READ THIS AND EARN POINTS! The curious rise of Gamification

(First published December 2011) The ‘phenomenon’ of Gamification is growing, and whether it’s another advertising and marketing industry fad or not, maybe animation companies should sit up and take notice says Saint John Walker. (The full article is available in the Winter 2011 issue of IMAGINE Magazine)

badgesAs online technologies mature, animation skills have been seen to seep into many new niches like advertising, architectural visualisation, interactive media or games, to service the many new business that spring up in the wake of the web. Currently a new hybrid advertising and games sector may be opening up utilising locative technologies enabled by a new breed of smartphones, and this may eventually become another important important source of work for the animation industry- if the advertising industry is to be believed. They are pinning their hopes that Gamification will be big. So let’s explore this subject; but first a little context is in order.

The advertising industry tends to see customer engagement through the prism of a battle for eyeballs. There are only so many hours in the day to hit people with your products message, and to do that you need to have a campaign focused where your targeted demographic congregates, and that is increasingly around the games space, which online technologies have enabled to proliferate.

2009 TNS-NIPO research study showed the time spent on games for the under twenty target groups gaming is third place, following Internet and TV. The advantage of a game over TV is that playing a game requires one hundred percent concentration, which means there is a maximum span of attention time no other media can compete with, and the Advertising industry is anxious to be there.

With one in three people now describing themselves as gamers, interactive entertainment is more popular than ever before with games being played by people of all ages at home, on consoles, on mobile phones, and on Facebook.

Zynga's Farmville; free to play yet made millions

Zynga’s Farmville; free to play yet made millions


Zynga’s FarmVille was the first Facebook game that really attracted the attention of wider media conglomerates in TV and advertising, hungry for new ways to engage with audiences. Founded in July 2007 by Mark Pincus, Zynga had 45 staffers in June 2008 and had mushroomed to 600 by the end of 2009. With its 100 million players, FarmVille was the top game on Facebook between August 2009 and December 2010, with over 100 million users, and then their next game CityVille claimed the top spot. By 2010, FarmVille had more active users than Twitter, and it still interrupts the behaviour patterns of 20 million people per day, who log in to water virtual crops.

Although FarmVille is now no longer the force it was, Zynga is still heading towards $1 billion in revenue in 2011 with its other games and Google has recently poured $100 million into the company. FarmVille’s success was based on leveraging the connectivity of Facebook (‘invite a friend’!) and analysing how people play in a social media environment. Also, it is free to play, so attracts ‘non-gamer’ audiences, especially women who would never class themselves as gamers.

farmville_friendsZynga games are free- if you want them to be. You can play as long as you like for nothing, but there are extras which will add to your enjoyment and sense of achievement. For instance you might pay for a virtual tractor to speed up your crops growth. 82 percent of Zynga’s customers pay nothing, but around 5 percent spend $1-5 in the game, and about the same amount spend $6-10. 3 percent of FarmVille users spend more than $20 a month. That’s the major way the company rakes in $1 million a day.

That’s a huge amount of eyeballs, but also mouseclicks. The key to the rapid success of many of these ‘casual’ games (the latest includes EA’s Sims Social, which clocked up 4.6 million players logging in every day after only a week after its release), are the metrics and feedback the games company get when you play. In a sense, these games are never fully built- they evolve, improving through user data. They collect statistics of how you play, and what you do and find out where people give up or fail, and update or modify accordingly.

They want you to keep playing, but you’ll only keep playing if the reward is balanced with effort. Zynga employ behavioural psychologists, games designers, and finance managers to constantly tune the game based on the feedback they get from you.

In the pre-online world this form of games balancing used to happen before the game was released, but it’s now become an activity long after the game becomes popular.


NGP_B_Hand_front2The global market for video games is projected to grow at an annual rate of 10.6 percent over the coming years to reach $86.7 billion in 2014. UK businesses generated £2 billion in global sales and contributed £1 billion to GDP.

It’s this ability to engage with huge numbers of people that the advertising industry is anxious to exploit. If by tweaking games mechanics and rules, you can so engross the player to make them come back again and again AND pay for something that’s free, using social media and peoples desires for ‘bragging rights’ about their game achievements, then you have a potent mix to manipulate behaviour and promote brands whilst the player is immersed.

