Episode 006: Luke Hohmann – Innovation Games

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Luke Hohmann, CEO Conteneo

What have the following things 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. But what I really realised years later was that I really groked games, gem 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 also 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.





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  1. 0:03:00 – What are Serious Games, Innovation Games?
  2. 0:23:30 – Applying Innovation Games
  3. 0:48:24 – Scaling Innovation Games in several dimensions & Luke, The Entrepreneur
  4. 0:59:04 – Personal Choices & the power of collaboration in wicked problems
  5. 1:32:22 – Concepts – self application of games, disposable software, extrinsic vs. intrinsic quality, strategy frameworks as the next tipping point

Chapter Notes

Here some transcripts and notes to the chapters:

Chapter one: What are Serious Games, Innovation Games?

0:03:00 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

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 45 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“

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.

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“

Luke here mentions the following books on teams and collaboration:

  • 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.

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

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“


Everything by Luke Hohmann:

The "Innovation Games" book by Luke

The „Innovation Games“ book by Luke

More resources from the Podcast

Books mentioned:

People mentioned

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