Recall the old saying about all work and no play making Jack a dull boy? World-class companies today need play--serious play--if they want to make truly innovative products, argues Michael Schrage, an MIT Media Lab fellow and Fortune
magazine columnist. In Serious Play
he writes, "When talented innovators innovate, you don't listen to the specs they quote. You look at the models they've created." Whether it's a spreadsheet that tests a new financial model or a foam prototype of a calculator, what interests Schrage is not the model itself, but the behavior that play--be it modeling, prototyping, or simulation--inspires.
Schrage examines the approaches to successful prototyping at companies such as AT&T, Boeing, Microsoft, and DaimlerChrysler and describes the kind of culture that's needed for encouraging innovation. In the last chapter, he lays out the 10 rules of serious play, including: Be willing to fail early and often; know when the costs outweigh the benefits; know who wins and who loses from an innovation; build a prototype that engages customers, vendors, and colleagues; create markets around prototypes; and simulate the customer experience. Well-written and inspiring, Serious Play, is a first-rate user's guide for managers, project leaders, and other innovators. --Dan Ring
At such firms as Walt Disney, Microsoft, 3M, Sony, and Hewlitt-Packard, serious play is serious work. Schrage, a research associate at MIT Media Lab and columnist for Fortune
, sets out to explore "serious play," which he defines as creative improvisation in corporations. Serious play is taking place worldwide, and it uses such "toys" as models, simulations, and prototypes. With the development of sophisticated technology, the distinction among these three toys has blurred, and they all are used as an effort to recreate some aspect of reality that matters; their real value is the insight they provide an organization. The irony of innovation in any field, especially the most competitive, is that you can't be a serious innovator unless you are willing to play--which means seriously investing in the challenge of confronting the uncertainties that future markets will bring by rigorously questioning and revising the rules. This is a "must read" book. Mary Whaley