Thus Gamification was born, and it’s everywhere.

foursquarecityGamification is broadly defined as applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. It’s part design, part psychology. The addition of game-like reward mechanisms help to drive involvement and encourage users to engage in desired behaviours. You are using the human propensity for fun and playfulness and rewarding the behaviour you want in the user, even encouraging people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring. Gamification is a new way of selling, well, just about anything.

Raj Paharia- the Henry Ford of Gamification?

Raj Paharia- the Henry Ford of Gamification?

“We all need motivation and incentivising” says Rajat Paharia, CEO of Bunchball, one of the top providers of game mechanics servicing clients like NBC, Hearst and Hasbro. “Games Designers have been doing this for years- changing player behaviour through points, badges, virtual goods, high score tables. All these elements can be taken out of the gameworld to anywhere there are people to incentivise them. They can influence user behaviour, drive participation and engagement and loyalty”.

Bunchball sell a Gamification platform called Nitro, which is already serving up to 70 million unique users each month. It allows the tracking of user behaviour and compilation of important user metrics and data, and the ability to apply it to your website. It allows you to use devices such as an avatar builder, virtual room builder, trophy case, an ability to set challenges and track the results, and to apply badges and points to whatever you’re selling on your site.


Jogging Gamified: compete with the world -or yourself

Jogging Gamified: compete with the world -or yourself

Gamification can encourage behaviours in real life too, not just on the web. Nike, the world’s largest manufacturer of athletic footwear and apparel realised in 2008 that one way to sell more trainers was to get more people running. Their solution was to ‘gamify’ exercise.Nike+ is an app on your iPhone or ipod Nano that you take out jogging with you.

Via GPS it gives you information on your runs- how fast you are going, how far, how many calories you are burning, and a map of your journey. When you upload that information to the Nike+ website you can see statistics and a history of all your runs.

Where Gamification is utilised to keep you running (and buying) is by introducing peer group pressure and competition. You can challenge your friends, or people around the world to races, and get rewarded with virtual trophies and medals, and a training program designed online just for you.

This literally healthy competition incentivises you. If you run the shortest distance among the people in your game, then you’ll try harder next time. Online coaching includes footage of well-known athletes congratulating you on your new personal best.

humanrace2009Gamification has turned what many people consider a chore or find hard to get motivated about into a system of social bragging rights and a sense that you are achieving progress through virtual rewards, on a global scale. Recently over 800,000 runners logged on and signed up when Nike sponsored a 10K race simultaneously across 25 international cities. Over 1.8 million runners are currently using Nike+

So, what has this got to do with animation? Well, data needs to be presented in a visual form, and it’s just possible that if this new industry takes off, new ways will need to be found to portray data attractively. Just as the games industry is a major employer of animation talent, it’s just possible gamification might increase that demand too.


Gamification is a hot topic. The Gartner Group estimates that by 2015, 70 percent of the Forbes Global 2000 will be using gamified apps, and M2 Research forecasts that U.S. companies alone will spend $1.6 billion on gamification products and services by that same year. Real-time networked communication, web analytics and location based technologies have all enabled gamification businesses, and allowed interaction with the real world.

Gamification has hit the car industry. In 2009, Ford’s Fusion Hybrid rewarded fuel efficient driving behaviour by the illumination of increasing numbers of leaves on a digital tree on the dashboard. The driver alters their behaviour to the challenge of growing a full leafy tree.

left: the complete dashboard. Right inset: the leaves grow as you save fuel....

left: the complete dashboard. Right inset: the leaves grow as you save fuel….

Gamification influences behaviour, and investors are rushing to fund gamification companies.

foursquare_specialoffer2Foursquare is a location-based mobile app that provides users with a list of places in their nearby vicinity ‘to explore’, such as retail stores, restaurants, gyms and any other type of business. Users check in to a coffee bar, restaurant, cinema or pretty much anywhere interesting and share their location with friends on Twitter and Facebook. By doing so, users can earn points to compete against friends and gain “badges,” which are virtual rewards for checking in to certain places. You can also take advantage of promotions from local businesses. Users who have checked in the most times at a certain venue will be crowned “Mayor” until someone surpasses their number, and this can unlock further badges and discounts. Users around the world are ‘checking in’ at the rate of 23 times per second. Foursquare raised $50 million of investment and has attracted 10 million customers on a platform that was built around solid game mechanics.

