Using the Power of Games to Inspire Strategic Thinking
Listen to Episode 81:
Episode 81 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right across from me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. It’s always a pleasure to join you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. If this is your first time listening, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders like you to accelerate yourself − and your company − to the next level of growth and success.
So Pam, what’s our topic today?
Pam Harper: Using the power of games to inspire strategic thinking.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: One of the best ways to win in this highly competitive business environment is to change the game so that we’re redefining what’s possible.
Scott Harper: Okay, metaphorically at least. Yes.
Pam Harper: However, it’s easy to get tunneled and tracked by our habits of thought and action. We see this all the time.
Scott Harper: Oh yeah.
Pam Harper: That’s when games can be especially powerful. They can help us break out of the entrenched patterns that are so easy to fall into, especially regarding how we think about ourselves and the world. For example, in Episode 78, we applied the principles of Pokémon Go to find top talent faster. That was fun.
Scott Harper: Well, that’s right.
Pam Harper: Likewise, there are other games we can use to solve problems in new ways, collaborate at a higher level, and sharpen decision making. That’s why we’re happy to have as a returning guest today, Shari Spiro, CEO and founder of AdMagic and Breaking Games. They are one of the largest and most successful independent printers in the US of tabletop games, including the wildly popular Cards Against Humanity and other customized playing cards and board games. Since its launch in 1998, AdMagic has manufactured and printed cards, customized poker chips, and board games for a host of household names and brands, including HBO, Delta Airlines, The Wall Street Journal, Symantec, Ford, Walt Disney, the Luxor Hotel and Wynn Hotel in Vegas, Air BnB, LinkedIn, Game of Thrones, Garth Brooks, Tom Hanks, and even the CIA. It’s a huge range.
Scott Harper: Yes it is.
Pam Harper: Shari was first our guest on Episode 22: What Does it Take to Lead a Growth Company. Since that time, her company has continued to dramatically grow and win numerous awards. In fact, most recently, Shari was honored as a winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 New Jersey award. You can see all of these awards and more by going to Shari’s bio on growthignitersradio.com, Episode 81 and scrolling down to Resources.
Shari, welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio.
Shari Spiro: It’s a pleasure to be back.
Pam Harper: Congratulations again on that EY award.
Shari Spiro: Thank you so much. That was truly an eventful evening and something I’ll never forget.
Pam Harper: Oh, it had to be. We’re glad to have you back. So much has been going on since the last time we spoke. In fact, we’re seeing all kinds of things in magazines about games.
Scott Harper: Yes, and the power of games. Recently I read an article in Wired called Game Your Brain – The New Benefits of Neuroplasticity. It was talking about how games can be used not just for amusement and fun − and we all do that and that’s good − but they actually affect the brain in people of all ages. This article focused on people who have had brain injuries and brain damage and various illnesses − strokes and so on − but we all know that stimulating the brain on a regular basis can really take us to new levels of thought and new abilities. A lot of us have seen ads for Luminosity, or have even used it, as you and I have, Shari. That takes us to the idea of, if playing games stimulates the brain, what can we do in a work environment that will take advantage of this that will give us more skills that are really relevant to work?
Shari Spiro: I see a lot of companies using strategic gaming for team building and for team interaction to help their team solve problems, to enhance creativity and collaboration. In fact, one of my clients is called The Brand Deck, and it can be found at www.branding.cards; what they do is they force the team, and of course the CEO, to sit down and look at their company from a different perspective. It’s a very, very simple concept but brilliant. They have numerous adjectives on the cards to describe the company, and so when the team takes a card, it’ll have a word like “innovative,” and they’ll be asked to put it in one of two columns: “This describes our company” or “This doesn’t describe our company.”
What they wind up with at the end is a true description of what they want to be. It may not be what they are, but it gives them a direction that says, “what does this company want to be? What qualities does this company want to embrace? What culture does this company want to build on?”
Pam Harper: How does using cards like this actually enrich the process, as opposed to say, just sitting around a table and doing it without?
