October 30, 2006

News & Opinion: Innovation Games by Luke Hohmann

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:22 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

This piece comes from Luke Hohmann's Innovation Games. It's a guide that helps intiate collaborative play. Below, you'll find the preface to Luke's book followed by the game Remember the Future. Read and then play.


Innovation Games are fun ways to collaborate with your customers to better understand their needs. You can use them to discover new business opportunities, drive strategy and product road map decisions, improve the effectiveness of sales and service organizations, fine-tune marketing messages, and create more intimate, durable relationships with your customers. You can also use them to better understand the people that you care about the most, from your family and friends to close business colleagues. To illus-trate, here are ways some companies and people have used Innovation Games:

Understanding complex product-relationships -- When Wyse Technologies, Inc. wanted to gain a better understanding of how their customers perceived the business and technical relationships between the products and services provided by Wyse and those provided by other technology providers, they played Spider Web with a select group of customers at their Customer Advisory Board meeting.

Understanding product evolution -- Rally Software Development had a more focused objective: they wanted specific feedback on how to prioritize features in upcoming product releases. After considering Buy a Feature, 20/20 Vision, and Prune the Product Tree, three games that help prioritize features, they ultimately chose Prune the Product Tree as the game that allowed them to best capture customer feed-back on their development plans.

Understanding sales needs -- QUALCOMM used Product Box in an internal sales training exercise to identify critical customer success factors and relate these to product benefits. Another company, Ticket-master, used Buy a Feature in an internal sales meeting to prioritize the features that the sales team felt would help them accomplish their objectives.

Identifying areas for improvement -- Aladdin Knowledge Systems, Inc., QUALCOMM, and Precision Qual-ity Software have all used Speed Boat to identify key areas for improvement in their product and service offerings.

Prioritizing market needs -- Emerson -Climate Technologies provides the Intelligent Store, a broad and comprehensive architecture that combines unique equipment, software, and services to solve food safety, energy management, and facilities management needs. Emerson used Spider Web, Speed Boat, and 20/20 Vision at their 2006 Technology Advisory Council meeting to better understand market needs rela-tive to all aspects of the Intelligent Store.

Understanding hidden desires -- Andre Gous's stepdaughter Karen was having trouble finding just the right used car. Andre runs Precision Quality Software and is a recognized expert on various software re-quirements engineering techniques. Andre tried using traditional requirements engineering to help her clarify her objectives. Unfortunately, after 45 minutes, they were no closer to the goal of defining her ideal car, and Karen was starting to become a little frustrated with the process. Andre tried Product Box, and in short order they had identified exactly what Karen was looking for in her "new" used car (you can read the entire story at the Innovation Games forum,

Creating strategic plans--SDForum is the leading Silicon Valley not-for-profit organization providing an unbiased source of information and insight to the technology community for 20 years. Laura Merling, Ex-ecutive Director of SDForum, used Remember the Future to create a five-year vision for how their organi-zation will evolve to meet the needs of new technology entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and around the world.

These stories illustrate the broad range in which people like you, for professional and personal reasons, are using Innovation Games. You can use Innovation Games to accomplish these and other goals. If you use these games, you'll come to understand what your customers really want. You'll have fun doing it. Perhaps more importantly, they'll have fun doing it. Armed with this understanding, you'll be able to create the breakthrough innovative products that are the foundation of lasting success. This book will show you how.

How This Book Is Organized

This book is organized into three parts.

Part One: The Why and the How of Innovation Games

Part One provides a comprehensive overview of Innovation Games. Starting with why you might want to play them in the first place, it will cover some of the different ways in which you can use the games and answer some of the common questions we get from people who are considering the games. Part One describes an easy-to-use process for -selecting, planning, playing, and postprocessing the results of a game in ways that benefit you and your customers. This process has been used successfully in many games. At the end of Part One you'll have the foundation you need to move forward with one or more specific games.

