Last week I had a great chat with a friend and colleague of mine, Joe Connelly, who just released a book, and is doing some amazing work around helping people change the way they communicate, to be more authentic and open, ultimately changing their business and improving their relationships. But that’s a story for a whole other day.

Joe and I got talking about games in business – something that’s core to Spark Insights and obviously gets me excited. If you know Joe or I personally, you’ll know it was an animated conversation.

Joe is always looking for ways to make their course material really stick, and help his clients retain what they are learning. He and his partners have started introducing games into their training seminars, and he was thrilled with the results. People were 100% engaged, experiencing the material first-hand, and learning from one another. And – they were having fun.

What is it about games?

The rules and systems of our day-to-day work often inhibit creativity and learning. We have emails to answer, tasks that need checking off our todo lists, and meetings to attend. In our daily routine, there’s not much time or headspace left to be creative, and when the time comes to create new ideas, it’s hard to switch gears.

I’m not a brain scientist, nor have I ever played one on TV, but solving problems or learning new material using games seems to activate a different part of your brain. Games let us step into a different world, with different rules and different goals, and temporarily suspend our routine. Having fun helps us relax, and when we’re relaxed, ideas flow more freely. I’ve written about how changing context, boundaries, and environment helps us be more creative, and a well-designed game helps us do that without ever leaving the office.

Are we talking about gamification?

Not exactly. Gamification is about adding elements of games, like competition and rewards, to things like social media, marketing campaigns, online learning, and the like, typically to increase customer engagement. I’m talking about using collaborative play in your business to gain customer insights, facilitate brainstorming, or create experiential learning.

Serious games for serious business

I’ll admit, the mere notion of combining games and work can be a turnoff to some, but I believe that if you’re not at least willing to try it, you’re giving up a serious competitive advantage. The early adopters of Innovation Games, for example, include some of the world’s most innovative companies, like Qualcomm and Fiat. I can almost guarantee that if you take one of your toughest problems, and tackle it with a collaborative game, you will come out some breakthrough ideas. No need to re-invent the wheel either. Grab a copy of the excellent Innovation Games book by Luke Hohmann, and Gamestorming by Gray, Brown and Macanufo, and you’ll be armed with a recipe book of games to apply to almost any situation – ideation, problem solving, getting customer feedback, or gaining consensus. You might even have fun in the process.

Happy gaming!