Shari Spiro: Well, the interesting thing is that most people don’t know how to brainstorm. The truth of the matter is, when you’re brainstorming, you’re not supposed to throw away any idea. Every idea is supposed to be a good one. It may not be right for the company, but they’re all good ideas. Even if an idea isn’t correct, it’ll bring it back around maybe in another way. What The Brand Deck in particular does is start that process.
There are other types of game play that I’ve seen and heard about that are used for team building and problem solving. Actually, believe it or not, one of the top guys in Kickstarter has gone to different offices and run a game, almost like a professional game, of Dungeons and Dragons, where the team has interacted in a different way. It promotes a different kind of interaction, and then it leads to more creativity and more collaboration. When a team is creative and they collaborate, they can solve problems more easily because there’s already an open dialogue.
Scott Harper: So gaming gives you permission to unhinge your brain a little bit and knock it out of the rut of “this is how we do our work; this is how we think about our business,” and can really set you on to a new track. “Oh, all of a sudden, I’m thinking of things that I hadn’t thought of before in a different context.” That’s the basis of creativity.
Pam Harper: So Shari, do you see that there’s a trend, maybe, towards more of these kinds of games in the future?
Shari Spiro: Well we do have quite a few that we’ve manufactured. We do corporate games for another client that they strategically develop. We assist in the manufacturing. We assist in the production, but we don’t necessarily develop the corporate game from scratch unless the client comes to us. Some of them come to us with games already put together; I have seen a trend towards board games. For example, we did one for Intel, we did one for AT&T, where they bring games in and they use them to introduce the team to new methods, new methodologies. They’re coming into a new change, and rather than just giving them a rule book or a handbook, they say, “let’s play this game and you’ll see how this new operation is going to work.”
Scott Harper: Okay, so modeling.
Shari Spiro: Modeling − exactly. Most recently, we’ve done a couple of those, and I do think that it’s becoming very popular because they keep coming back with more. Apparently, they work.
Now I know in our company, we play a lot of games around here. We play test a lot of games, and so we see the breakdown of the games and the strategy helps to change the way that people think and interact, as I mentioned before.
For example, we have a game right now called Game of 49; it came out in Target. Game of 49 is the kind of game you can play from a smart 8 year old all the way up to seniors. The way Game of 49 works is very simple. The end goal is to get 4 chips in a row, either horizontally or vertically or diagonally. That’s a pretty common end goal in a game, but the way this game works is you start out with $49. There are 49 squares on the board. Every time you lay a token down on the board, you receive $7 when there’s a payout, but in order to get spaces on the board, it’s an auction. The number goes up for bid, and everyone has to decide whether or not they’re going to strategically hold on to their money, or they’re going to spend so that when a payoff comes, they’re going to get more money and get ahead of everyone, so that when that last space that they want comes up for a bid, they have more money than everyone else and they can get it.
What happens at the end, if you have 3 in a row and somebody sees that you’re going to get 4, all of the other players have to bid on that space all of the money that they have if they want to keep you from winning. Your strategy throughout the game is a little bit of give and take. It’s budgeting, so you’re budgeting. You’re trying to plan, but at the same token, there’s a little bit of chance. You’ve got to respond to whatever life throws at you.
It really is a synopsis of what life has to offer, right? You have to guess how other people are going to respond to what you’re going to do. That’s problem solving. Then you have to be creative in that you need to be able to figure out what your plan is. Do you want to try and get 4 in a row right off the bat, and just hold out for that? In a sense, even though it’s not open collaboration, when a player is poised to win, all of the others share the common goal of preventing this win and extending the game so that they all have a chance to win later.
Scott Harper: So a little simulated commodities brokering − very interesting.
Pam Harper: That is. Clearly games can be more than just fun, and to me, anything that stimulates our imagination and brings us into new conversation and problem solving can break all of these established patterns of how we see ourselves and the world. That can lead to powerful new decisions and results.
