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Serious Play – How the Best Companies Simulate to Innovate April 1, 2012

Posted by matthewsander in Creative leadership, Creativity, Design Thinking, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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Models are efficient tools of collaboration. So says Michael Schrage. His book, “Serious Play,” is about building many models, prototypes, simulations – and using these tools for all the learning, sharing, and forecasting they can provide.


“Serious Play” tackles the goals and pitfalls of modeling. It focuses on the diverse roles of modeling, and on the interplay between simulation, communication, and innovation. The book encourages rapid prototypes and simulations as tools to facilitate collaboration between groups. This is where “play” fits in. Collaboration, ideation, enhancement, and the simple fun of trying new things each have a role in the process “Serious Play” advocates.

Through anecdotes and case studies, Schrage explains modeling, simulating, and prototyping, and emphasizes how the three tools of “Serious Play” can promote collaboration between engineering, manufacturing, design and management. Numerous styles are mentioned, including: spreadsheets, 2D and 3D electronic drawings, sculpted models, printed prototypes, and manufactured prototypes. Costs and benefits are associated with each.

According to Schrage, creating value is the essence of the prototype. With each cycle of prototyping comes the opportunity to improve the quality of the product. More than just quality, however, rapid prototyping can allow a variety of different focuses. Improvements, cost reductions, and product enhancements can all be explored through iterations of the prototyping process.

Image of the rapid prototyping process encouraged by Schrage

"Think of the extra cycles as currency: each additional cycle can ‘purchase’ a product improvement, cost reduction, or a speedup.” (Schrage, P. 98)

While collaboration and value creation are each big picture goals of prototyping, many pitfalls also exist. These pitfalls can hinder the value of a prototype. “Serious Play” suggests avoiding models that have no inherent purpose, that fail to benefit a particular party, that are too elaborate to effectively use, and that fail to facilitate a discussion between different product teams. The book also argues that the value of each model should be considered and evaluated by realistic business metrics.


Schrage’s style is almost exclusively anecdotal. "Serious Play" is full of insightStories of product designers, modelers, and innovators blend together as the book progresses, and behind each story lies a hidden gem of insight. Each insight is as valuable as the last; creatively achieved, and relevant to the real world. Schrage argues effectively for the value prototypes bring to communication and collaboration, and for the value that cheap modeling has brought to the economics of business.

It isn't clear how every insight fits into the thesis of each chapterThe book’s value is in its insights. But while very insightful, it struggles with organization. At times the book loses itself in its anecdotes, and fails to thematically tie its insights together into coherent themes. Selected blurbs are blocked out of the page, and are as likely to agree with a poignant point as they are to summarize an anecdote, repeat a commentary, or make their own point. The problem with this is that, although the points are insightful in themselves, it becomes difficult for the reader to quickly grasp where each point fits into the bigger picture.

The book is a model built for communicating opportunities in modelingThe book seems determined to offer ideas for a multitude of scenarios, model types, and businesses, and in so doing loses some focus. However, the variety of business practices, prototyping styles, and methodologies help provide a examples, or if you will, a “model” for a large section of reader needs. The variety allows the savvy reader to re-read particular sections that may apply specifically to their business strategy, and to pick up general practice techniques as they go along. This should be beneficial to the sect of readers who are currently exploring prototyping within their business model, and for those of us interested in ideology that guides when, where and how we should prototype.

Fortunately for those of us “time-pressed” innovators, Schrage recognizes that “Serious Play” is not easy for everyone to quickly read and apply. He recommends that some of us instead read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Innovators,” or “The One Minute Modeler.” For the generalist, looking for tools to apply, I agree. However, to give us some quick tips, Schrage concludes his book with a “User Guide,” where he outlines specific steps that even the time-pressed can take to seriously play.


