Agile Serious Games

I went the other day to an Agile Serious Games session organized by Wemanity, and we did nice exercises to illustrate the values and advantages of Agile Management. If you’re not familiar with the expression ‘serious games’, it’s used when playing a game that has a professional purpose, that makes the participants experience a problem and sometimes also a solution.
I would like to share with you the ‘ping-pong race’ serious game:

  • Create teams of at least 5 people. It works very well with more people, try to keep it in teams of around 10 people, though it doesn’t matter if you only have one team. You’ll need at least 30 ping-pong balls and a basket per each team.
  • Tell people to group making a circle.  One person of the team will take the ping-pong balls from their container and this same person will be in charge of putting the ball that has already been passed to everybody in the basket provided. He’s the only one who will touch two times the ball. Each ball has to be passed to every team member, following these simple rules:
    1. The ball cannot be passed to a neighbor (the person immediately next to your right or to your left).
    2. The ball has to be in the air for a short time when passing it, you cannot put it directly in the hands of the person.
    3. All persons on the team have to receive the ball at one time, except for the first person that touches it twice.
    4. Balls that fall on the floor don’t count. Leave them there until timeout.
    5. The objective is to have as many balls in the basket as possible.
  • Time the game: give them 5 minutes to discuss how to organize themselves, then one minute to play the game (or more if the group is big).

First time this game is run, they end-up with a small number of balls that completed the assignment. But now comes the key element of this game: ask them if they think they could do better a second time. Let each team discuss between them for 2 to 5 minutes and then run the game again for a minute.

Usually the second time all teams do better.  Allowing them again some time to reorganize and running it a third time provides still better results.

The key part of the game is not the game itself, it doesn’t really matter who won the race, nor how many balls were in the basket. The key part is to realize that taking some time-off to think about how you are doing your work in order to improve it is worth the time lost on those meetings. Teams understand the point of the game and that they see that they can improve by self-organization. It makes them interact, communicate and take action instead of waiting for instructions to improve their work. In the Agile-SCRUM methodology this is covered by the Sprint retrospectives.

Image from www.agilest.org

This game is always fun to play, the whole cycle lasts around half hour, and it really shows people the benefits of having time to reflect on how you’re doing your job. And as you are doing it at work, it shows that the management encourages people to take initiatives 😉

In any case, it creates a nice feeling of team-building! It’s definitely worth the try.

4 Behaviors to find new business ideas

I went to an open event at Vlerick, and Prof. Miguel Meuleman gave us a talk on the Entrepreneurial Mindset. He gave us good tips to find business ideas. Based on the six-year study behind the book The innovator’s DNA, he mentioned these 4 discovery activities that the authors have identified as the ones in which innovative entrepreneurs spend more time:

  1. Questioning
  2. Observing
  3. Experimenting
  4. Networking

 

 

The good news is that anybody can nurture these behaviors.

  • Questionning:

Miguel used a restaurant to illustrate how to question the status-quo: What do you need to have a restaurant? We quickly came up with a list:

  •  capital,
  • a venue,
  • marketing,
  • food,
  • a cook,

Now, question each of the assumptions: how could you have a restaurant without capital? how without a venue? without marketing?… He even gave us an example of a restaurant without food! (If you wonder, it was in a seafood market, where you could buy your own fish and bring it to the restaurant that cooked it for you 🙂

If you analyse your answers, you may see that to overcome one of the traditional assumptions (like needing capital to launch a restaurant) you are using a new trend (like crowdfunding). Our assumptions come from years of doing something in the same way, but then thanks to a technological advance, a new tool, a new trend, those assumptions are not true anymore.

When discovering a new trend we have to reflect on what it means to our business, is it challenging one of the basic assumptions we worked with before? What are the problems that can be solved with this trend? Is it creating new expectations from our customers? (As example of this, KBC is now offering a contact channel through Whatsapp)

  • Observing

Miguel suggests us to look at dating sites like Tinder 🙂 Successful dating sites are designed to attract people, they are  rich in new ideas of presentation.  The idea behind is to look at new startups websites to find good design ideas. When something is easy to use, it usually catches up quickly and soon your customers will want it in your site too.
Observe your customer, think of your customer’ journey.  As an example, Nordstrom innovation lab designed an ipad app to help customers choose their lenses in a very Agile way: they installed the whole team (developers, designers,.. even the SCRUM board!) directly in one shop, and they follow the customer to see how they walked around, what they were looking at, how they finally chose their lenses.  They came with a working prototype within a day, and asked real customers to try it, so they could see immediately the functionalities that were missing, or the ones that were not user friendly.

