Playing with a Full Deck
Low Tech Tools to Foster High Output Innovation Thinking
One of the questions often asked by those seeking to create a strong innovation culture is, “What are some good tools for engaging people across my organization?” Well the consultant in me would usually hedge his bets and would offer the universal response, “It depends.” But that […]
Low Tech Tools to Foster High Output Innovation Thinking
One of the questions often asked by those seeking to create a strong innovation culture is, “What are some good tools for engaging people across my organization?” Well the consultant in me would usually hedge his bets and would offer the universal response, “It depends.” But that is as singularly unsatisfying to say as it is to hear, so I mostly take a multiple alternative approach in the hopes of landing close to the targeted need. The first place I usually start is with some of the very lowest of low tech: playing cards, or their trading card equivalent. Why? Because they are fast, fun, revealing, and energizing in a way that is distinct from other more formal tools.
The idea of using playing cards in unique ways is not anything new. Did you know that there aren’t only four suites of playing cards? We all know the usual suspects of Hearts, Diamonds, Spades and Clubs. There are also fifth suit variants that introduced an additional suit. Depending the time, location and game being played these suits might have been, Royales, Eagles, Stars, Pentagons, Quotations, or even Aether. Some modified decks have additional face cards and additional numbered cards, too. In the United States of America, in 1895, a gentleman by the name of Hiram Jones created a deck called “International Playing Cards” and it had two additional suits, a red suit with crosses and a black suit of bullets. Innovation in playing cards has a long and storied history.
The interest expressed by many clients is focused on how to use standard cards in a unique manner. Marshall McLuhan, the noted advertising guru of the 20th Century used a standard set of four-suit playing cards as the basis for his creative thought starter set, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Card Deck. The namesake Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line was an integrated chain of some 63 radar and communication stations, stretching across Arctic Canada at approximately the 69th parallel designed to provide advance warning of imminent air attack to Canada and the United States. The DEW Line was considered a perfect metaphor by McLuhan on the role of art and the artist at a time of rapid social and technological change and he repeated the idea frequently.
To the blind all things are sudden. -Quote on the Jack of Diamonds in Marshall McLuhan’s Distant Early Warning (DEW) Card Deck
To use the DEW line of cards, the instructions direct the player to think of a personal or business problem, shuffle the card deck, select a card and then apply its message to the problem. McLuhan intended the card deck to stimulate problem-solving and thinking, in a way that would come to be known as “thinking-outside-the-box”. Sadly, even given it’s somewhat anachronistic worldview, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Card Deck is no longer available. Standard playing cards however have been repurposed by others more recently in the pursuit of improved innovation.
One great use of a modified standard playing card deck is the one developed by Stephen Shapiro. Shapiro, currently the Chief Innovation Evangelist for InnoCentive, developed his Innovation Personality Poker® system (www.steveshapiro.com) using the four major suits as substitutes for broad personality types. Bearing some similarity to other personality type systems, Shapiro’s model is targeted specifically at innovation practitioners.
In small and large-scale events Shapiro uses the Innovation Personality Poker® system to actively engage participants in discovering their personal innovation preferences. During the session participants exchange cards with each other and build a “poker hand” that reflects them closest. This promotes a lively exchange between participants and elevates the need to include diversity of personality and opinion on innovation teams.
The person you like the least may be the person you need the most. And your greatest strength may ultimately limit your success. -Stephen Shapiro, while leading an Innovation Personality Poker® session
More recently in innovation practices, standard playing cards have been supplanted by those that have similar qualities to trading cards. A prime example is the set of IDEO Method Cards named for their eponymous producer, the design powerhouse, IDEO. The IDEO Method Cards are positioned as, “51 ways to inspire design.” The deck contains 51 cards, each one different, and the cards are classified into four unequal “suits”. The suits are focused on ways to engage with people – human centric design is at the heart of the innovation design approach – and include: Ask (exercises for asking people to help in design), Look (observational exercises for gathering information for design), Learn (exercises for deriving insights from what has been observed), and Try (exercises for physically exploring design problems or proposed solutions).
Like the McLuhan cards, the IDEO cards are designed to trigger action and promote new and divergent thinking and exploration of ideas. There is no rigorous system for playing the cards, and there is no order or prescribed number of cards to use at a time. My experience has been that they are great to get teams “unstuck” when new ideas elude them, and are also great simple exercises for exploring those ideas we think we know intimately in new and unique ways.
The last set of cards to share are a more recent addition to the realm of card decks to be considered for innovation exploration. Stephen P. Anderson, of the site PoetPainter.com, has developed a set of cards he calls, Mental Notes. Of all the cards these are the most beautifully presented and packaged (not surprising given that Anderson is a phenomenal product and interaction designer.) Anderson’s Mental Notes are similar to the trading card style of the IDEO Method Cards in that each is unique. However their focus is more explores the life of the mind rather than the ethnographic focus of the IDEO cards. The Mental Notes cards are focused on a variety of insights into human behavior that inform design, psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics.
Contrast: When scanning new visual information, we are unconsciously drawn to things that stand out against their surroundings. -Description on Mental Note Card, created by Stephen P. Anderson
As a firm believer in the power of human interaction in creating effective innovation cultures, I see Mental Notes as a powerful tool for exploring both impediments and points of leverage in organization culture. The better we understand the forces at play in organizations the easier it is to improve their receptivity to creativity and their subsequent innovation performance. Anderson’s cards are a great way for individuals and teams to identify and explore human behaviors at play in their organizations, their customers and, yes, even their competitors.
Now it might seem all fun and games exploring cards as tools for innovation but this is serious business. Anything that helps us experience the world anew should be of vital interest to those interested in improving their innovation performance.
Now, what cards are you playing?