Part Two: The Games

In Part Two you'll learn the details about each game, from "what makes the game work" to specific advice on planning, playing, and postprocessing the results. It is helpful to start by briefly skimming each game, making notes on how you might apply it. You'll probably find that one or two games catch your eye more than the others. This is not an accident; these are the games most likely to help you address your most pressing concerns. Go back to these games and carefully read each one in detail. When you're finished, you should have a good understanding of how these games can meet your needs and how to modify the general process described in Part One to put them in action. Along the way, by reading about how other companies have used them, you'll gain insight and inspiration about how you can apply these games.

Part Three: Tools and Templates

Part Three is designed to help you use Innovation Games by providing you with a variety of tools and templates to plan, play, and process the results of a game. It includes such things as sample invitation letters, general materials and supply checklists, advice on preparing event venues and facilitating the games, and frequently asked questions.

Forum for Readers, Game Players, and Facilitators

In addition to this book, the people who use Innovation Games have found creative ways to extend them and are sharing their experiences with others at I invite you to join this com-munity, share your own experiences, and provide help and encouragement to others. Most of all, have fun with what follows.

-Luke Hohmann,Founder and CEO, Enthiosys, Inc.,


Remember the Future

Understand Your Customers' Definition of Success

"What should our product do?" Ah, yes, the seemingly open-ended question that many times isn't that open ended at all. Most of the time, what your product should do is some reasonable extrapolation of what it has done in the past. Your cell phone should have better signal strength, longer battery life, and be lighter. So should your laptop. And your car should be safer, faster, more stylish, and get better gas mileage. The question "What should our product do?" is therefore often trivially answered: "Your product should be better." Which should make you wonder, are you asking the right question? And are you asking it in the right way?

The Game

Hand each of your customers a few pieces of paper. Ask them to imagine that it is sometime in the future and that they've been using your product almost continuously between now and that future date (it could be a month, quarter, year, or, for strategic planning purposes, five years or even a -decade-pick a time frame that is appropriate for your research goals). Now, ask them to go even further-an extra day, week, month. Ask your customer to write down, in as much detail as possible, exactly what your product will have done to make them happy (or successful or rich or safe or secure or smart; choose the set of adjectives that works best for your product).

Note: The phrasing of the question is extremely important. You'll get different results if you ask "What should the system do?" instead of "What will the system have done?" (If you're skeptical, just try it.)

Why It Works

This game is based on numerous studies in cognitive psychology that have examined how we think about the future. When we ask the question "What will our product do?" we're left with an open-ended future, one in which every possible future is equally plausible. Of course, this isn't strictly true, and to answer the question we will pick a possible future and describe it. However, the lack of a concrete outcome means that we don't have to deal with the details of how our product will have done it. Others will tend to judge our answers as "hollow" or "lacking substance," because there is no requirement that this is actually the future that will materialize.

The results change rather dramatically when we alter the wording of the question. When we ask "What will our product have done?" we are thinking of a future event as one that already has occurred-"remembering" the future. Because this event is "in the past," we must mentally generate a sequence of events that caused this event to have occurred. We not only have a more concrete idea of what the product did, we can begin to answer the question "How did the product do it?" Others will tend to judge our answers as more richly detailed, more sensible, and more plausible, precisely because if an outcome or future is thought of as already accomplished, it can be more easily described.

This isn't to say that the event we envision will actually occur, or that each customer who plays the game will generate the same result. Actually predicting the future is not really the purpose of Remember the Future (although if you have success in doing this, please let me know). What is important is that Remember the Future enables you to not only understand your customers' definition of success, but also their understanding of how that successful outcome happened.

Remember the Future-From 1997!

I often use Remember the Future whenever I want to generate a detailed plan of how I'm going to successfully complete a project, from planning the release of a software project, closing a large or complex sale, preparing for a conference, or even planning an Innovation Game (as suggested in Part One). The earliest picture I have of using Remember the Future to help plan events is a Polaroid from Dave Smith, who facilitated this game for the Aurigin team in 1997 to plan the installation of a complex software system (Figure 2.6 is a scan of that Polaroid). The project was successfully completed, in large part because this game enabled everyone to focus on the specific sequence of events that resulted in a fully deployed system.

Preparing for the Game

It helps to draw a timeline to make certain you're really remembering a future event as if it were the past. In Figure 2.7, the current date is February 2. In step 1, we project forward into the future to March 30 and ask our customer to remember their use of our product as of March 15 (a date that is in the future).