Various venues have embraced Foursquare, and offer special deals to users who are “mayors”. You and all your friends in your Facebook and Twitter lists can flaunt badges and share achievements. There’s also a leaderboard to encourage competition and conspicuous consumption.foursquare_highres

As evidence of critical mass, UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently joined Foursquare in an effort to expand his digital presence and better connect with the electorate. Foursquare members can track who Cameron is meeting with, when and why.


The business entrepreneurs who are running the leading gamification industries are the videogame generation. To them, using points, badges, virtual goods, high score tables, a sense of achievement and reward is something they’ve grown up with. They know the dopamine high of winning virtual rewards.

playSCVNGRhereSeth Priebatsch was 20 when he set up SCVNGR, a location based real world gaming platform app dedicated to doing challenges at certain locations and earning points. Users are able to broadcast where they are and what they’re doing to their friends on Facebook and Twitter. Companies, educational institutions, and organizations can build challenges too.

The US chain Buffalo Wild Wings & Bar was the first national company to announce an interactive campaign with SCVNGR. Restaurant guests complete challenges in the restaurants and win instant prizes and rewards that are redeemable there and then. In the first two weeks of the campaign, over 33,000 people played SCVNGR at the chain and one in three came back to do it again. Eating places are regularly seeing 2,000 new gamers a day.

With 60 employees and a total of 18 million dollars of investment SCVNGR is riding high, and can afford official zany job titles (Michael Hagan is Chief Rockstar, and founder Seth is Chief Ninja). Seth Priebatsch sums up the zeitgeist; “We’re moving from a decade-long social phase of communication, where we let Facebook and Twitter capture our social lives on the web – building a “social layer” on top of the real world, towards a new game layer or all-encompassing net of behavior-steering game dynamics that will reshape both education and commerce”.

Seth Priebatsch (photo: Arnold Wells)

Seth Priebatsch (photo: Arnold Wells)

It’s this movement that SCVNGR see themselves as part of. “Facebook own half a billion people, they own all our connections” says Priebatsch, “the framework has been built and decided on- its Facebook’s Open Graph API”. To Priebatsch, because of this there’s little point doing anything with social media outside of Facebook, it is literally ‘Game Over’. The new challenge of this next decade is the Game Layer, which is all about influencing behaviour, and it’s only just begun. The Gamification version of Facebook has yet to be invented.

Ex-college dropout Priebatsch sees a new, gamified world. He talks about how 21st century education is dysfunctional and broken because “It’s a poorly designed game”. To Priebatsch it suffers from two major problems- engagement, and cheating. “Grades are a naive implementation of a status mechanic,” he suggests.

All these apps rely on data, but that data needs to be presented effectively for quick recognition and consumption. “The visuals need to carry the story. Imagine mafia wars without images- it would be a series of abstract progress bars,” notes Sebastian Deterding, a designer and researcher working on user experience. In short, the advance of gamification might mean more work for designers and animators. Gamification company sites are replete with animated infographics showing how simple joining is. Foursquare’s introduction features an animation that wouldn’t be out of place on kids TV. The message is all about fun and ease of use.


It’s worth remembering that much of this zeal is from start-ups who need to attract big investors in the States, and at the moment they seem to be getting it. However, on this side of the pond we are a little more sanguine. Games Designers point out that escapism and fun are often being missed by ad agencies anxious to slap a bit of gamification onto any campaign going, and often ending up with poor results.

Margaret Robertson, game designer, commentator and development director at design studio Hide and Seek took issue with the concept of gamification in her influential 2010 blog“Points and badges have no closer a relationship to games than they do to websites and fitness apps and loyalty cards. They’re great tools for communicating progress and acknowledging effort, but neither points nor badges in any way constitute a game…games set their players goals and then make attaining those goals interestingly hard”.

Robertson penned the term Pointsification, and became a standard bearer for much of the games industry.

American academic Mark Sample agrees; “I oppose pointsification and the gamification of life. Instead of “gamifying” activities in our daily life, we need to meanify them—imbue them with meaning. The things that we do to live, breathe, eat, laugh, love, and die, we need to see as worth doing in order to live, breathe, eat, laugh, love, and die. A leaderboard is not the path toward discovering this worthwhileness”.

now everybody wants to be your friend: Shop on Oxford St, London

now everybody wants to be your friend: Shop on Oxford St, London

The next few years will see if Gamification becomes the normal way we respond to advertising brands and our daily retail choices. We’ll see if the job role of Gamification Animator will slip into common currency. When every commercial outlet wants to woo us with badges, trophies and often meaningless rewards, will there be a backlash? Will we view each offer of engagement with weariness and suspicion? Will we resent the fact that corporations know we are nearby, and ply us with offers?