  • Experimenting

Experimenting is not just trial and error. It has to be designed. Facebook is not the same to everyone, there are many versions of the application running simultaneously, they can quickly see which features work better. To look for ideas, Miguel suggests us to look at the Airbnb site: they share all the experiments that they do with their users.

  • Networking

The idea is to talk to people about the new ideas, to discuss the problems to be solved, to come up with different options of your initial product. See people’s reaction, incorporate their insight to your initial idea.

At the actual pace of change in our society, we should do this regularly, to systematize the process of innovation and don’t become a dinosaur (professionally speaking).

Embrace difficulties to stay mentally fit and happy!

I just came by this old article from Ian Leslie in The Economist magazine, it’s about a thought: embrace difficulties when they arise, they force us to be more creative and bring more satisfaction when we overcome them.

There are two ideas intertwined here: the first one is that when things come too easy, we don’t savor them enough. In French I would say « Il faut de la pluie pour faire le beau temps ».

This article brought up a memory of my childhood: we had the means to eat good meat every day. Yes, you can argue that having meat every day is not healthy, but having been brought up in Argentina, well, meat (of any kind) was mandatory at the menu! The thing is that I remember a period we ate beef tenderloin, that is a very tender cut of beef meat. Obviously, we appreciated that cut, and for a long period, every dish at home containing beef meat was done with that cut.  On the oven, as a steak, or in a wok, it was always tenderloin.

Believe me, you can get tired of it!  After a while, whenever I went for dinner to friends and they had another cut, I really savored it, even if it was not so tender.

What about not having money limitations? Yes, I’m sure I would go for a ravaging shopping for a while… until I’ll end up having more than what I need, more than what I could wear on a season! And what after that?  Shopping will not taste the same ?

It’s the same on other levels. At work, if there is no challenge, we’d lose interest, emotion.

But not only that, here is the second idea: challenges force us to think, guide our imagination and help us to come up with innovative solutions. And after the exercise, we end up with a sense of satisfaction of having solved the problem that we would not have experienced without the problem in the first place. This sense of satisfaction for having stretched our brain muscle is equivalent to the endorphin’s after a physical exercise!

Our brains respond better to difficulty than we imagine. In schools, teachers and pupils alike often assume that if a concept has been easy to learn, then the lesson has been successful. But numerous studies have now found that when classroom material is made harder to absorb, pupils retain more of it over the long term, and understand it on a deeper level. Robert Bjork, of the University of California, coined the phrase “desirable difficulties” to describe the counter-intuitive notion that learning should be made harder by, for instance, spacing sessions further apart so that students have to make more effort to recall what they learnt last time. Psychologists at Princeton found that students remembered reading material better when it was printed in an ugly font.

So remember next time you encounter a pebble on your way : embrace the opportunity of some brain gymnastic and enjoy life!

Kill your dragons to be creative

Walter Vandervelde did a presentation at Professional Women International on creativity this month. He taught us how to kill our internal dragons to be more creative 😉

  • NONO, the dragon of the criticism, prejudices and conservatism:
    Change your automatic reply from ‘yes but’ to a ‘yes and’. That will stop criticism and you’ll feel the energy rising as you build up collectively a solution and your ideas get wider and wilder.
  • HOHO, the dragon of fear of failure, lack of courage and uncertainty:
    There is a quick solution to this dragon: just do it! “Doing is the new Thinking”. To begin things rolling, use gamification -that is using techniques of games for serious stuff.  As example, Walter suggests to put 2 teams to compete, giving them basic instructions and restrictions to begin with, so that they are not stopped by uncertainty. Be sure to tell everybody that it’s ok to fail.
  • GOGO, the dragon of the stress, time constraints and lack of reflection:
    To kill this dragon do your working place more attractive, an enjoyable experience and less stressful.
  • DODO, the dragon of resignation, habit and lack of curiosity:
    To ovecome this, foster the creative thinking mind, the one that, in front of a question, tries to come up with many other questions instead of just a straight answer. In fact the creative thinker tries to find the best question to describe the problem.

When trying to come up with creative ideas, know how our mind works: after a while it becomes lazy and you cannot find more ideas, but if you allow it to rest just a few minutes and come back to your problem at hand, you ‘ll get more ideas and usually those will be the more creative ones, the first ones being the obvious ones. During the resting time your unconscious mind continues working, incubating your thoughts, finding new relations to the problem.

