Outside Innovation Starts With Inside Innovation

Outside innovation is a systematic process for sourcing, evaluating, and driving ideas through to funding and measuring success but it starts with understanding your internal innovation process.

Innovation is an important topic for most companies, it is the essential source of new products, new markets, and even new business models. Outside innovation has been a topic that many companies have been exploring involving customers and partners in the innovation process and holds the promise of enormous returns for small investments. P&G has been a leader in open innovation and sources over 33% of it’s products from outside parties like educational institutions, customer communities, and the social web. Outside Innovation though is not easy and can only be a sustainable success when it works in concert with internal business processes and internal stakeholders.

Successful outside innovation then relies upon understanding your internal innovation process and ecosystem and then creating appropriate interfaces to outside parties. Understanding internal innovation itself can be a challenge as it is often a tacit process and a shared understanding amongst specific teams so it is useful to have a framework to use as a starting point. In this case the generic innovation process serves as a good starting point.

The generic innovation process:

  • Fuzzy Front End
  • Opportunity identification
  • Problem Definition
  • immersion in the problem and incubation
  • Idea generation and exploring options
  • prototyping solutions
  • testing, measurement and iteration

When thinking about involving outside parties in these stages it is important to understand each require different kinds of thinking, behaviour, motivation and measures of success. When externalising this process through outside innovation participants are not under direct control and require intrinsic motivation to participate meaningfully in each stage. Companies that approach open innovation with a customer free-for-all are often flooded with unstructured ideas and feedback with weak ties to business goals. The goal of the outside innovation process is to provide a systematic way to help channel and motivate participation appropriately to support the goals of each stage of the process.

The open innovation process is continually iterative and helps identify successful participation at each stage by identifying particular individuals who are intrinsically motivated by specific stages of the process. This provides a framework for inviting users that enjoy and are particularly suited to each kind of challenge or activity. This combined with appropriate internal participation will help create a direct connection between internal innovators work, business goals and external activity.

The starting point for formulating an open innovation process in your own organisation is identifying the innovation leaders that already exist and identify your own internal innovation processes. This will form the foundation for understanding the existing internal innovation process which is the first step in being able to integrate outside innovation.

Posted in Design, Strategy | 4 Responses

We All Like To Play

Part of VW’s TheFunTheory Project. 66% of people chose the stairs over the escalator.

Via Fiona Long’s eclectic PostApocalypticWomble

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Angry Birds: 2010 best serious game award!

A frequent issue with serious games (games not designed with the sole intent of entertaining) is their failing at being fun. Angry Birds, that one wouldn’t think of as a serious game, successfully meets both challenges of being engaging and educational.

The empirical method

Do you remember your high-school mechanics: forces, acceleration, parabolas, center of mass…? Many notions learnt (and understood ?) by means of equations, with a few illustrating schemas and baseball or football as labs.

What are the necessary qualities to perform at Angry Birds ? Ability to anticipate a trajectory, a collision and the following chain of interactions between the structure elements depending on their arrangement and respective forms and weights. Which amounts to saying that succeeding at Angry Birds requires a good command of the mechanics lesson, at least in an intuitive/empirical way.

Hacking the physics course

As a player is making progress into the game, he is confronted with challenges of increasing difficulty. Breaking levels can take a few to several attempts. The process by which a player is moving from failure to success can be decomposed into 4 steps :

  1. Observation phase : one throws the birds without a preestablished tactic and watches the result.
  2. Induction phase : one builds a world model, i.e. one forms a set of conjectures that enable accounting for one’s previous observations. In this particular case a mental representation of blocks’ solidity, structures’ stability, weak points…
  3. Prediction phase : relying on one’s mental model one can put together a tactic : which elements to target, in what order, with which birds depending on the anticipated consequences.
  4. Test phase : one implements its tactic. Either one succeeds and follows the same process at the next level, or one fails and then has to question his hypotheses, starting over at step 2.

This method is presicely the hypothetico deductive method, theorized during the 20th century. A method that science teachers are striving to instill to their students. Should Angry Birds enter the classroom then ?
As it is, Angry Birds is not an alternative to a proper course because it does not teach how to solve a physics problem. However little effort would be needed to surface the world’s equations, variables and constants. Allowing players to hack into the world physics and making it part of the gameplay would make of Angry Birds a powerful teaching tool.