On one Gamification blog, software engineer and entrepreneur Brendten Eickstaedt exclaimed “Who cares if you’re the mayor of your local grocery store? NOBODY. Gamification is a fad that needs to die quickly. Let’s get back to building games that are fun to play, and then worry about how to bring them into the real world”.

Gamification’s future is in the hands of the advertising agencies, and is becoming a gold rush industry that offers opportunity for games designers, animators and software engineers alike. Make hay whilst you can seems to be a good approach, but don’t open that Gamification Animation boutique just yet.


An Innovation Nation?

 (First published in Jan 2012) We know we are a Creative nation, but one of the main themes of 2012 will be how well we exploit and monetise this. So, how well is Innovation embedded in our wider economy? In the wake of a major new report, we might want to consider if the creative industries have much more to offer the wider economy than previously thought.

innovation_imageIt’s widely regarded that innovation is the cornerstone of new economic growth and success, for both the companies that innovate and the countries that tax them.

Although the word shares latin roots with Novelty, Innovation importantly also has roots in innovāre meaning to renew and alter.

It’s no surprise that innovation has become a buzz word of the 21st century rather than its erstwhile cousin novelty. Innovation is about the exploitation of novelty. “Innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas” defined the UK Department of Trade and Industry Innovation Unit in 2004. Economist Peter Drucker stated “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship… the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth”. Framed by these definitions, innovation is the province of entrepreneurs, not your average employer or employee (although they may of course be potential entrepreneurs).

Ironically the term isn’t new. Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter outlined innovation over 70 years ago as involving the introduction of a new product of higher quality than previously available, using methods of new production; (not necessarily new discoveries but maybe new in context, borrowed from other industrial sectors). He also cited the opening of new markets and new forms of competition that lead to the restructuring of an industry.

Soumitra Dutta, author of Innovating at the Top (2008) sums it up well “New ideas lie at the heart of innovation, but ideas alone are not enough. Innovation requires translating ideas into value-adding products and services. . . . Bridging the gap between an idea and its beneficial result is the crucial step in innovation”.


The implication is the better at innovation a country is, the more economic growth it might generate. Thomson Reuters 2011 report “Top 100 Global Innovators: Honouring the World Leaders of Innovation” makes an attempt to map the global centres of innovation. How do you measure Innovation? Usually these lists aggregate and list the amount of patents registered in each country as a single benchmark- but the Thomson Reuters study goes further, looking at the global reach of those patents and how much of a nation’s patent portfolio is recognised and protected by the biggest patent authorities in the US, China, Europe, and Japan. It also meticulously factored in impact- how often is the patent itself cited in other patents? Lastly, it looked at new inventions or techniques created.

Now we know the creative industries is an area where innovation can’t really be measured by patents, so this chart isn’t measuring creativity per se, but innovation across all industries. It is essentially measuring the invention that goes on. However, whilst not an assessment of the strength of our creative industries, this can be seen as a bellwether indicator of the fertility of each nations soil for innovation- showing how well companies and universities operate in an environment for exploitation of ideas.


The Companies in the Top 100 hail from just 9 countries. You might reasonably guess that the US is number one, with 40% of patents. China, it should be pointed out, isn’t in the top 10 because its patents are inward facing, focusing on the domestic market, and hence doesn’t have international exploitation possibilities. So, you might not be surprised that number two is Japan with 27%. You might also not be too surprised that numbers three to seven in the list are European. The real surprise is that they are led by France (11%), followed by Sweden (6%), Germany (4%), and the Netherlands (3%) which just pips South Korea. Given the geographic footprint of France, its representation in the Top 100 Global Innovator list is impressive.

So where is the UK, with its often praised university research centres and technology and telecommunication companies? It’s not there, beaten by Switzerland (3%) and plucky Liechtenstein (1%) at numbers 8 and 9. Admittedly this result is skewed by scale- a country of approximately 62 square miles and approximately 35,000 people is also home to one of the most innovative companies in the world: privately owned machine manufacturer Hilti Corporation.


