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Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate Hardcover – December 10, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (December 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875848141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875848143
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Booklist

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

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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There is more significance to the title than one may initially assume. Some "play" can be taken much too seriously as when overzealous parents scream at their children as they begin to compete in organized sports; other "play" is not treated seriously enough as when a corporation discourages (perhaps even punishes) innovative thinking unless it has an immediate and favorable impact on the bottom line. Many executives, thus abused, may then vent their frustrations by behaving boorishly at a Little League game.
In the Foreword, Tom Peters quotes Schrage's assertion that "Innovative prototypes generate innovative teams. Not vice versa." Peters then observes that, in Serious Play, the "big idea" is that "the prototyping process becomes the scaffolding" for an enterprise's approach to innovation. As Schrage explains, "I have always enjoyed rehearsals more than performances." I suggest that you keep that statement clearly in mind as you proceed through the book. It reveals much about Schrage's perspective on the correlations between prototypes and innovation.
Here is how the book is organized: Part I: Getting Real, Part II: Model Behavior, and Part III: S(t)imulating Innovation. Schrage then provides a User's Guide and Bibliography. Throughout the book, he shares a wealth of real-world experience which explains what innovation is, and, what it can help to accomplish, not only with the design of a new product or service but also with the formulation of new and better ways for people to work together. The key is simulation; moreover, "not just playing with representations of ideas" (lots of ideas, the more the better) but "playing with the various versions of representations of ideas.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Bean on November 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the best books on simulation that I've read. Through many intriguing examples, Serious Play shows how simulation can accelerate and improve decision-making. The book explains how simulation can be a critical tool for strategic planning. Schrage frames simulation as an inclusive, primary business activity, instead of something exclusive, performed by experts in a back office.
I especially liked Schrage's recognition of spreadsheets as a simulation tool. In discussions on simulation, spreadsheets are usually ignored because they are seen as unsophisticated. Schrage shows how spreadsheet simulations made many of the financial innovations of the 80s and early 90s possible.
In addition to convincing readers that simulations are valuable, Schrage does a good job of introducing readers to how simulations can be implemented in business. The chapters near the end of the book on measuring the ROI of simulations and his brief user's guide provide some useful tools for those interested in using simulations and prototypes to improve decision-making.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
:'Serious play is not an oxymoron; it is the essence of innovation.'
Serious Play is one of those rare books that will change the paradigms that many companies and other organizations have, enable them to learn faster and more effectively, and then make better decisions.
In the foreword, Tom Peters connects the concepts in this book to one that Bob Waterman and he wrote about in In Search of Excellence: Ready, Fire, Aim! The idea is that we can learn a lot by trying things out before they are finalized. In the process, our aim improves. This is an elegant description of some of the advantages of simulation.
The book is rich in examples of how companies use simulation. These examples are clustered around financial models (both spreadsheets and more advanced computer models) for transaction decisions, creating three-dimensional models of new products for development and testing (Boeing's 777 and DaimlerChrysler's new cars), improving choices around environmental changes (Royal Dutch/Shell's planning process), and examining business model alternatives (demand and scheduling simulations for airlines and hotels, and combining better cost information from activity-based costing to identify strategic alternatives). Each of these clusters is examined in some detail, with lots of lessons of what works and what does not.
Here are the book's organizational structure and key ideas:
Part I: Getting Real
1. The New Economics of Innovation (it's usually cheaper to spend time and money on simulations than to make mistakes in the marketplace)
2. A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge (spreadsheets allow companies to look at more alternatives and explain them better, but there are dangers in relying on faulty ones)
Part II: Model Behavior
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Greg Clay (gregory.r.clay@ac.com) on December 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Schrage makes strong arguments for the value of simulating/modeling/prototyping. By treating these terms as synonyms, he is able to avoid being dragged down in the minutae of modeling techniques and approaches.
This book will help engineers, designers and simulationists communicate the value of prototypes. Executives will understand some of the potential pitfalls of managing prototype-driven products. Pariticularly interesting are his points on how modeling affects behavior in an organization and how an organization must be prepared to handle innovative prototypes.
Simulationists looking for discussions including terms like "discrete-event," "systems dynamics," and "probability distribution" will want to look elsewhere. Schrage's examples, mostly from the world of spreadsheet financial models, physical product prototyping, and software development, deal with the organizational implications of innovative prototypes, not "how to" develop prototypes.
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