We’re going to take a quick break now, and when we come back, we’ll speak more with Shari Spiro, CEO and Founder of Ad Magic, about a few of the games you can use to think differently about problem solving, collaboration, and decision making. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We focus on enabling visionary leaders to dramatically increase momentum for game changing results. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Does the topic we’re talking abut today resonate with you? Well we have more. Check out related episodes to expand your perspectives and take away immediately useful ideas. Go to growthignitersradio.com select Episode 81, and scroll down under resources.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Shari Spiro, CEO and Founder of AdMagic and Breaking Games, about using the power of game playing to inspire strategic thinking and other positive business behaviors.
Shari, how can people find out more about you, AdMagic, and Breaking Games?
Shari Spiro: They can go to www.admagic.com or www.breakinggames.com.
Pam Harper: We will also have a link to this on growthignitersradio.com, Episode 81.
We were starting to talk in the first segment about some of the games that really are powerful for bringing out new types of thinking. You were saying that you have a number of these; let’s talk about a few more.
Shari Spiro: Well, very interesting is the tendency for people to want to get away from their smart phones and their computers and to get back to interaction with people, because most of us are tied up on a computer or a phone or an iPad all day long. Every day we compete for likes, and we take pride in the constant consumption of random internet facts. No one meal is eaten that isn’t photographed. No puppy is patted without adding it to our day’s story. We really lose ourselves in these super computers that we keep in our pocket. A lot of times we forget the people around us.
We have a game called Game of Phones, not to be confused with Game of Thrones. It takes you away from behind the privacy of your screen and opens up your wit, your social tactics, and your quick thinking and humor, and it combines them into a unique game of smart phone skills.
Pam Harper: Now this is a board game, right?
Shari Spiro: This is a card game that you use with your smart phones. At its core, it’s very much like Cards Against Humanity in that there is a judge in each round. The challenge is for you to read the judge and then to solve each prompt in a way that will make them laugh the hardest, cry the longest, or cringe the strongest. You must know your opponents a little bit in order to find better content and connect faster.
For example, the judge will pull a card and it will say “Show us the last picture you took before we started this game.” Everyone will search their smart phones and display a picture. However, pure knowledge isn’t going to win you this. You’ve got to have a creative response. It’s got to be something that’s going to entice the judge to pick your picture. If the judge chooses you, you get to keep the card. The one with the most cards at the end of game play is the winner.
Scott Harper: Okay so this is really a very business relevant because it’s picking up on being able to read character, read a person’s mood, and have a feeling for what is going to connect with them.
Pam Harper: I like the idea of how it connects with the phone. We can’t get away from it, like you say, so it has that cool combination of the tangible cards along with the technology.
Scott Harper: Forcing us to interact.
Pam Harper: Exactly. So what’s another one?
Shari Spiro: We have a came called Circular Reasoning. It won the MENSA award recently. Circular Reasoning promotes planning and prediction throughout the entire game. It really encourages strategic thinking because you’ve got to figure out where you’re going to be on the board, where the doorways are going to rotate to, and you actually can plan very carefully if you’re watching what the other players are doing. It gives you an idea of how to strategically plan during each round and for the entire game.
What happens is, depending on whether you go first or last during a round of player turns, you have to think ahead of what your opponents might do next and how you would react to what they do. You have to try to think several turns ahead, and think of ways to trick your opponents into giving you any placement advantage. But you also have to make sure you’re not making a mistake yourself when trying to think ahead.
Towards the end, when a winner might come out on top, people often start collaborating and planning together to make sure that player won’t win. It’s got some cooperative, it’s got some competitive, and it’s got a lot of strategic planning. It’s a round board, very simple moves, very simple objective. You want to get to the center of the board. The only way to get into the center is through these doorways that also rotate based on how many people are on each level. Circular Reasoning − fascinating game.
