What have the following things got in common? Weasels, the San Jose public budgeting process, bootstrapping, disposable software, games and mods of games, figure skating, and a Nike sprinter show falling apart after reaching the 100m line? Well, it’s Luke Hohmann they have in common.
I learned an awful lot from Luke. Years and years ago I attended one of his Innovation Games trainings and while I really really liked it, it took me years to realise what I really learned. For me, personally, this was the event that finally made me decide to leave the developing world towards the product or business side of the world. This event moved a switch in my head.
But what I really realised years later was that I really groked games, game design and above all, I had learned how to facilitate. Luke is so deep into „designing“ his games that never is it by chance if Luke stands, sits, is in the middle of the room, or in a corner or if he even tears apart some game thing that hangs on the wall. Even designing the simple name tags in the beginning of a class is transformed into a designed game, when Luke does it.
But Luke got carried away by the games he found. He bootstrapped an enterprise software company that produced a platform for playing a serious games framework at massive scale. Several thousand payers do not bother him. Scaling world wide also does not bother him. No problem seems to be deep for him to tackle. And this then led Luke to extend his activities to facilitating public budgeting rounds, which he started in San Jose. Also, he applies his framework to education. Who knows what’s next?
This interview really is a rollercoaster all over the place and also contains really personal stories on why Luke chose the path he chose and what led him. You can see from the show notes how far and deep we went. I’d really urge you to listen to the end. The interview gets even better as longer as we sat together. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did and you learn much as I learned!
0:03:00 Chapter one: What are Serious Games, Innovation Games?
What are Serious Games?
„You play a serious game not for pleasure but to have a business outcome. Innovation games are a collection of different games as we have different business problems to solve. A game has four components: (1) It has a goal, something you want to achieve. (2) It has a set of resources and rules and interactions, (3) it has a space or a field of play (4) a way to keep score Why Luke calls games frameworks nowadays.
10:52 The role of fun (or not) in Serious Games; Facilitating Games; (Designing) Games as a way to give permission
17:15 Details matter: A pencil without an eraser „If you want me to engage in the act of design, then don’t give me a pencil without an eraser.
18:20 Explaining the „Speed Boat“ game as an example, how it can be applied (e.g. as a technique for team retrospectives or identifying improvement potential in products. Games have the potential to de-personalize feedback and critique and thus make feedback more acceptable and actionable
0:23:30 Chapter 2: Applying Innovation Games
23:30 Scrum as a game and changing the rules of a game; Modding games is great and the goal; When you learn innovation games, you learn modding them
28:23 Modding Monopoly as an example why modding makes sense 31:18 Innovation games as a way to discover why and intent and why you don’t send bug reports to Richard Stallmann
34:12 Scaling organisations w/ Innovation games „It’s not the picture on the wall that drives behaviour, but it’s the picture in the head that drives behaviour. That means: You gotta change the picture in the head before you change the picture on the wall.“
35:42 Using the „Buy a feature“ game to discuss portfolios „Any performing executive team will always have more ideas than it is able to fund. So the question becomes „how to pick?“. So McKinsey has the following rules and you want to listen to McKinsey and not Agilists. McKinsey says: pass one - do ROI. Get rid of the projects that are not attractive for ROI - that’s easy. But you still gonna have too many. The second pass: Look at the passion and interests of the team. Now, how do we get to the passion and the interest of this team? Well, we have this game!“
39:28 Explaining great experiences is hard: „Reading about riding a bike is not riding a bike“
41:58 - An example of shrinking a portfolio of 38 projects to 6 „There is no way a human being can keep and compare 45 things in his head. I will do better then I put them on the board“
0:48:24 Chapter 3: Scaling Innovation Games in several dimensions & Luke, The Entrepreneur
48:24 Scaling games to gigantic size: (1) Scaling for magnitude of the problem. From market research to internal use to use in agile organisations (2) Scaling the number of participants: From few in person to several thousand online (3) Scaling in industry, e.g. the Austrian Chamber of Commerce (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich) „Really, is my Scaling Agile book that I’m supposed to follow really more than 400 pages?“ „You’re reading these books on Agile and they’re anything but. It’s like I’m reading the top ten books on Agile and they outweigh me“
55:16 Entrepreneurship - building an enterprise software company without venture capital funding, Adventures of bootstrapping.
0:59:04 Chapter 4: Personal Choices & the power of collaboration in wicked problems
59:04 Getting personal - choices in life: Figure skating as first exercise in latching onto something without compromise. The way of the weasel. Latching onto something and sticking to it. Not chasing the easy way, but the only way possible. „So, yeah, I thought: I’m gonna live like a weasel for a rest of my life“
65:01 The power of collaboration - „I really do believe - and it’s not just Luke, it’s also my team and people like you in our network - we really do believe that collaborating teams are the best hope we have for solving the problems we face“ „Teams are everywhere, Teams are the foundation of our work in the future“ A list of books (links below): Team of Teams Team Genius The Silo Effect Exponential Organisations The Connected Company
1:06:51 Extending games to public matters, like funding and budgeting decisions for the public: Every Voice engaged foundation 1:11:16 Games in education, on the example of middle school 1:15:16 Not the easiest way to live, but the most satisfying. The Weasel way again. More examples by Luke and Henry Rollins
1:20:56 The importance of the support of others and support in success
1:25:33 „And So I’ve stopped talking to VCs“ and what Luke still learned from VCs
1:32:22 Chapter 5: Concepts - self application of games, disposable software, extrinsic vs. intrinsic quality, strategy frameworks as the next tipping point
1:32:00 Self applying the cure to the Luke’s company so that everyone knows the experience to the companies’ benefit.