Looking at Angry Birds under the angle of serious gaming inspires me two observations :

  1. To education authorities : at a time of declining interest for STEM curriculum, it might be profitable to understand why millions of people are having fun doing physics.
  2. To serious games designers : maybe designing good serious games requires a paradigm shift : instead of using games as a coat to a serious kernel, maybe learning should be seen as a by-product, an externality of core gaming experience…?

Josselin Perrus

Aka Nils Oj on the web. Trying to connect the dots: play, games, narration, UX design, social issues, activism

Twitter : @nonils

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Is putting a blog behind a pay wall a good idea?

I’m planning to put my content behind a paywall soon and was interested in getting some feedback. I’ve been posting since 2003 and over the years the motivation to participate has wained. I’ve found that posting original content online has risks associated with it both professionally and personally which no advertising model could support. Also an ad supported model requires a great deal of traffic and popularity which has always been a distracting aspect for any blogger when it becomes part of the success criteria.

In many ways the paywall is insurance against the uneven returns on originality which is sporadic. I also hope to encourage more creators of interesting original content to guest post on this blog who I will be able to assure some return on their great effort. For example see this deep and thoughtful article on scaling game narratives from a friend I met on twitter.

The future of content for this blog will be focused on original work about narrative, creativity, and innovation including games, psychology, modern-anthropology, creativity, innovation, and cultural trends.

Anyone interested in finding out how this direction goes, guest posting or commenting in the future please let me know either in the comments or email me at karl at karllong dot com.

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Narratives in games: the recipes of Alex Kennedy creator of Echo Bazaar

Attending the Playful conference in London last in september 2010 I had the chance to meet with Alexis Kennedy, founder of Failbetter Games, the editor of Echo Bazaar, a text game that has received much critical acclaim. He had very enlighting thoughts about how to articulate games and narratives.

To start with here is a comparison he made: “Some people call for better games by putting more narrative into the mix. But it is like saying that in order to make a better meal you just have to put more of this and more of that. The result is not only about the quantity of each ingredient. It’s actually more about the process and the techniques used to cook the meal.” I’ll try to explain how Alexis is attempting to figure out new ways to cook…

Emergent vs scripted games

Games can be divided into two groups that lies at both end of a spectrum. The more scripted a game is the less freedom of choice (FoC) it gives to the player. A perfectly scripted game would look like a movie. At the other end of the spectrum are emergent games where a set of rules govern interactions, but are open ended like open worlds. The area inbetween scripted and emergent games is a very little explored country that Failbetter Games is aiming at.

State transitions

What makes a scripted narrative powerful is that the state the character is in (physical/emotional/relational/… state) is always relevant to the way he handles event. Scripted games rely on states, and FoC introduces branching (see figure 1) : each new choice creates a new branch in the states graph. The issue is the growing complexity called combinatory explosion. This process of introducing more game into the narrative is intractable, it does not scale.

Some ways have been devised such as the introduction of mandatory states that form the backbone of the story with multiple branches inbetween (see figure 2). This way the complexity is only growing linearly with branching. However such techniques limit the depth of the game since it is always, to some extent, the same game that is played.

The sense of story

At the other side of spectrum, open worlds do not keep track of the state of a character. Characters wander subjected to random encounters/events (figure 5). However random events do not provide a sense of story at any level. A way to reintroduce some structured narrative is to inject scripted chains of events in the world (figure 4). These chains are followed by the character upon acceptation of a mission (in WoW or GTA).

However, a powerful story should develop at multiple levels. Consider quality TV dramas: a first narrative arc spans over one episode, a deeper intrigue bridges over a couple episodes, and third order narratives traverse a whole season or the whole show. Instilling disconnected chains of scripted events in open worlds does not get you further than first order narratives.

Loosely coupled narrative structures

Scripted games have strong narratives but do not scale with FoC, whereas emergent games have strong FoC but provide a weak dramaturgic consistency. Alexis devised techniques used in Echo Bazaar to combine FoC and narrative. The first is to get rid of states. Like stateless open worlds ? Not exactly : states are replaced with qualities, which are numeric values seen as representations/proxys that reflect the events the player went through, the choices he made and its evolution as a character. Depending on their nature events and choices increase or decrease some qualities values. A few examples of qualities: dangerous, watchful, persuasive, shadowy,… (play Echo Bazaar or check the wiki for more details).