Tom Peters Essentials – Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate April 18, 2010

Posted by Ping Hay Lam in Creativity, Design Thinking.
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Named the “father of the post-modern corporation” by the Los Angeles Times, Tom Peters is the author of the bestseller, In Search of Excellence, published in 1982 and the book, Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, published in 2003.  Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate, captures the essence of business innovation from the previous Tom Peters’ books in redefining business thinking.  The main message that Peters conveys in the book is to have his readers “so pissed off” that they will do something after reading the book.  The book explores topics in the design of new business enterprise, systems, experiences, and branding.  Basically, “it is not optional” anymore to stay in the status quo and do business the same way it was in the last era.

As a student pretty much most of my life at this point, it is a bit hard for me to be really “pissed off” at the existing practices in companies that are exactly the same few decades ago and have not yet incorporated innovation and design into their core business models.  However, as a consumer, I do see how different firms have realized the importance of design and changed their value propositions to provide more innovative services and experiences during the last decades.  As Peters mentions in his book, the traditional business model “deals with one of your needs” while the new one “helps define who you are”.  One of the compelling arguments Peters make n the book is about designing women, the fact that men cannot design for women’s needs.  He uses a story, from his female architect friend, about the location of the laundry room in a house to illustrate the fact that men has traditionally neglected the needs for women in designing products and services that are shared by different genders in the society.  In his book, Re-imagine, he devotes an entire chapter that further elaborates on designing women as part of the new trends and markets nowadays.

The elements of design can also be seen in the presentation of book.  Unlike most business writing, Tom Peters uses a very informal and colloquial tone in his writing and incorporate different font sizes and colors to emphasize certain ideas in the book.  Each chapter starts with a list of contrasts comparing the business “was” and “is” and ends with a Top 10 To-Dos such that the ideas not just merely ideas but concrete actions which has made the book a very practical guide to business design.  For an “amateur” reader like me, who have not read a lot of design books, it was quite hard in the beginning to follow the flow of ideas in the book because the style is very different.  There are lots of figures, diagrams, and side notes.  But, with a little more effort in trying to understand the book, the message becomes very clear to me that it is necessary to “be weird” and different to invoke innovation and changes in people’s behavior and businesses.

Overall, I think that the book is a really good read because it provides a very good foundation on why and how to redesign business thinking in the 21st century.  The book is especially helpful for “novice” people who is interested in design in business but do not have a lot of exposures and ideas about design.  The birthday cake example, discussed in our Design as a Competitive Strategy class, was presented in the book to illustrate the change in the dynamics of value conceived by consumers.  The concept of bio-mimicry is also talked about in the book with the example of elephant dunk and termites to show how beautiful system could be.  The book, Design, also does an excellent job in summarizing all the important concepts in the previous book, Re-imagine, which goes into more detail explorations in innovating business through new context, technology, value, brand, markets, work, people, and mandate.  As a closing thought, here’s a quote from book on the staple of successful business:

“Stick your neck out.”

Creativity – A Primer December 7, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in Creativity, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI followed his his world renowned book Flow by Creativity: Flow and the Pyschology of Discovery and Invention.  This book is written from an academic viewpoint exploring finding from over 90 interviews with contemporary persons who have made major contributions to the fields of arts or sciences, business, government, or human well-being.  It is not an easy read, but I can see why it is considered one of the main primers for the study of creativity.

He explains the importance of successfully controlling one’s mental energy to achieve personal satisfaction and success in creative endeavors. In his analysis of cultural evolution, he noticed that there are circumstances which make cultural contributions possible: hope, recognition, training, opportunity, resources, expectations, and rewards.

Some of the lessons I took away focused on how to acquire creative energy.  His advice included developing curiosity and interests.  That may seem like a basic suggestion…however, he explains why it is so important in helping us see the world from new perspectives and finding intersections between disciplines.  He also encourages us to add surprise and wonder to our lives.  This is an emotion that we, as adults, are not as aware of now compared to when we were children.  He also makes general statements about embracing complexity and being comfortable in duality.

Many subsequent authors have quoted Creativity, and taken deeper dives into areas explored in these chapters.