Framing the Question

It can take time for a team playing Remember the -Future to become comfortable with the wording of the question. The best way to do this is to practice with both forms of the question for a given product. Let's suppose that one of the benefits of your product is that it helps customers save money.

  1. Imagine it is one year in the future. How will our product save you money?
  2. Imagine it is one year in the future. How has our product saved you money?

Consider your own response to these questions. In the first form, you might find yourself wondering about the many possible ways your product could save money, but not feeling comfortable with any one way.

Contrast this with the second form of the question, in which you're likely to start thinking of very specific ways in which your product saved you money.

Vary the timeline to get different results. If you want to understand more about your near-term product plans, choose weeks, months, or quarters. If you want to understand more about how customers envision very general topics or issues regarding strategic evolution, consider projecting a decade or more into the future.

Practice how you phrase the question and how you present the game to your customers. This is especially important, as outlined in the sidebar "Framing the Question."

You can structure this game to deal with more than one question. This approach is suitable for strategic planning purposes, when you have multiple facets of the future that you want to explore. This also allows this game to scale to rather large group sizes.

Consider letting customers know about the broad topics you'd like to explore before the game to allow them to mentally prepare for the game.

  • One easel with flip chart paper for each group of customers playing the game, plus an additional easel for the facilitator

Playing the Game

Because this game is one of the easiest to play, there isn't a lot of need for detailed advice. But don't be misled by the simplicity of the game-the magic lies in the discussion of how your customers perceive their future. To get to this discussion, you can
  • Encourage customers to work individually, letting them know that at the end of the game each will be asked to present their results to the group.
  • Request that customers work as a group, which is useful for when you want a chosen group of customers to work together answering a common question. If you choose this option, appoint a group leader who is responsible for capturing the results of the group and being the spokesperson during the discussion phase.

It is the Richness of Detail That Matters

What distinguishes Remember the Future from simply asking about a future event is the level of detail that customers generate when answering questions framed in the future tense of the verb. Suppose, for example, that we'd like to get a sense about who will win the next FIFA World Cup.

The simplest way to frame the question is, "Who will win the next FIFA World Cup?" Asked this way, you're likely to answer with just enough detail to justify your prediction: "France emerged as the lone European country to make it through the quarter-finals through a combination of excellent goal tending and solid free kicks. They easily won their semi-finals and turned in a great match in the finals."

Framing it in the future-perfect tense results in, "Imagine that it is the day after the next FIFA World Cup. Who will have won?" You might also say France, but notice that right away your mind is drawn to answering why did France win? The easiest way to put your mind at ease it to answer that question. And the more detail you put into answering the question, the better you feel.

The end result is often more like, "France was the unlikely winner after a grueling set of matches played over several weeks. Their goalkeeper was spectacular in the first round, establishing the French team as the team to beat. In the quarter-finals, the French goal keeper made more than 12 saves, giving his team confidence to aggressively and relentlessly attack Brazil, resulting in the lone and deciding goal in the 80th minute of play. The aggressive play continued in the semi-finals, where the French outscored Argentina 3 to nil. Finally, the combination of aggressive attacking and continued brilliant goal tending allowed the French to beat Mexico 2 to 1 in the finals."

It is important to note that in both cases we can see plausible explanations of how the future will unfold. The second example, however, contains the rich and detailed explanations of the future that you can leverage to better understand your customers' definition of success.
  • Encourage customers to work any way they choose, either individually or as a team.

During the presentation phase, give a few minutes for each person to describe his or her answers. Then explicitly invite other participants to comment on this particular version of the future.

Processing the Results

The primary processing step for this game is to compare your current product development road maps with your newfound understanding of how your customers perceive their future. The following areas are worthy of exploration:
  • To what extent do your road maps result in a product that meets your customers' perceptions of their future requirements?
  • To what extent do your customers' -vision of their future significantly alter your plans? How? Why?


This excerpt comes from Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play by Luke Hohmann, published by Addison-Wesley Professional, Copyright 2007 Luke Hohmann