorming. Below, Sunni discusses how to create innovative environments that produce amazing ideas.
Curt-What are the top reasons that a company would choose to do Gamestorming?
Curt-Which is more important to you: selling your book or providing great consulting services?
Sunni-This is going to sound kind of hippy, but I actually care about teaching people. It’s hard for me to make decisions about publishing because what I care about is getting more readers. I don’t necessarily care if that’s linked to more consulting or more book sales. I just want people to understand that this is a language, their native language, in fact. If they can incorporate visual language into their lives and their work, they’ll see a significant change. That’s what I actually care about.
Curt-Tell me an interesting Gamestorming story.
Sunni-The Gamestorming session with Razorfish was pretty interesting. Their client was being out-competed in terms of filing patents for innovative technologies. Their client was a huge global technology company and if you measure your patent filing as a rate of success, then they were not being as successful as they would have liked.
They asked me and a 2nd-City improvisational facilitator to come in and design a two-day Gamestorming session where they would ultimately come up with five patentable technology concepts in the visionary space. If they develop a patent for technology that is incremental, the probability of somebody already having filed the patent is very high so that’s not interesting. If they develop exploratory patents, which are about three to five years in the future, there’s less probability that somebody has already claimed that patent, but it’s still pretty high.
So we were trying to literally break through technological thinking that’s way out into the future. We gathered all these really brilliant people and the facilitator and I designed a sequence of games that we went through. We used some improv, which is so valuable for people to get out of their normal frame of thinking, but ultimately, because of the design of the games and the engagement of the stakeholders, they were able to come up with really solid, pursuable ideas.
I just spoke with Razorfish recently and they have filed the patents for the five ideas they came up with and they’re happy because they accomplished their goal. Before this, they had been half successful at putting people in a room and asking them to get creative and think about technology. But that kind of setting is not ideal for creativity. You’re literally not colliding neurons in your head that create something new when you put people in a room and don’t give them anything to play with. They’re just relying on people’s natural creative abilities rather than actually lighting a fire.
Curt-So that story’s really about innovation.
Sunni-Yes, but that’s not always the goal in a Gamestorming session. We just worked with the American Cancer Society and they were not trying to innovate, they were trying to analyze. Gamestorming is really valuable for breakthrough thinking, but it’s also valuable for analyzing and putting tactical ideas in place based on information you already have. It’s all about how you sequence the series of games. You can get to any outcome you want. You just have to know what you want your outcome to be and then design backwards from the knowledge of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Curt-It’s interesting that you’re using a low-tech technique to help technology companies create new technology.
Sunni-Yes, Gamestorming is absolutely low tech and it’s intentionally so. When you have businesses solving world problems, their end product may be digital, but all the things previous to that are going to be hands-on.
Thomas Edison’s research and development lab was the first of its kind. Western innovation was a bunch of people getting together, colliding ideas, playing with their hands and doing things that human beings do when they’re really trying to engage a topic or a challenge.
Gamestorming has 83 games now and we’ll keep adding games. The next step will be to look at video games, like Angry Birds, and take the game mechanics that make it fun and then apply it in a low-tech setting with real people. I’m a big fan of low tech, even though I speak at technology conferences all the time.
Curt-When I talk to young people about a career path, I wonder if they shouldn’t focus away from being a multitasker. Perhaps the person who is more hirable is the person who is more focused. It seems to me that what you’re doing is also very counter culture. It’s very not digital and doesn’t promote multitasking.
Sunni-Oh, absolutely. Much of the work that we do is based on the latest cognitive research about how the brain works. Multitasking is not even possible—it’s just shifting between tasks. You’re looking at one thing in a fragmented way and then looking at another thing in a fragmented way. Therefore, it takes even longer to do something and it’s usually lower quality. If I was looking for a job, I would never tell someone I was a great multitasker, but rather someone who chooses to focus on one thing at a time and does one task really well.
This concludes my interview with Sunni Brown. Are you going to use games in your next meeting? Let me know in the comments below!
CURT FINCH has more than two decades of software development and distributed workforce management experience. In 1997, Curt created the world's first internet-based timesheet application and the foundation for the current Journyx product offering. Curt has a B.S. in Computer Science from Virginia Tech. His book, All Your Money, is available on Amazon.