The other MENSA winner we have is Letter Tycoon. Letter Tycoon is literally the best combination of Scrabble and Monopoly. In Letter Tycoon, you have 7 letter cards in your hand, and 3 down on the community table. You take a look at those 10 cards and make yourself the longest word you can. Then you get paid for the word, but the twist in this one is each letter is a patent. There’s a patent card for each letter.
Pam Harper: Patent card?
Shari Spiro: Yes. A patent. When you spell your word, you get paid, and then if you can afford it, you buy one of the letters in the word you have spelled. Then you own that patent for the rest of the game. So then if I buy the A, and you use the A during the game, the bank will pay me a dollar for every time that letter is used. The strategy of this is that you have to decide; do I want to buy smaller letters and buy more letters? Do I want to save up for the bigger vowels?
There’s a lot of strategy in that game. There’s a lot of thinking quickly, because the community cards may change at the end of the turn, so you may end up with new community cards to look at. Just a very unique, clever game, but at the end you don’t have that terrible feeling of losing at Monopoly or that frustrating feeling of Scrabble. At the end, you have, “wow that was a great game. Congratulations, you won.” If you happen to win, it’s truly a rewarding feeling because it’s not just spelling words.
Pam Harper: So all of these games that you’ve been talking about not only have us thinking about things in new ways, but interacting in some really different ways with each other and having to tune in and really think about what is this person like, what are they apt to be thinking about next. That is so important in today’s world when we’re trying to figure out how to be more competitive.
With more and more of these games coming out, it’s going to be important for people to think about how do I select the right game for us. That’s what we’re going to talk about in our next segment, but for right now, we’re going to take another quick break, so stay with us…
Scott Harper: Thanks for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. It’s brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, on the web at businessadvance.com.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last 2 segments, Scott and I have been speaking with Shari Spiro, CEO and Founder of AdMagic and Breaking Games, about using the power of games to shake up our established ways of seeing the world and inspiring strategic thinking. We’ve heard about some really interesting games.
Shari, can you tell us again how people can actually purchase some of these games?
Shari Spiro: Well, everything is available at www.breakinggames.com and now, we’ve just entered Target with Game of 49, Poop in a Bag, and Game of Phones.
Pam Harper: Excellent. Well this is the part of the podcast where we like to talk about immediately useful ideas, and there’s nothing more useful to me than figuring out how to buy the most suitable game for us.
Scott and I were talking about how when I was in corporate, one of the things that we used to do is have a game or two in the lunch room. For instance, in an engineering company I worked for, the software engineers would play Hearts and the hardware engineers would play UNO.
Scott Harper: And they wouldn’t mix.
Pam Harper: [Laughs] That’s right. How do you find something that is right for your company?
Shari Spiro: The first question you have to ask yourself is, “what am I trying to accomplish here?” I have to say that any game is better than no game. The idea of getting the people together to play and interact is better than them not speaking at all. We find that any game will accomplish that to a certain extent; but what you really want to ask yourself is, “are we trying to team build? Is that our goal? Is our goal to try and encourage our people to think more strategically? Are we trying to make them creative? Are we trying to get them just to collaborate more?”
I think basically what you want to look at are those questions first − what are you trying to accomplish? If you’re trying to accomplish the goal of getting your people just to be more of a team, I would say choose a game that’s a little bit more light-hearted, something like Boomtown Bandits. That’s one of our games where it’s a roll ’em up, shoot ’em up dice game. You lay out a town on these little cards and you shoot your dice. Everybody is rolling their dice as quickly as they can. You cannot help but get involved, and that would just create a little bit of a bonding experience for the team.
If you’re looking for something more strategic, you may want to look at something like I described with either Game of 49 or Circular Reasoning or Letter Tycoon − one of those games. Even Exploding Kittens − that just came out, and is a really strategic game. You’ve got to be careful how you play your hand because you don’t want to explode. People have a lot of fun with that one.
