As the late management guru Peter Drucker maintained, “Innovation is the specific tool of the entrepreneur.” A big challenge for every business, though, is how to drive engagement in innovation beyond the startup phase.
Innovation expert Stefan Lindegaard believes social-media gamification is the answer. “Social media has a key role to play in helping engage people once you’ve got their initial attention,” he writes in his new book, Social Media for Corporate Innovators and Entrepreneurs: Add Power to Your Innovation Efforts. “Many people might visit your community page or Like your Facebook page after seeing a tweet, for example, but how do you sustain that initial interest so they come back again and again and become active, committed members of your community? One increasingly popular strategy is gamification.”
Gamification is the technical term for applying game-design characteristics to content and applications that aren’t games. Typical gamification elements include such things as achievement badges, achievement levels, leader boards, virtual currency, points that can be traded or cashed in and progress bars or other visual meters to encourage people to complete a task.
Lindegaard cites research by Gartner, which predicts that more than half of all companies which manage innovation processes will gamify those processes by 2015.
“Some companies will want to test gamification with employees before taking it to a broader ecosystem,” he writes. Lindegaard describes how The Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research group, uses social-media gamification for generating ideas about possible future scenarios: Participants tweet their messages and are rewarded with points and badges.
“Game mechanics can encourage employees to dip their toes into new activities,” he says. “Gamification has the potential to eliminate cultural or status biases that can skew outcomes. For instance, when higher-ranking employees (i.e., bosses) dominate discussions about innovation projects, other no-less-valuable voices may not be heard or given equal weight. Innovation games can help avoid these mistakes.”
Gamification can also encourage collaboration and constructive competition. Take the case of Venture Spirit, an online business game that engages hundreds of people and invites them to work together to solve innovation challenges. Lindegaard details how the company grew out of the “Battle of Talents,” an annual student competition to discover Belgium’s most promising entrepreneurial talents. Since the formation of the company in 2010, leading companies have used the Venture Spirit concept to tackle their specific innovation and cultural challenges.
The results are impressive. In three short years, over 1,800 students have experienced entrepreneurship, 300 business plans have been generated and several startups have been born. Great results are being achieved with only a small initial investment.
“From the start, Venture Spirit was designed to be a game,” Lindegaard says. “Gamification is really the key to success. Call upon people’s basic instincts, give them the freedom to operate, let them experience and enjoy and create winners!”
For Venture Spirit, organizers define participant roles based on the different types of people needed to innovate successfully:
1. The creative entrepreneur. This person is the initiator and spots the opportunity at the start, but does not necessarily have the capacity or capability to develop it further.
2. The talent. This person wants to participate, has no initial idea, but is skilled at elaborating and implementing ideas.
3. The investor. A technical or industry expert, or perhaps a senior manager, who is able to judge ideas, and can give useful feedback to teams and invest in potential winners.
They also define a results-oriented path that brings ideas from new to good and retains interaction and engagement for three months. An econometric business model ensures that the business case with the greatest potential tops the rankings at the end of the game.
“Venture Spirit engages people, it’s fun and brings out the best in every participant,” says Lindegaard. “It encourages people to go that extra mile and to overcome all existing boundaries because they want to win.”
“Innovation is a people business,” he goes on. “How do you challenge people and keep them on board long enough to generate results? The basic psychological drivers of game dynamics can provide the answer. People want to be able to participate, express their own ideas, help to build a successful company, enjoy it and get recognition for it.”
Matthew E. May is the author of “IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.” He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are ‘elegant’ – a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.