Your Company Must Play to Win

Friday, August 02, 2013, Vol. 128, No. 150

Are you rewarding your team for outrageous thinking about your product or service mix? Do you give them ample room to experiment and defy expectations about such things as new customer experiences, new business models, new strategies, growth ideas, and new lines of revenue? Can they play and not be punished for generating new thinking about old problems? Can they learn by doing?

Or, are you paralyzing them from innovating? Are you punishing them for not following a rigid set of overly managed expectations?

While certain roles depend upon pinpoint accuracy (surgeons, logistics, pharmacy), most industries can be rethought and create more value – and most experiences can be made better with a sense of wonder and human-centric user viewpoint. This play requires a creative approach to providing experiences. Even serious matters, such as health care, can get better results if they experiment.

For example, take Doug Dietz, the principal designer for GE Healthcare. For 20 years, Doug designed MRI and CT machines, and then he took a design thinking course. He experimented and went into the user experience of his creations instead of just focusing on just the creation itself.

What he realized was that children were terrified by being alone in these cold pieces of technology, so much so they required sedation to endure the negative experience. Without formal orders or a budget, he put together a team of people who cared (including doctors, staff from a children’s museum, kids and families) and had them experiment, or play. They risked failure trying to make a better experience.

The result? With just paint, lights and a little whimsy, the scan rooms turned into adventure portals: an ocean theme in one room where the scanner is a submarine, in another the scanner becomes a tent in a camping experience.

These adventure rooms are wildly successful, inexpensive to executive, and the kids, in the main, no longer require sedation.

Doug is a hero in his company, in the medical industry, and to kids and their families. Something wasn’t right, so he risked failure and played, co-created with actual customers, and he found a way to craft a better experience.

Sales went up too. Play to win. Allow play at your place of business.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis.