The Power of What if …….?

Gaming is typically a sedentary activity. You sit somewhere and become completely engaged with what’s happening on the screen. What if the game got people off the couch instead of on the couch? What if the game forced people to go out and move around and get a little physical exercise?

Gaming is often done in isolation. Even when there are virtual interactions, if you’re at home tethered to your computer or console, you’re not in the real world building human connections. What if the game experience went beyond the virtual, allowing people to meet up in person out in the community?

What if is the story behind Pokémon GO

Before Pokémon GO, there was Ingress, an augmented reality game that put gamers out into the world as they searched for and tapped mysterious sources of energy. Created by Niantic Labs, the developers behind Pokémon GO, Ingress took some of the established conventions of gaming and turned them on their heads.

In essence, the developers asked one of the most powerful questions in creativity and innovation thinking: What if?

Brandon Badger, a product manager on Ingress, described some of these “what if” moments in explaining the design principles behind the game. The question they eventually asked themselves was: “What if Pokémon was not limited to the games’ world? What if it inhabited our world?”

What started as a crazy fantasy became a very real possibility. The “what ifs” became the first steps in a journey to developing a worldwide phenomenon.

4 Tips for Getting Creative to Solve Your Tough Problems

Your might want to shake up your industry or just innovate an existing product. Maybe you’ve been stuck on a problem and can’t break out of that old thinking.

If so, then are 4 things that might help you create the next Pokémon GO.

1. Reverse your assumptions

Write down all of your assumptions. Then state the opposite. This is what the Niantic Labs team did with those “what if” questions:

  • Gaming is sedentary and isolating.
  • Let’s create a game that requires physical activity and real-world interaction.

2. Use a magic wand

Ask yourself, if I had a magic wand and could solve this problem with no constraints on the solution—no matter how “off the wall” it might be—what would it look like?

For example: Years ago, employees on the line at a manufacturing plant were wrapping products in newspaper, and too many people were actually stopping to read the articles. As a result, production had slowed way down. A manager called a meeting to ask for ideas on how to solve the problem. Someone hesitated and then spoke: “Well, we could poke their eyes out.” That qualifies as a crazy idea. Most everyone agreed that it was ridiculous. But even in the weirdest ideas, we can sometimes find a hidden gem—a kernel of insight that actually solves a problem.

3. Encourage diversity of thought

 The manager could have easily shut down the conversation at this point. After all, this wasn’t the creative environment of a gaming lab. But naysayers are everywhere. Ingress wasn’t a slam dunk. According to founder John Hanke, “There was a camp of people in the game development world who said, ‘That won’t work—gamers want to sit and play, you have to feed them compulsion loops, and it has to work in a certain way.’”

It takes strong leadership to recognize, access and appreciate individual creative courage and to nurture the diversity of thought and ideas on the team.

4. Turn crazy ideas into actionable solutions

 Sometimes all a crazy idea needs is a little TLC. Nurture the idea by asking:

  • What is tempting about this idea? You have to admit, implementing that employee’s idea would solve the problem.
  • What is lacking in this idea? Quite a bit, obviously—including all of the gory, unethical aspects of it.
  • What could we change about this idea to make it work? There are some possibilities, including:
    • Darken the lights on the line so that employees can’t see well enough to read.
    • Package the products with unreadable material, like foreign language newspapers or blank newsprint.
    • Hire blind people to work on the line.

The company actually acted on one of these ideas. And it worked.

Go Crazy, But Let Your Whole Brain Be Your Guide

No matter what problem your team is facing, the brain is the source of creativity, and we all have access to our whole brains. Given the right tools and techniques, everyone can start thinking more creatively and be contributing to your next breakthrough solutions—whether you want to revolutionize your industry or reinvent the way work gets done.

Of course, you might have to get them to take a break from their phones first.


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