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Playing Innovation Games at the Big Apple

The date was July 29th, 2009 and it was a rainy morning in New York City, I still remember that short walking across the Bryant Park with a couple of my team mates looking for breakfast before our long planned strategic workshop session with a worldwide renowned luxury brand in the hotel space. We end up having breakfast in “Pershing Square Cafe” that all-time classic restaurant under the bridge located on 42nd Street, directly across from New York’s famous Grand Central Terminal’s main entrance.

At the center of our strategy to get the most out of this great opportunity was the concept of “Innovation Games” which is a powerful technique based on collaborative dynamics that are extremely helpful to extract and project ideas, objectives, requirements, etc.

“Innovation Games are powerful qualitative research and problem solving techniques focused on the use of collaborative play with customers, colleagues, partners and the community at large. Used both in-person and online, the techniques include both open-ended and more focused methods for achieving actionable insights and results.”

Innovation Games were created by Luke Hohmann who is the Founder and CEO of The Innovation Games® Company. The author of three books, Luke’s playfully diverse background of life experiences has uniquely prepared him to design and produce serious games.

Our team decided to use four exercises in a specific order because they built on each other, extract different but complementary information, and round out the main information gathering elements of our strategic workshop session. For the purpose of this post I’ll refer to the prospect we were working for as “XYZ”.

We started first with the exercise that targets the most distant point in time “Remember the Future”, and then moved back towards the present with “Prune the Product Tree” and last our customer packaged their vision of the future and the resulting product tree in a “Product Box”. Finally, we close our workshop with the “Speed Boat” game to understand the key elements that will propel the success of the plans based in the previous games and also to identify and mitigate the “anchors” that could possibly prevent our customer to implement all the above.

Below is the detail of how we presented and develop the dynamic around each of the four innovation games used in our workshop:

Remember The Future

Imagine you are a hotel General Manager and it is two years from now, you have been continuously using XYZ’s products and services. Now, go even further 3 years from now…

Write down on your post-it’s, in as much detail as possible, exactly what XYZ’s product and services will have done to make you successful and happy.

Prune The Product Tree

What kind of tree best represents XYZ’s products and services

    • A fast growing cottonwood?
    • A slow but steady oak?
    • A fruit-bearing tree?
    • Does XYZ provide Shade? Comfort? Beauty?
    • What kind of tree would our customers pick? Why?

What is the ideal product & services portfolio for XYZ?

    • Potential for market disruption
    • Brainstorming on potential on new services
    • Achieve a common understanding of the “ABC Hotel Distribution Platform” capabilities and its applicability to XYZ
    • Possible Customer Segmentation

Product Box

Imagine you are selling XYZ’s product and services at a retail outlet

    • Use your cardboard box to design the product box that you would buy
    • The product box can contain anything you want –marketing slogans, fact sheets, pictures, price points, benefits, etc.

When finished use your box to sell the product to you and the other people in the room

Speed Boat

Draw a boat on the whiteboard or flipchart

    • You’d like the boat to really move fast. Unfortunately, the boat has a few anchors holding it back.
    • The boat is XYZ, and the characteristics or issues that its customers don’t like are the anchors

Write down on your yellow post-it’s what you don’t like and place it under the boat as an anchor. You can also estimate in the post-it how faster the boat would go if that anchor was cut.
Optionally, write down on your blue post-it’s the enablers or key success factors that will help the boat speed up along with the anchor that will be removed.

The Outcome

The workshop execution was flawless, the participants were extremely open and collaborative and at the end of session we could point out as a wrap up the following outcomes:

  1. Better understanding of the key business drivers for XYZ in order to jointly explore emerging business models related to distribution and provisioning of services where our company could provide value.
  2. Brainstorm possible “out-of-the-box” revenue and partnership models that help create value and a shared competitive advantage.
  3. Jointly estimate the market potential advantages in terms of projected revenue, market share, and service-focus provided by our partnership.
  4. Define the strategic roadmap that includes deployment and business leverage of the solution we were offering to XYZ.
  5. Review the product and discuss the rollout plan.
  6. High level business case taking into consideration the revenue models.


Personally this was one of the most challenging professional experiences since it required an enormous planning and preparation effort to bring to life a workshop based on a concept I discovered in a conference about the business of software in 2008, thus convincing my peers to apply this concept to an strategic workshop that at the same time was an important part of our sales strategy to capture this prospect was something that definitely required a lot of persuasion and trust among the team.

That is a day I will always remember, especially when I was walking back to my hotel and spend a great time laying down on the grass of the beautiful Bryant Park, enjoying the moment of that temporary victory and thinking on the next steps to process the massive amount of information we gathered in the workshop, but the most important thing in that specific moment for me while I was feeling the grass in my back and hands was to think in that great quote:

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” – Vince Lombardi