If you’re really just trying to get your people to be creative and come up with new ideas, then you want to play a game that encourages them to think outside the box. Obviously, we discussed Game of Phones. That’s something that helps you try to put the real world cell phone experience into a game format that encourages creativity. There are a lot of those. There’s a new game out called Joking Hazard now, which encourages you to complete a cartoon. They’re hysterical. Joking Hazard is already a huge hit.
Pam Harper: That’s great. So having a clear goal and being strategic about the selection of your game is one thing. What about once you’ve purchased the game? How about how to use it in the best possible way?
Shari Spiro: I was in San Francisco recently, and they always seem to be at the forefront of everything cool for offices. They’ve got coolers that you can just go in and take a drink. They’ve got snacks where you can just go up and eat whatever you want. I love San Francisco. The company I was visiting has a game shelf where people, at lunch time or after work, can just go grab a game and hang out with their work associates and play − and they do. They stay later because of it. They have a better lunch hour because of it. This one particular company even had a beer keg and wine.
Pam Harper: That’s a good thing. It relaxes you and gets you thinking in new ways.
Shari Spiro: Well maybe not during the work day, but after the work day, you see them socializing. You see them playing games, and that cannot help but build the team.
Pam Harper: That’s right. Now one of the things that Scott and I like to do is to incorporate games sometimes into some of the work that we’re doing.
Scott Harper: Right. If we have a workshop or a retreat, a game can be very useful to illustrate a point or break the ice, bring people together. That can be very useful.
Pam Harper: Are you seeing more of that kind of thing as well?
Shari Spiro: Well it’s funny that you mention that because recently, we just did these giant cards. They’re 46 inches by 72 inches high. We made an entire deck. We made 1 for the east coast and 1 for the west coast because it’s really a pain to ship them. My client did a giant event in Brooklyn with these large cards. It just went over fantastically, so if you’re trying to bring home a point, what could bring your point closer to home than a giant card?
Pam Harper: Absolutely. We find that when people are at a certain point, strategically, it can be very useful; but it has to be used in a very particular way.
Scott Harper: It goes back to the objective and thinking strategically about game selection.
Pam Harper: Shari, what about how to get the most essential points out of the game play? Debriefing, if you will. Are there ways to do this? If you’re just using the game by yourself, are there ways to pull that strategic wisdom out − the problem solving and everything −to say “what have we learned from this?”
Shari Spiro: Well, I think it’s a lot easier to see what exactly you’re getting out of it with a custom game. I think when you’re playing a regular game, it’s a little more of a vague − “I think I got this out of it. We can feel closer as a team.” But it’s easier when you create a card game specifically for a purpose − which isn’t really all that difficult − you can use existing mechanics and just base it around what your particular needs are for your company. I think then you’re going to debrief and also really see what the ROI is intellectually. Does that make sense?
Scott Harper: So Breaking Games can do that for companies if they have a specific objective in mind.
Shari Spiro: Absolutely. We have a game development team that’s out of this world. They’re located in Los Angeles, but we have designers all over the country that, when we put the word out, what we’re looking for, they come rallying with ideas like you’ve never seen.
Scott Harper: Oh great.
Shari Spiro: I do think this is the development of a new kind of industry for strategically educating people in the corporate world in a fun and interactive way.
Pam Harper: We’d have to agree with you there. I think there are so much room for this in and so much need for this, so it’s exciting to hear.
Shari, time’s gone by for right now. Do you have any final thoughts to leave with us on this topic?
Shari Spiro: Well, I do. I think there’s a lot to come. I think that people are going to be surprised at some of the developments in gaming in the next few years. I think that corporates are going to grab on to this and they’re going to realize the benefits and the excitement of it. They’re going to be able to bond their staff in a way that they never had before.
Pam Harper: Well, thank you again for being our guest today on Growth Igniters Radio. We look forward to having you back to share more about some of the newer developments that are coming up in games.
Shari Spiro: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Shari, and thanks to you out there for listening. To get show notes and resource links for this week’s episode, go to growthignitersradio.com, and select Episode 81.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team
Scott Harper: What games are we playing, and how can that stimulate new thinking and new strategic agility?