1:36:45 Disposable Software 1:39:02 Release quality, intrinsic quality, extrinsic quality
1:39:45 „They improved quality so much that they lost all innovation.“ „You know, the guy who built Flappy Bird, I don’t know if he had green bar automated tests. Did he have an automated production pipeline? CI/CD? No, I doubt it. He was just a kid having some fun. And he built an incredibly high extrinsic quality App. Now, I don’t know about the level of intrinsic quality … and the point is: It doesn’t matter.
1:42:28 Why the ideal Sprinter shoe should fall apart after exactly 100m
1:46:28 Strategy frameworks on the tipping point: The Ansoff Matrix - an early approach on strategy „As we move from physical labor to knowledge work - and we continue to move down knowledge work - these (strategy & problem solving) frameworks are the next tipping point and it’s really fundamental“
Links and Notes
Books and resources by Luke Hohmann
Organizations andPeople mentioned and more resources
Dave Gray - Liminal Thinking
To be honest, doing this podcast is the treat of all treats I am giving away to myself. Already in the small, tiny history of this podcast – this has been an opportunity for me to connect and re-connect to all these people who’s ideas and work are so important to me, mean a lot to me and really changed the way I think and work. And now, for this episode, I’ll talk to Dave, Dave Gray.
And there’s a funny story that connects me with Dave and I mean that literally. Years ago, I already read - and applied - Dave’s earliest book Gamestorming. And to an even wider degree I sucked in his book „The Connected Company“ - which I think is one of the most brilliant descriptions of the change that companies will have to face when they want to keep up in the … I don’t know how to call it … maybe, digital era. But really, while I loved these books, I did not know at all who Dave is.
One day, though, Jabe Bloom, now working with Praxis Flow, introduced me to Dave and suggested we’d have to talk. At the time, Dave was interviewing people for his new book. And so we met on Skype and talked. At the end, I asked Dave what the book will be all about and Dave said, he wouldn’t yet know.
And then, roughly mid last year, his new book came out and it stunned me: The book is called “Liminal Thinking”.
And from my perspective it is the distilled and abstracted learning of all these interviews that Dave took. Rather than explaining how people and companies have to change, what this book explains is how each one of us has to change and work on himself to have an impact on our environments. At least if we want to be happy at work, keep people happy at work, want to have the right direction of impact or … just want to be happy.
While being not the thickest of books, it is a read that I would recommend to take in small steps and really enjoy - and also take all the challenging exercises.
Dave is a guy of many facets. At the core, it seems to me, he is driven by finding ways to influence the world of work to be a better place. Since early on he was driven by looking for tools that help people to get a better understanding of what is going o around him.
Since being a kid he is working on visualization of context and he treated this as an art form. Along the way, he discovered games as a meaningful form of understanding.
In 1993, he founded XPlane, a company that helps companies to understand and, well explane, you guess it, mainly by ways of visualizing.
00:03:08 What Is Liminal Thinking
Punk & Rap & R&B; Thresholds; Transitions
00:08:28 Changing yourself to impact your environment rather than changing others
The dog story - The way you look at the situation influences the outcome; „We underestimate how much our beliefs about another individual tend to create the behavior we expect“
00:19:23 How Dave’s latest book „Liminal Thinking“ was conceived and written
It started as a missing book on Agile and become something different. The process of extending and abstracting the message (by extending the research)
00:30.13 The structure of „Liminal Thinking“ and why it works
00:34:32 How things that are good for you don’t always feel good
on the example of „Liminal Thinking“ being on the brink of nearly not being written at one time and the catharsis of re-re-revising the book again and again.
00:41:13 How Dave Gray discovered and developed the art form of visualization
and how that helps him and even drives and carries his own company.
“What we can draw is always ahead of what we can make. We have to be able to draw it before we can make it. Not everything that can be drawn can be created or done. But: If it can’t be drawn it can definitely not be done.“
„To me that (visualization) is my art.“
„The polite way to say NO is „sorry, I don’t understand that“
0:48:30 How visualization can help communication and overcome the effects of the telephone game in companies
and thus align companies over strategy and other concepts. The journey to visualize is even more important than the effect of having the visualization. Visualization helps communicate and come up with the right questions.
If you liked this issue, please make sure you give this podcast a five star rating or any other form of appreciation. Also, I am always happy for any comments sent to me on any of the available channels. Thanks for listening in and I hope to have you as my guest again for my next show.