Disrupting the Corporate Learning Paradigm: the game debate

by Janet Sernack

Disrupting the Corporate Learning Paradigm - online debateI was recently confronted with a surprising and perplexing response via an online innovative learning and education innovators discussion group, to the notion of The Start-Up Game™. My 30 years of knowledge and skills development and experience in corporate learning to some of Australasia’s and Israel’s top 100 companies proves that most adults (leaders and teams) “learn by doing” and designed The Start-Up Game™ with this in mind.

Disrupting the corporate learning paradigm

The Start-Up Game™ is an attempt to disrupt and re-invent the corporate learning paradigm by integrating adult and experiential learning with gamification processes to innovate the way innovation and entrepreneurship are taught in organizations, business schools and incubators. It is a profound and serious business game, a metaphorical business simulation that takes players through the emotional and cognitive rollercoaster and the four stages that a start-up entrepreneur experiences when innovating something that has never been previously imagined. It creates a visceral experience that enables players to understand, experiment with, practice (and fail) to acquire, apply and integrate the intrinsic motivators, mindsets and behaviors of innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship. Its design is flexible and can be customized to align to and support the execution of each client’s strategic agenda and can include their specific innovation or change dilemmas and challenges.

It was designed and developed on concrete and evidence based concepts, principles and techniques:
1. Learning by being and doing

In the early 1970s, Kolb and Ron Fry developed the Experiential Learning Model (ELM) establishing an experiential approach to learning. The outcome is a new and fresh way of experimenting with, responding to, improving with the learning concepts, principles and techniques, to improve their results or business outcomes. This approach to learning is especially relevant to the way adults learn and innovative entrepreneurs operate; because our research proves that it’s in the ‘being’ and the ‘doing’ rather than in the ‘knowing’ and it’s in the ‘practice’ rather than the ‘theory’ that ultimately ensures innovative leadership and start-up success.

2. The 60-30-10 springboard formula
The Start-Up Game embodies this within the springboard: 60-30-10 formula, which means that an Innovation Theory segment (the ‘10’) is introduced before each of the four rounds. Each round is followed by a group debrief discussion and a team debate on change decisions to experiment with in the next round. Teams then experiment with the desired changes (the ‘30’). Upon completion of the four rounds teams make linkages and applications to what happens in ‘real life’ (the ‘60’). This enables them to transfer the learning’s and distinctions to the workplace, to make necessary changes required to develop innovation practices and habits, therefore laying the foundations for the development of an innovation culture and business eco-system.

3. Simulations for experimentation
Many of us are aware that airline pilots learn how to fly in flight simulators, where they practice flying high tech aircraft in safe learning environments, where they can experiment, crash and burn and in effect learn from their failures, without blame, punishment and retribution. In fact, according to my old Aussie flat mate, a former Qantas 747 captain, it is impossible to learn how to fly an aircraft without experimenting with crashing and burning (and failing) during the flight simulation process.

4. Designing profound games
In a recent interview, Dr Doris C. Rusch a postdoctoral researcher at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, stated that:
“One of the questions I ask myself in my research is this: how can we make profound games? It starts with basing games on abstract concepts instead of physical ones. To make abstract concepts tangible, we need metaphors. Simply put, metaphors are physical concepts that represent abstract concepts—love as a journey, rising anger as an avalanche.”

5. Entrepreneurial innovation as a learning system
In 2011 Robert M. Gemmell surveyed 172 technology entrepreneurs to explore links between learning style and learning flexibility and decision making behaviours to hypothesize about what produces entrepreneurial innovation and success. Gemmell concluded that “entrepreneurs are most innovative when they utilise experimentation as a key practice without ignoring the other learning processes. Entrepreneurs will be more successful and innovative when they take time to reflect upon multiple alternatives and when they test trial ideas socially before making important decisions.”

6. Development of gamification
Technological advances in gamification have also created innovative new ways of learning that embrace the use of experiential metaphors, which involves cleverly designing challenges that will evoke a specific reaction in the player.

– Example; an innovative way to play basketball and hockey
A recent article on the Israeli Tech River website outlines how basketball and hockey players are improving their scores by 20-40% via an online gamified software tool:

“Originally designed as a simulator for Israeli fighter pilots, IntelliGym (http://www.intelligym.com) – a patented computer software training tool – is raising the scores of basketball and hockey players by 20-40%! Until now, it was believed that players either had an innate sense of the game – game intelligence, court vision, reading plays – or they didn’t. But, thanks to this ultra-sophisticated program – a ‘brain gym’ for competitive sportsmen – it’s becoming clear that everyone can significantly improve his game”.

– Example; an innovative ways to effect revolutionary change
Fast Company recently published an article, “Can a video game about the 1979 Iranian revolution create a revolution in gaming”? Where players become participants in a revolution, transforming the gaming paradigm, “Gaming is traditionally just seen as frivolous entertainment,” creator Navid Khonsari said. “This goes beyond that and tries to engage you in real life and real stories.”

7. Innovative ways to teach innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship
ImagineNation™ is a generative and provocative global learning company that uses the latest technology and thought leadership to enable people and organizations to develop their innovative leadership and entrepreneurship capability. The aim is to make innovation everyone’s job, every day to build highly engaged, courageous, experimental, emergent and passionate leaders, organizational cultures and business eco-systems!

The Start-Up Game™ embodies these findings and has integrated them into a corporate learning context in the form of a one or two day live workshop. This workshop meets the needs of organizations that are seeking to utilize people and other resources in more innovative and lean ways. It enables players to experiment with and apply four generative methodologies that involve the development of intrinsic motivators, mindsets, behaviours, skills and tools in being provocatively competent to safely:

– Challenge the process.
– Challenge convention.
– Disrupt the status quo.
– Generate paradigm shifts and inflection points.

The future of education

Sramana Mitra, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who runs the Million by One Million Club, is a leading global innovative entrepreneurship educator in “The Future of Education, 10 trends to watch” she suggests that we need a wide range of low cost, accessible and entertaining learning and vocational programs that attract and engage students to not only build new technologies, but also new companies. Shifting the education process from ‘sage on stage’ to ‘guide on side’ in a variety of media and incubator centric free ways that penetrate throughout society.

The Start-Up Game is a first step serious, researched educational and vocational innovation in this space.

Reflecting back to the disruptive online discussion, I was somewhat shocked by the narrow and conventional response; “Starting up a business is not a GAME. What I would highly recommend is the free counseling, support, insight and help from your local SCORE. SCORE is a free offering brought to you by local retired executives”. This made me shudder, whilst I deeply respect the wisdom local retired executives may offer, I suspect that whilst such counseling, support and insights might be beneficial, they may not be sufficient to not equip me to learn how successfully thrive and flourish in the face of the deep challenges confronting youth, leaders, organizations and communities in today’s fast paced, competitive and interconnected, globalized world.

image credit: www.imaginenation.co.il


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    Janet Sernack gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from 30 years experience in manufacturing, retailing and learning and development businesses to Australia’s and Israel’s’ top 100 companies. She resides in Israel where she founded a start-up, ImagineNation™ that teaches innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship via The Start-Up Game™.

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