The second technique is to modularize the narrative : qualities values give access and are modified by narrative structures called storylets (see figure 3′, and read the Failbetter blog to know more about them). These storylets are first order narratives.

Storylets are structurally independant one from another: beginning a storylet does not require that you finish any other specific one. Storylets availability is conditional on qualities values, which are altered by the storylets. Storylets are hence loosely coupled through qualities.

In Echo Bazaar some parts of the narrative world are unlocked when certain qualities reach a given threshold, classic. More unusual: some areas (i.e. some storylets) become inaccessible. You don’t get to go back and take a different path. Time is a one-way street and choices have consequences : they determine trajectories in the narrative world. For example, in the game, committing a murder makes you more likely to do it again, which might enable you to enter the mob and a whole new narrative territory unveils that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. Such bifurcation and reinforcement mechanisms enable higher order narratives.


Using techniques borrowed from the coding field (modularization, loosely coupled modules) Alexis has managed to create a game world that both scales and provides a sense of story, which can be achieved neither with scripted nor with emergent games (no judgement here of one being superior to another, they just are intrinsically different).

Josselin Perrus

Aka Nils Oj sur le web. Tombé dans le domaine du jeu en 2009 lors de l’opération The Fun Theory. Je m’intéresse aux mécaniques de jeu indépendamment du support : jeux de plateaux, jeux vidéos, social games ou jeux urbains…

Twitter : @nonils

You can also read the original article here in French.

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Why did Zynga Buy Flock

I was surprised to see the news that Zynga bought the social web browser Flock but it makes a lot of sense. I had previously thought that Zynga was so big that it might want to buy facebook, I obviously lacked their imagination as they have moved up the foodchain into the lofty realm of browser ownership. This is a bold move for the company but one that will pay off if they are able to encourage to get their users…. oh I forgot this is the company that has 80 million playing a game they launched last week. There’s no doubt about it, Zynga could become an internet superpower very quickly if they migrate users to it cost effectively and manage to compete with the google chrome or firefox experience. What do you think? Do they have a shot competing with google?

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The Best Games You Might Not Be Playing

This 10 best games of the year video from Tested is probably is one of the best “best of 2010″ item that i’ve seen yet. In this they show several games that are amazing in how games are pushing the interactive envelope. Particularly interesting were Shoboya which reinvents stacking, to the potentially infinitely recursive Game Dev Story (yep, a game studio sim which even includes bribing journalists as an action), to The Incident which you can play on your iPad while controlling with your iPhone and others. Games may be one of the biggest drivers of mobile innovation over the next few years.

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Multiplayer and Shared Learning Experience

With the recent success of so many multiplayer/social games and the emergence of the gamification of services it’s worth thinking about what makes multiplayer gaming so powerful. Games can be applied to anything and in many ways humans often make games where none existed just due to our amazing pattern recognizing abilities. Games and play are an old form of communication almost certainly pre-writing, possibly even pre-language, one could hypothesize that games themselves might be one of the oldest forms of cultural communication (especially when you see animals learning through play). In the case of multiplayer games they provide a shared space for play and learning. Not only are you learning the framework of the game but also how other players approach the game. Multiplayer games are also where teamwork and camaraderie emerge creating a community and culture around the game.

Multi-player video games have always been more challenging and fun for a longer period of time than single player games because humans make much better opponents and teammates than computers. When playing against or with people the motivation to learn and adapt is much more dynamic and often relentless. One of the challenges of course with multi-player games is that people who play them a lot will soon outclass other players and speed at which many players in competitive multiplayer games learn becomes a barrier to entry for novice players.

Many of the best experiences I’ve had with multiplayer games were actually on LAN games at internet startups after hours. These include Age of Empires, starcraft, warcraft, CounterStrike, and TeamFortress, all played by a small group that knew each other and essentially learned the game together. It was an incredibly compelling experience that often had people playing until the wee hours of the morning. What was compelling about it was certainly the game but it also came from the group dynamic that formed between the players.

In most internet based multiplayer games there was a learning experience was not shared but an individual struggle playing against all comers of all levels. Lord of the Flies comes to mind in many cases but there were some rare exceptions that hinted at a more collegial atmosphere. One example that sticks in my mind was from playing Quake online and after a pretty sound thrashing an opponent that was clearly bored with the weak competition offered to teach me the “rocket jump”. I then spent about 20 minutes getting shown around the map identifying previously inaccessible locations that you could get to by pointing the rocket launcher at the ground and a well timed jump.

