On Choosing a Game (a.k.a. Collaboration Framework): Goals, Verbs, Nouns and Context

Designing and producing effective Innovation Games® and other collaboration frameworks boils down to gaining an understanding of these four key elements: goals, verbs, nouns and context. This post explains how to use these four key elements to design and produce great in-person and online forums, drawing on some examples from our client successes over the years.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]


Goals are pretty straightforward: They are what you want to accomplish, ideally framed as a higher level business outcome. For example, you might be working for a company who wants to increase the average price per sale of large deals. Alternatively, you might want to improve your New Product Development (NPD) process by getting better concepts from the “fuzzy front end”.

Framing your goals in terms of measurable outcomes (“increase ASP by 10%”, or “generate 100 ideas that pass the first gate in our gate review process”) helps ensure that you’re choosing the right game – or no game at all. To illustrate, let’s look at two closely related business goals, both related to portfolio management.

A few years ago, Sallee Peterson, Senior Vice President of Global Customer Care for VeriSign, asked us to help her team prioritize a list of 46 projects. The business goal was to leverage the “wisdom of the crowd”, her globally distributed team, in selecting the best projects. (The careful reader will note that this last phrase is part of the context; I’ll return to this in a bit). We have a number of prioritization games, so this initial goal was already a good fit for the games.

Another leader contacted us to see how we might be able to use the games/collaboration frameworks to communicate the selection of projects within his company’s portfolio as they progressed through its gate process. In this case, the business goal of communication is not well served by the games. We recommended a simpler approach: a Wiki with an RSS feed and small, personal video updates on project status prepared by the project leaders. And it is easier than you think, especially if you own a phone that does video or a small video device. [separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]


Verbs are the actions that we take to accomplish our goals. Indeed, I am starting to think that if a business goal cannot be directly related to a verb, then it isn’t a good fit for a collaboration framework.

Returning to Sallee’s portfolio selection problem, the verb that equated to the goal was prioritize. Which is an amazingly powerful and common verb in business. We prioritize sales deals. We prioritize product features. We prioritize market segments. We even prioritize personas into “primary” and “secondary” personas.

When teaching the games, I will often take a few minutes to list as many business verbs as possible in five minutes or less. One group at Cisco generated more than 30 verbs, including generate, create, define, elaborate, group, establish, plan and develop.

As you gain experience in using collaboration frameworks, you’ll also gain experience in how the tense informs the business goals. Most of the time the tense is in the future, and you have to determine the time scale to determine the time frame of action (tactical or near term; strategic or long term). Other aspects of how the verbs of your business goals are used are important, so pay attention to the verbs associated with the goals.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]


Verbs are useless without the nouns they operate on. We prioritize sales deals, product features, the location where we’re going to have our corporate off-site, which customers we’re going to invite to our strategic advisory board meeting and so forth. The nouns/objects of the games become the metaphors we use in the visual collaboration forums, the items in a forum using the Buy a Feature collaboration framework, the objects and relationships between them in a Spider Web collaboration framework and so forth.

Once you understand the goals, verbs and nouns of the project, you’ll be well on your way to selecting one or two collaboration frameworks. Sometimes you don’t even realize how quickly this happens, so it is good to take a step back to ensure that you’ve got the right goals, verbs and nouns.

To illustrate, a few years ago Aladdin Knowledge Systems (since acquired by SafeNet) hired us to design and help produce a two-day sales training course for its world-wide distributors for a major new product launch, HASP SRM. Acting as strategic account managers, these distributors help SafeNet’s customer design and implement comprehensive Digital Rights Management solutions.

A simple statement of the goal was to train the distributors. A better goal was to focus on the actual outcomes a well-trained distributor would produce: more sales. We get more sales when the distributors can sell (verb!) HASP (noun!). We therefore designed a forum based on Product Box,  in which the distributors created boxes that demonstrated their ability to sell in complex situations.

To see if this was the right design, we had to compare it against the last element: context.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]


Context refers to such factors as who will be participating in the forum, their physical location, how many players will be included, whether or not the game will be part of a larger event and so forth.

Returning to Sallee’s challenge, the context included a 230+ team of customer support employees distributed across four locations around the world. In this case, the only option was to use Decision Engine and the Buy a Feature collaboration framework and construct a “feature tournament”. The resulting design enabled approximately 60% of the global workforce to participate in the games.

