Innovation Velocity

Developing Agile Innovation Leadership through Gaming

by Simon Evans and Victor Newman

The Problem with Innovation

Fighting the Last WarIt is a truism that armies tend to continue to fight their last war and need to go through bitter learning experiences before they can understand and adapt to the new, emergent rules of conflict. Present innovation thinking is constrained by legacy successes achieved within a context of unsustainable economic market growth patterns and obsolete models.

This recession is heightening a natural fear of risk and failure, which combined with a perception of increasing innovation difficulty (as highlighted by the Boston Consulting Group reviews in the past couple of years), is encouraging management caution toward innovation. This is reducing leaders’ ability to recognise, understand and manage the full range of options available, and this is slowing the pace of innovation (innovation velocity).

We need some new tools to help us deliver approaches to innovation that better suit the emerging realities of the 21st century environment.

Introducing Gaming as a Tool

We propose to use gaming as a tool in this context.

Thierry HenryWinning sports teams work on individual players’ kinesiology (ability to manoeuvre) and on ‘plays’ that integrate team movement to gain advantage, at pace. Just as the great team players have to develop peripheral vision, the ability to spot the gap in the opposition defence, and change the way they play within the game, great innovative organisations need to become better than their last approach to innovation, with the ability and agility to customise and integrate options as they emerge, in real-time.

Can we develop leaders’ innovation agility by widening their options and building their ability to exploit a greater range of freedoms to innovate through a similar form of ‘gaming’?

Considering innovation as a game could help us move forward again by allowing us to test and broaden our leadership skills in a competitive and fun environment without the risks associated in trying things out for real! Such a game would have to act in two ways:

  • As a diagnostic tool to help us visualise and review our legacy positions and highlight any areas of inadequacy
  • As a means of developing a competitive leadership ability to rapidly construct and test a radical new Innovation Architecture that fits within an emerging market

By introducing a competitive game into our analysis of innovation capability, players can be gently pushed into novel thinking, broaden their options and find new freedoms to innovate. Accelerated learning from game playing is widely accepted now as an effective tool, and the serious games market is now worth some billions of dollars. There is an opportunity to help innovation leaders develop their agility using this paradigm.

Agile Innovation Leadership

So what characteristics are we looking for in an Agile Innovation Leader which will make them successful in the game? The primary role of the leader is:

“To enable an environment which can create great ideas, rapidly develop them to the highest possible potential value, and then to maximise the realisation of their value in the market.”

Effectively, they need to manage the whole idea lifecycle which we can picture as follows:

Agile Innovation Leadership

By considering the processes and people needed to support the four main activity types in this model – creativity, development, value realisation and leadership, the great leader is able to construct chains of capability which will create ideas and carry them from left to right in the model in the most efficient way. If we can model these within a game, we have a tool that can help explore new ways of innovating.

The key elements which the leader needs to consider in order to do this are:

  • Having few restrictions on freedoms to innovate (F2i) – basically having no constraints on the tools and approaches they can use, for example looking externally for inspiration
  • Maximising the return on investment in innovation (ROI2) – obviously balancing the investment costs against the returns
  • Developing innovation velocity to optimise time to market – being nimble and agile enough to go to market at the right time
  • Proactively constructing opportunities to innovate – there is no free lunch here! A sticky corporate culture can be a problem. Without proactive intervention your ideas will not come flying in through the window (unless you are Alexander Fleming with a Petri dish!)

Of course In addition to this, innovation does not happen for free, you need to invest resources appropriate to the process. So what skills do you need?

We suggest that a combination of the following are needed to drive innovation:

  • Finance – obviously money is needed in many cases to fund an innovation process. Does you innovation strategy generate sufficient management faith that it gets the funds it needs?
  • People – many hands can make light work, do you have the manpower to make things happen?
  • Knowledge – be it tacit, explicit or emergent, knowledge underpins so much of our innovation capability – are you ready to act on key knowledge or is it lost or inaccessible to you internally or externally?
  • Relationships – becoming increasingly vital in these days of collaboration and open innovation – how good are your internal and external relationships? How much relationship capital do you have in the bank?
  • Innovation – the trickiest resource to define, but we probably all recognise those people or events that just spark new ideas all the time. You need to find these people and recognise their contribution.

Summary – Where do we go next?

Gaming ModelAt InnovoFlow, we believe that by assisting Innovation Leaders to visualise their innovation architectures using a game as a diagnostic tool, and then giving them an opportunity to exercise new approaches in a competitive environment, we can broaden their thinking, help them see innovation in a holistic way and grow their agility and freedoms to innovate.

An effective gaming model will provide leaders with a framework for articulating, discussing, exploring and testing alternative Innovation Architectures and practising the integration of key elements for successful innovation agility. A game gives people a shared vocabulary that they can use to clarify their discussions. In our experience, many valuable, insightful and often amusing stories are generated as players relate the game outcomes to real experiences – generating powerful learning.

Victor Newman Simon EvansVictor
Newman is an int
ernationally renowned innovation and knowledge management consultant, lecturer and author of “The Knowledge Activist’s Handbook“. Simon Evans is an experienced consultant with many years service in the global Pharmaceutical market and a track record of developing innovative business solutions. Together they founded InnovoFlow Ltd in late 2008.

Victor Newman




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No Comments

  1. Erica Hurley on October 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I have heard a little about your ‘shark’ game / exercise and would like to find out more.
    Perhaps you could come to Warwick to run it for our members? Please let me know. Thanks!

  2. Victor Newman on October 21, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Hi Erica,

    I am up for it. Here’s my email:


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