What would happen if…? Have you ever found yourself asking this question in the hope that it might bring about change? Or at the very least give yourself the space to imagine a different life. In order to escape the confines of the daily status quo, professionals and companies are putting greater trust in a more creative approach. They are looking to the dynamics of games and the power of questioning. From an analysis of the famous ‘what if’ question to ‘The Foolish Cow’ game (don’t worry, all will be explained), some of the techniques used to train strategic thinking and generate new ideas will become clear, allowing us to escape the ordinary and enter the world of the extraordinary.

What if: what would happen if…? 

What would happen if we allowed everyone to use their phones free of charge worldwide? Had Skype not asked themselves this disruptive question, which was a rather far fetched concept in the early 2000s, they would never have launched their free phone and video call service. 

The ‘what if’ analysis is a technique to stimulate hypothetical scenarios that are often used to evaluate the impact of a variable on all the other aspects of one’s business model. By simply asking yourself ‘what would happen if…’ and listing all the possible responses that come to mind, you can broaden your vision of what is possible. You can also see where there might be a gap in the market that needs filling. This is innovation thinking. In the first phase of brainstorming, it doesn’t matter if not all the scenarios are feasible. Ask challenging and stimulating questions without worrying what the answer is or if there is even an answer to be had. In the second phase you can narrow down your thoughts and choose the very best ideas. 

The ‘what if’ technique is particularly effective when used by teams of both diverse and heterogeneous talents.

In a company setting, it is good practice to involve members from all teams as innovation affects the whole structure. By making sure that each participant is aware of the internal and external dynamics, such as the market, the target audience and, in general, each key element of the business model canvas, you are on the right track. This is a good starting point from which you can break down the business model canvas to its individual elements. Ask as many questions as possible of each area to fully understand what can be improved or changed. 

Pin each idea on a board or stick up post-it notes so that everyone present can get an overview. For our Business’n’Play sessions, for example, we use Mural, an online visual thinking tool (a kind of interactive digital whiteboard). This way every idea is visible at all times.

Some advice: before opening the room to questions, why not start with an ice breaker? We suggest ‘The Foolish Cow’!

‘The Foolish Cow’ game

Don’t worry if you have never heard of this, all will be made clear. This ice-breaker is perfect for starting a session of ‘what if’ analysis, or any other idea generation activity. This exercise helps to push us out of the daily work routine and demonstrates the power of creativity in generating innovative ideas and developing design thinking. Why “foolish”? Because on the face of it, it’s just a silly game, but in reality it is a very successful warm up strategy!

The game is very simple. Each participant is asked to define the characteristics of a cow (they eat grass and hay, produce milk, and lay down when it rains, etc.), then they have to outline quickly three different business models based on the listed characteristics of the cow. 

If we take the fact that cows produce milk, we could consider how a freemium business model could be an appropriate framework to apply. The freemium model has both free basic services and paid premium services. In our case, consumers will be able to enjoy as much milk as they want for free, while any container will be paid for.

Or we could create a subscription model: customers can buy a single milk bottle for 3€‎, or alternatively subscribe to a subscription that provides 20 bottles of milk for 40€‎ per month (instead of 60€‎).

As you can see, games like this one are great for becoming familiar with the ideation process. They are simple (but not too simple) and suitable for all kinds of professions and roles.

Games as a tool for training creative and strategic thinking

Games have immense power when it comes to training creative thinking and initiating a transformation process. Increasingly, organisations are resorting to Serious Games to facilitate the acquisition of soft skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, time management and creativity.

A Serious Game differs from “traditional” games because it is designed for more than mere entertainment and aims to solve problems in an enjoyable way. It can serve to train, but also foster social interactions, or simulate contexts, and so on. Business’n’Play is an example of Serious Play being applied to business by targeting freelancers, companies and schools. 

Associating play with business seems paradoxical. But on reflection, we learned that the best strategies we use to face everyday life come from playing games as children. Strategy cannot be based on creativity alone, or even on acquired technique: collaborative experiences based on play help train soft skills such as strategic thinking as they allow us to expand possible solutions, ideas, alternatives and visions, with the advantage of being able to test their effects with immediate applicability.

By playing we can see ourselves from the outside, learn to talk to others rather than compete, and create scenarios that would otherwise be impossible. In addition, play has another superpower, namely, the ability to rekindle passion and enjoyment, key ingredients for the success of our businesses.

To conclude

In today’s ever-changing world, organisations must be ready to innovate, create and maintain their competitive advantage – from individual products and services, to processes, to the entire business model. Moving past the “it’s always been done this way” mentality is a challenge, especially if a change-orientated corporate culture is lacking. But getting stuck in a loop means missing out on the opportunities we might find beyond our boundaries.

To initiate such a delicate process, increasingly companies and professionals are resorting to creative approaches that encourage thinking out-of-the-box and the visualisation of ideas. Approaches that have a lot to do with play and questioning give the imagination free rein and allow the free flow of thoughts, abandoning inhibitions. In this way, the fire of innovation is ignited!

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