Changing the context will change how you design and produce the forums. NetApp, Wyse, and Rally Software Development are clients who have used the collaboration frameworks within customer advisory board meetings. In all of these cases, the small in-person context motivated them to use in-person versions of the collaboration frameworks.

Note that in these examples the selection of participants was also quite straightforward: Sallee wanted to include her employees, while the other examples wanted to include key/large accounts. Sometimes, however, choosing participants isn’t so straightforward, and you have to develop careful screening criteria to ensure the players are producing results that enable you to realize your goals.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Two Kinds of Verbs

It is important to realize that there are often two verbs associated with a well-designed and well-produced set of games. The first verb is the ultimate action that the client who commissioned the event wants to take. The second verb is the verb that is associated with the selection of the frameworks. These may or may not be the same verbs.

To illustrate, let’s one more time refer to Sallee and the VeriSign portfolio event. The ultimate business goal of the customer care projects was to improve the quality of customer care. To serve this goal Sallee needed to prioritize her projects. An online Buy a Feature tournament was the best way to accomplish this goal. And by including as many of her employees as she could in the prioritization process, Sallee also created “global buy-in” for the results of the forums.

Of course, Sallee and her team still needed to implement the selected projects. And while frameworks like Remember the Future and Product Box can help plan projects, and frameworks like Start Your Day and Spider Web can identify hidden requirements, and games like Speed Boat can identify potential risks, ultimately Sallee and her team needed to implement the selected projects.

While this post has been informed by years of using collaboration frameworks to solve business problems, special thanks goes to Jenna Cline from Cisco, as our conversation on the nouns and verbs of collaboration enabled me to think that much more clearly about this topic. Thanks also to Harbinder Kang, also from Cisco, who further challenged these ideas.

Using Innovation Games® With Senior Executives

One question we get a lot is “Do Innovation Games® work with Senior Executives”?

The answer is a resounding yes! A great example of this is engagement I produced for IAM Magazine for its annual conference in 2010. From April 2010 to June 2010, we invited senior executives from a variety of organizations to explore key issues facing Chief Intellectual Property Officers (CIPOs). It’s also a great example of how online collaboration frameworks can work in concert with in-person frameworks to generate truly unique results.

The first part of this project was conducted in April 2010. CIPOs from around the world used Decision Engine and the Innovation Game® collaboration framework Buy a Feature to select the key issues that they wanted to feedback on from CIPO experts during in-person forums scheduled for the IP Business Conference in Munich during June. At the end of the these games, four topics stood out:

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  • IP strategy in business: Best practices for working with senior management to improve their understanding of the strategic use of IP assets.
  • Improving realisation of IP: How CIPOs demonstrate that well-managed IP programmes can increase corporate market value.
  • Increasing IP licensing revenue: The ways in which CIPOs can help maximise licensing income, and manage expectations of this.
  • Engaging the workforce: Ensuring that the entire workforce is properly educated about and engaged with creating, protecting and leveraging corporate IP assets.


On Sunday,  June 20,  just prior to the start of the IPBC in Munich, a group of CIPOs got together to discuss these topics. I invite you to look at this amazing list of senior executives and thought leaders. The were:

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  • David Berdan, Invista
  • Joe Beyers of Ambature (formerly at HP)
  • Bill Elkington, Rockwell Collins
  • Paul Fehlner, Novartis
  • Wulf Hoeflich, EADS/Airbus
  • François Jamet, IdVectoR (formerly with France Telecom)
  • Wim Klop, DSM
  • Ruud Peters, Philips
  • Béatrix de Russé, Technicolor (Thomson SA)
  • Andrew Sant, Crown Technology
  • Joseph Villella, Infineon


These CIPOs were joined by eight IP industry experts:

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  • Jens Bördin, CIP Professional Services
  • Dave Brown, Thomson Reuters
  • Bo Heiden, Qatar Science & Tech Park
  • Michael Lasinski, 284 Partners
  • Ron Laurie, Inflexion Point Strategy
  • Ada Nielsen, LES USA & Canada
  • Ulf Petrusson, CIP
  • David Yurkerwich, Charles River Associates.


The results of this project, including our report, was made public by our client, Joff Wild of IAM Magazine. You can read all about this project and download the report here.

The main point is that these senior executives loved playing the games and produced amazing results. You’ll find that you get similarly great results when you play the games with your executives.