Some techniques Walter mentioned to open your mind is reverting a question or rephrasing it. You’ll be verbalising other ideas behind your problem : Ask “An examples of a car is…” and people will tend to name brands: “a Mercedes, a Ford, …”. Ask “A car is…” and you’ll get other definitions like the function ” a driving device”, the uses “a device for transportation” and other relations.
give examples of things, imagine new uses, different ways of doing the same thing

Thanks Walter  for an entertaining event.  I learned interesting tips and tricks to be creative, and even some swear words in different languages that I swear not to repeat 😉

 

Learning how to learn

Learning how to learn

I’m an eternal learner.

There are so many interesting things that time is precious, so when I came accross this MOOC I couldn’t but enroll and check it out.  Anything that helps learning stuff while reducing the needed studying time really appeals to me!

I’m talking about the online course from Coursera called Learning how to learn, by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski, created by the University of California.  I cannot but recommend it to everyone, there are plenty of good tips to make the process of learning easier. Here are my take-aways:

  • Create the habit of doing timeboxing work, using for example the “pomodoro technique”(*) where you set intervals of 25 minutes of working time, following by 5 minutes’ break (or by a longer break after 4 consecutives working slots).  Concentrating in the process (it’s time for my 25 minutes of work)  will make it easier to avoid procrastination.
    And don’t forget to gratify yourself after a focussed  interval of time spent working (a coffee, a piece of chocolate, or wandering on your garden to enjoy a sunny day as today 😉
  • Program the toughest things first, we have more energy to tackle our resistance during the morning.
  • Add time of relaxation and physical exercise to let the studied material ‘sink in’ and get connected in your brain, it’s part of the learning process!
  • The best way to fix the studied material is not to read it over and over, but to recall the information, and space the recalling over time. My son’s favorite method is using flash cards.
  • Test yourself, do exercises in different contexts, so that you make more connections to retrieve the chunks of material.
  • Prepare today your TO DO list for tomorrow, it will have time to be absorbed and tomorrow it will not occupy one slot of your working memory.

I’m sure there are many other tips I didn’t mention that may appeal to you, if you decide to follow the course drop me a line to let me know your peaks 🙂

*: The pomodoro technique has 5 fundamental stages : planning, tracking, recording, processing and visualizing. In the planning phase, tasks are prioritized by recording them in a “To Do Today” list. This enables us to estimate the effort that is required for the tasks. As pomodoros are completed, they are recorded, adding a sense of accomplishment and providing raw data for subsequent self-observation and improvements. At the end of the day, you get a concrete feedback on your estimates, if there are still tasks on the list… you are like me, too optimistic! 😉

The value of Reflection in Learning

introspection

I just read Stephen M. Fleming‘s article “The Power of Reflection” in the Scientific American Mind.  It talks about  the importance of metacognition, that is the ability of knowing our own thoughts and capacities.

This skill that allows us to evaluate our level of competence on a particular domain is totally independent of our effective competence in that specific domain. We can be bad at evaluating one particular skill,and still be good at it.  We can also know we don’t know anything about a specific subject but that doesn’t make us know more about it.  Though, knowing our lack of knowledge is very important! It allow us to evaluate correctly the situation and act properly accordingly. In this last mentioned case the proper action would be to look for help in that domain 🙂  A very typical action we take based on our knowledge of ourselves is writing lists when we tend to forget things, I fully recognize myself here, do you?

Having a good insight on our internal thoughts and processes is very important, it can even be more important than the knowledge itself because it drives our actions. Not being aware of the reality, as they point out in the article, can be very damaging not only for us but for our social relationships and family. Not knowing that we have a particular medical condition, thus not taking the medication, can make it impossible to live unattended, even if the condition itself is not so impairing.

It plays  particular role in learning, and the article mentions a study where they tried to boost this ability among students:

[…] Thomas O. Nelson and his student John Dunlosky, then at the University of Washington, reported an intriguing effect. When volunteers were asked to reflect on how well they had learned a list of word pairs after a short delay, they were more self-aware than if asked immediately.  Many studies have since replicated this finding.  Encouraging a student to take a break before deciding how well he or she has studied for an upcoming test could aid learning in a simple but effective way.

Learners could also trigger better insight by coming up with their own subject keywords. Educational psychologist Keith Thiede of Boise State University and his colleagues found that asking students to generate a few words summarizing a particular topic led to greater metacognitive accuracy.  The students then allocated their study time better by focusing on material that was less well understood.

This method of studying should be taught at school thus teaching this meta-skill to learn more effectively.