Dave Gray Connects with ATF

“The big thing about gamestorming is that it’s about giving people a way to work together that puts everyone on a roughly level playing field. We just don’t have enough of that.” –Dave Gray

In 2010 Dave Gray released the handy book, Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, in which he, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo provided dozens of group brainstorming suggestions. A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of speaking with Dave. Dave talked with us about everything from Gamification to Star Trek to the podular (or scalable) organization, an idea which he is exploring later this year in his new book, The Connected Company.

Marli: Before diving into business, let’s start with a personal question. Gamestorming activities are intended to bring out innate human creativity. Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

Dave: I’ve always considered everyone a creative person. I think we’re the most creative species on the planet. I think the idea that people aren’t creative is something we learn in school.

Marli: Where did the Gamestorming activities come from?

Dave: We developed this tool kit over many years, and some is based on stuff that we had kind of invented, but most of it was stuff that we had pulled from consultants that came on our team, from other companies, from books and websites and all kinds of places…Really, it was a facilitation tool kit that we used to get people rapidly collaborating and getting a holistic picture of stuff. So this became the Gamestorming book.

Marli: Gamification is also intended to appeal to natural creativity. Do you think gamification is a natural progression from gamestorming?

Dave: When people talk about gamification, it ends up [having] a negative connotation – [the] idea that you can just kind of paste this layer on top that turns everything automatically into fun. I think that that’s similar to the idea that someone can design a website and then a visual person comes along and their job is to make it pretty. I think those things should be integrally connected.

If you’re trying to make an application or a website or anything else engaging, you should try and build [fun] in from the ground up. I believe that’s true of meetings and any kind of human interaction. If you want to make it engaging, then you probably need to put a little upfront work in there and figure out what is going to get people engaged and motivated to participate.

The ideal meeting room is like the ‘holodeck’ in Star Trek.The ideal meeting room to me is kind of like the ‘holodeck’ in Star Trek. It has no assumptions about what people are going to do in there. It’s a blank canvas. If you need a table, you can wheel in a table, and if you need chairs you can bring chairs in…otherwise it’s an empty cube.

Marli: We’re going to switch gears a little bit, and talk about your new book, “The Connected Company.” In this book, you talk about podular organization as a solution to engage everyone in the company as though they were an owner. Could you talk a bit about how that works?

Dave: Oh, wow, okay, well you’re one of the first to ask me about this. What’s The Connected Company, by Dave Graybasically happening is that technology is advancing so rapidly, and as a result, we have this increasing complexity and interdependency. Which means we will need to make decisions faster than we have in the past.

Historically, if we hit an exception and we don’t know what to do, then we can ask our boss, and our boss can ask our boss’s boss, and we can kind of defer decisions by delegating them upward. With an increasingly networked and complex environment, we won’t be able to operate that way, because we won’t have that kind of time to make decisions.

The idea behind the podular organization is ‘can you get a large company to operate as if it were a whole bunch of small companies?’ and the answer is ‘yes, you can.’ You’re going to pay a little bit of a price in consistency… [but] the more you can actually distribute control in a company, the faster the company can react. And in a very complex and uncertain world, being able to act fast and make rapid decisions is actually more important than being able to be 100% consistent.

Marli: Do you think that there are gamestorming activities that help to create a podular organization?

A podular organization, as defined by Dave Gray, is a company that views each area as a separate company, with shared overall goals.

Dave: It’s a challenge when you start asking yourself as a company, ‘we know we need to be more flexible and make more agile, faster decisions and so forth, but we’re not built that way today. How do we change?’ That’s a big complex problem and I definitely think gamestorming can help people get their arms around big hairy complex issues.

And when you get to ideas through gamestorming, not only have you got more people involved in the ideas, but you’ve got people buying into them along the way. People have to agree that something is a good idea; and they’re more likely to agree if they had a hand in coming up with it.

Marli: Let’s conclude our interview with a prediction for the future. What would you say is the next big step that innovative companies need to take?

Dave: There’s a phrase we used at XPLANE quite a bit, which is called ‘turn your magic into science.’ The real power comes from taking that design magic that happens inside of one creative genius and trying to deconstruct it and turn that process into building blocks that people can start to play with, and start to get involved. You can only do so much as an individual, but when you start to increase the potential of the people around you, you really start to get somewhere.

There are podular organizations all around us, and once you have the kind of infrastructure and pieces in place, you can grow exponentially. Once you’ve set up that platform and a bit of infrastructure, there is absolutely nothing to stop you from scaling infinitely. There are really no barriers. We talk about a typical company – in a hierarchical kind of organization, you max out after a certain number of people and really it becomes almost impossible to control it. But a podular organization can scale infinitely, and actually the bigger it gets, the easier it gets to manage it in a strange way.

I guess maybe the next level of innovation would be companies really getting their customers involved in their design activities in a really integrated and intimate way. I think that’s powerful stuff.

Dave Gray, SVP Strategy, The Dachis Group, is an author and management consultant who works with the world’s leading companies to develop and execute winning strategies. His last book, Gamestorming, has sold more than 50,000 copies and has been translated into 16 languages. His newest book, The Connected Company, will be published in September 2012.