Name: Luke Hohmann
California, USA
Collaboration games


Luke Hohmann is the Founder and CEO of Conteneo, Inc. (formerly, The Innovation Games® Company). In this conversation, we dive deeply into what collaboration actually is and means – and why games are an important way to solve big problems.

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Powerful quotes by Luke Hohmann

Humans do not collaborate in large groups. So you cannot break human biology in terms of group size. A thousand people are not a collaboration model. It’s a broadcast model.


What we see as the great hole in the collaboration space is organizations mistake communication for collaboration.


The degree of enjoyment that you derive from a given activity is a constructed relationship based on who you are as a person and how you like to derive pleasure. So some people think Scrabble is fun, some people can’t stand it. Some people think The Settlers of Catan is fun, some people can’t stand it. We believe deeply as a company that empowered collaborative teams are the best chance that we have to solve the business and social problems we’re facing. How we support that, I believe, is through a collection of non-conflict collaborative games that enable teams to solve those problems through collaborative play.


We always say that in-person and online are like men and women: they’re equal but different. When we’re together, we’re dealing with the science of proximity which determines physical placement of people one to another and to the artifacts that they’re working on. For example, who is standing close to the whiteboard? So in person, we tend to talk, agree, and then we put things on the board. When we’re online, we’re all the same distance from the board. So we tend to swarm and then we make sense of the information.


For people who are members of a group in a collaborative situation who are not speaking the dominant language of the group, meaning everyone is speaking Japanese and I’m the one person who has bad Japanese, or everyone is speaking German and I’m the American who barely knows German, I’m at a collaborative disadvantage. But when I go into the chat, because we are typically in multiple language environments, I am able to chat more effectively than I speak because I can process it differently.


Every one of us has a story about working all night long on a project. The problem is not motivation. There’s plenty of motivational power in the development world. Developers regularly move mountains. The issue is “was the all-nighter worth it?” Did I work all night long and achieve the business objective and it made sense? Or did I work all night long only to see my product be released and no one use it and fizzle. That’s important.


There is a process for understanding wicked problems called the “apple, banana, potato” framing of an issue – meaning you take an issue and you look at it from one perspective, and you look at it from a similar but opposite perspective, and then you create a third perspective that’s different than the other two. It’s by looking at things in multiple perspectives, understanding the actions associated with each perspective, and the drawbacks in the causal system of each of those perspectives, where we can then analyze and create a better outcome.


There are three dominant reasons why executive decisions fail, according to the research in decision-making science. Number one: we don’t look at options. We frame things as yes or no, and then we force ourselves into a yes or a no, and that’s not an option. The second thing is we fail to examine the causal impact of the system. If I’m willing to take this action, what are the drawbacks? Do I support that action and do I accept those drawbacks? And the third is because we don’t have decision-making science tools that match our current organizational structures, we don’t involve the right people.


The issue isn’t that we have our individual preferences; the issue is that in collaboration with my teammates around the world, if I can’t find a common foundation, then I’m going to make negative assumptions. It’s not because I’m a bad person, but rather, because I haven’t had a conversation.


What games and serious games give us in business is they give us a structured way to engage in productive, goal-driven, human-centric, positive arguments. Games bring the clarity of rules and the clarity of constraint so that you are accomplishing the goal.


We use fun as a code word to mean intense feelings of engagement and satisfaction from being utilized according to our talents. When we say ‘I had a fun day’, usually what we mean is: I felt engaged. I felt that I was using my talents to my ability. The problems that I was given are the problems that I love to solve.


What I tell people in my training is if you’re working in a company that may not respond or resonate with games, just say that you’re engaging in a strategic, goal-directed activity with clearly defined rules of engagement and well-defined or well-described constraints that will enable action after the activity is done.

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