Serious Play, Michael Schrage (1999)

“Serious Play” is a concept introduced by Michael Schrage in his book titled “Serious Play: How the World’s Best Companies Simulate to Innovate” published in 1999. The concept explores the use of playfulness and simulation as a powerful tool for fostering creativity, innovation, and problem-solving within organizations.

Schrage argues that traditional approaches to innovation and problem-solving often emphasize analysis, planning, and serious deliberation. However, he suggests that incorporating elements of play and simulation into the process can unlock new possibilities and lead to breakthrough ideas.

Key aspects of the Serious Play concept include:

  • Playful Mindset: Serious Play encourages individuals and teams to adopt a playful mindset when approaching challenges. It involves embracing curiosity, exploration, and a willingness to take risks. By approaching problems with a sense of playfulness, individuals are more likely to generate creative ideas and approach challenges from different perspectives.
  • Simulation and Prototyping: Serious Play involves the use of simulations and prototypes as a means to explore and experiment with new ideas. By creating simplified representations or models of real-world situations, individuals can test hypotheses, uncover insights, and iterate on their ideas in a low-risk environment. Simulation can range from physical prototypes to computer-based models and virtual simulations.
  • Iterative Learning: Serious Play encourages a process of iterative learning through rapid prototyping and experimentation. By creating and testing multiple versions of ideas or solutions, individuals and teams can quickly learn from failures and refine their approaches. This iterative process allows for continuous improvement and fosters a culture of innovation.
  • Collaborative Engagement: Serious Play emphasizes collaboration and teamwork. It encourages individuals to work together, share ideas, and build upon each other’s contributions. Through collaborative engagement, diverse perspectives and expertise can be leveraged, leading to more robust and innovative outcomes.
  • Breaking Norms and Assumptions: Serious Play challenges traditional norms and assumptions by encouraging individuals to think outside the box and question established practices. It encourages individuals to challenge existing paradigms and explore unconventional solutions, fostering a culture of innovation and creative problem-solving.

Schrage’s concept of Serious Play has been influential in the field of innovation and organizational development. It has inspired companies and individuals to embrace playfulness and simulation as a means to drive innovation and tackle complex challenges. By incorporating elements of play and experimentation into their practices, organizations can create an environment that nurtures creativity, encourages risk-taking, and supports the generation of innovative ideas and solutions.