Creating your innovation play board

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In our previous article in this series, we discussed the rules for the innovation game. Today, we will talk about another fundamental of this game - the play board. As mentioned, chess cannot be played outside of the 64-square black-and-white board. It defines the boundaries of the game, and with it, the rules. It is important to remember that different play boards define different plays. Identifying your play board, therefore, identifies the way you will interact with the environment, the resources you need and the time spent in the game.

Defining your play board

A play board is simply the environment your innovation will be operating out of. Your play board can be physical, as in a geographical space, or a group of localised outlets; or it can be virtual, as in an online shop. Your play board can even be within a system, like your supply chain, or your value chain; or it can be a competitive model, like your business model. Your play board can even be defined by demographic or psychographic factors, segmented by different customers. As such, your play board can be defined based on your own competitive requirements, and these are unique to you. Having said that, it is important to remember the characteristics of play boards, and you should bear these in mind as you play your innovation game:

1. Identify the boundaries of your play board

Understand where exactly you are operating out of. You must know where your play board begins and where it ends. It is okay to define a large play board; for example, when you map out your value chain and realise that you are currently operating out of a narrow range within the chain, and you acknowledge that your whole play board could well be the full chain, then define that as your play board. So while the breadth of your play board may be large, it is important to define just where the boundaries are.

2. Know where you are NOT playing out of

At the same time, it is important to be cognizant of what is outside of your play board. This is important because if we choose to be everything to everyone, we end up not being anyone. So while it is good to expand our view point by defining an expansive play board, it may also be good to limit where we operate out of, otherwise it will expand the level of complexity of your game. As an example, think about what would happen to the game of chess if we added just 4 more pieces - the jester, the chef, the grand wizier and the doctor. How would that change the whole landscape of the game?

3. Identify the rules of engagement

Can you plunder the land? Can you form alliances? Should you be self-sufficient or can you trade? These are all rules of engagement in a game, and in your innovation space, you have to answer how you intend to interact with the incumbents in the play board. Some people take a no-prisoners approach, while others look to collaborate for the great good of the commons. Since different players will adopt a different tactic, the rules of engagement for your business is very important to guide people when they come up with a solution. (Note: For many, your corporate values define your rules of engagement.)

4. Define your levels of play

Although chess has only one level of play, many games these days have multiple levels, and require you to have mastered one level, or collected certain items, before you can move on to the next level. As you define your play board, identify your jump off points, so that when you get there, you can level up, and play a bigger game. You don't necessarily need to define the next level of play as thoroughly as your current level, but you need to know when it is time to jump off, and when you do, what you should put together to get there. Knowing what you need, and when, to jump off to the next level play board is crucial in keeping your innovation game going.

Focusing resources

Defining your innovation play board is important so that you can focus your resources on the correct space. By identifying what is, and is not, in your play board, you also ensure that you create the right game for the right environment, ultimately focusing on what gives your business the greatest success. Fail to define your play board correctly and you run the risk of defocusing your innovation spend, something that has afflicted many businesses embarking on innovation.

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