In many ways the MMO’s and social games benefit tremendously from this shared learning experience. Look at examples like WOW, Minecraft, and even CityVille, these all enable shared learning experiences that connect the players above and beyond the game itself. There is a team dynamic or camaraderie that comes from these shared learned experiences but also a kind of competition that can only come from knowing the game deeply.

The guys at Zynga have benefited from this dynamic and in CityVille (I have not played the others) have provided a platform for an asynchronous multi-player game that provides some of the benefits of multiplayer without the need for synchronous activity. This is not unique to Zynga, asynchronous gaming was part of Facebook’s platform from the beginning, enabling annoyances such as zombies, werewolves, and vampires.

The interesting thing about CityVille though that in addition to asynchronous multiplayer gaming it also simulates synchronous multiplayer gaming. To give you an example I could visit someone’s town anytime and do some tasks like collecting rent, supplying shops and watering farms. When this player logs in they will see my icon over some location where I took an action and when they click on it my icon will travel around town doing the tasks I did when I was there.

Social networks themselves are in many ways like big multiplayer games and I think there are things to learn from the way in which people can connect through shared learning experience. Anyone thinking about design in this emerging social space should consider how features can blend asynchronous and synchronous aspects of the experience and the mechanics and how they apply to group dynamics and learning.

My earliest experience with multiplayer gaming started back with an Amiga 500, which had an extraordinary fighter pilot game, which had a deep single player game itself but also had a head to head option. Basically you needed two Amiga 500′s connected by a 9600 baud null modem cable (this took some footwork, no internet yet). I was in the Army at the time in Germany and luckily had a neighbor below me in the barracks with an Amiga so we got the cable and hung it out the window. With the machines connected you shared an airspace with the other player and played a head to head dog fight, it was thrilling to play against a real thinking competitor.

Anyone have other multiplayer game experiences to share? I’d love to hear them.

Also on the subject of multiplayer gaming I’m working on a twitter metagame and really interested in finding forward thinking designers and players to be involved.

I have some other posts on gaming you might like to check out as well:

  1. game mechanics and social game mechanics
  2. and a great video from ExtraCreditz on the Skinner Box and Operant Conditioning

Posted in Marketing | 5 Responses

Are Early Adopters Temporary Ties?

I posted a tweet yesterday inspired by the recent Details article on early adopters that generated a fair amount of conversation which was:

I then recently went through @padday’s presentation on social network design that provides some great examples of how relationships are scaled. In real life groups of friends are categorized in several different ways that overlays the strength of the connection in that connection.

In the context of business almost all customers start off as temporary ties, especially early adopters who are quick to move on once they’ve explored a product. This being the case the great challenge for organizations is how they can move temporary ties, to become weak ties, and possibly even strong ties, or evangelists as companies call them.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any thoughts.

Posted in Marketing | 2 Responses

Starting a Movement is Social Leadership

I wrote recently that about the next important step for organizations to learn on the social web is leadership. I had characterized it as cultural leadership inspired in many ways by Reed Hastings (the Netflix CEO) presentation on “Freedom and Responsibility in Culture” (my post on that Culture as Competitive Advantage).

This idea of social leadership keeps bringing me back to the How To Start a Movement TED talk that I keep coming across. What I think Derek Sivers really describes here is a tacit element critical community leadership or social leadership and that is how early followers are as a critical part of creating a movement as the initial leader. Think about this as an organization trying to create a movement online, it means the early followers are integral to the creation of that movement. In my opinion organizations are not generally differentiating between the small number that help them create a movement earlier and the late majority.

Some companies understand this, and certainly any blogger who’s been around the block will know this intuitively. I think for many this community building skill is just a tacit human skill that we don’t tend to identify as important in business.

There are of course many people out there who understand and describe this concept in many different ways like open leadership by Charline Lee, tummeling by Debs, Heathr, & KevinMarks, and I think it overlaps with the concept of social capital ( or Whuffie whuffie coined by Cory Doctorow and interpreted extensively by Tara Hunt).

I think people are learning these skills much faster than organizations are and in many ways that’s understandable, people learn tacit skills through and from each other and i think it’s yet to be quantified for organizations.

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