Of course, this isn’t the whole story- if you look at the industries represented by those patents, it’s weighted in favour of certain industries that we maybe aren’t so good at. But this in itself might be worrying. 14% of patents were from semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing, 13% from chemical manufacturing, 11% from computer hardware manufacturing, 9% consumer product manufacturing. It seems we are not a nation of inventors any more. However, we  know we are a Creative Industries nation- hugely successful in this respect contributing £133bn to the UK economy and according to the European Audiovisual Observatory, the best exporter of Audiovisual content in Europe, but this report seems to reinforce the idea that we don’t extend, exploit or even protect our ideas in our wider industries. It could be seen as a further extrapolation of that old narrative of how we invented television, the world wide web, jet engine and the telephone and then let others develop, licence and exploit.


However it might be worth seeing this situation as an opportunity for the creative industries. If the Thomson Reuters report is right, there is a clear disconnect between our wider industries and a proven successful creative industries sector (5.6% share of GVA in 2008, the largest in Europe, projected to grow to 12.6% in 2016). Maybe our successful creative industries should be seen as exemplars the rest of UK PLC can learn from. Conversely, maybe our creative companies and creative and cultural entrepreneurs can act as consultants, agent provocateurs and mentors to a far wider gamut of companies than previously imagined. If our ‘innovation index’ isn’t great in our manufacturing industries, but simultaneously we have on our doorstep one of the best performing creative industries, it might be that we can foster an environment where successful application of creative industry innovation methodologies and modes of creative thinking could see us climb that chart of global innovators. Promulgating our creative industries’ proven innovative mindset beyond its own sectoral borders could have positive repercussions.  2012 could be the year we start to bring the right and left brained industries together to create unforeseen growth.



As an emblem of this idea, it’s just been announced that Jonathan Ive, the Chingford-born chief designer at Apple, has been appointed a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. Ive (ex-Northumbria Polytechnic!) said he was “both humbled and sincerely grateful” about the award for services to design. “I am keenly aware that I benefit from a wonderful tradition in the UK of designing and making”. How many of our home grown hi-tech industries could similarly benefit from exploiting our creators, designers, artists, thinkers, to convert creativity into wealth?

The main points of the Thomson Reuters report can be viewed via this infographic here

The creators of the Infographic above are  Column Five

“Grade F is the new Grade A: Discuss.” Schools and innovation


Q: What do Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Bill Gates all have in common? 

A: They were all school drop outs.

With the tail end of summer comes the annual reflection on the standards our young people achieve in schools, and the seemingly ritual arguments over whether standards are slipping, or goalposts have moved. This year GCSE grades fell marginally for the first time in 24 years. Never knowingly giving the kids a break, the papers concentrated not on celebrating 23 years of progressive rises in A* to C grades, but rather centred on the overall tiny fall (69.4% compared to last year’s 69.8%) and dug deeper into statistics to show A*-C grades in both Science and English Lit had fallen by 2%.

That wasn’t the only bad news about our nation’s youth, though. The Federation of Small Businesses gazumped the announcement by a couple of days to announce that eight out of ten businesses (from 2,774 survey respondents) don’t believe school leavers are ready for work, and saying more should be done to help prepare them for employment.

Two thirds of FSB members said that improving basic literacy and numeracy skills would better prepare young people for work.

59 per cent who already employ 16 to 17-year-olds reported that their young employees had poor literacy skills. 55 per cent thought numeracy was poor, and 56 per cent said communication skills fell short of what was needed. 77 per cent also stated that school leavers’ general business awareness was poor. In addition the FSB called for better careers guidance, and the training of young people in CV writing, time-keeping, problem solving and team working.

Two thirds of FSB members said that improving basic literacy and numeracy skills would better prepare young people for work.

Two thirds of FSB members said that improving basic literacy and numeracy skills would better prepare young people for work.

John Walker, the FSB’s National Chairman, said: “These are the skills with which young people need to be equipped with to be successful in today’s tough jobs market. We want to see schools give these skills a higher priority by embedding them in all teaching from an early stage. All schools should be offering work experience to their pupils and engaging with local small businesses to ensure that young people are getting the work-related learning that they need.”

The timbre is one of frustration, maybe exasperation, and the implicit demand for schools is “do more of everything, and better, please”. The accompanying press release mentions nothing that schools are doing right, nor offers any real solutions.

However these problems might not be as intractable if you take the assumption that the system doesn’t need reforming, it needs reinventing. This is the conclusion that Tony Wagner has come to.

Tony Wagner was a high school teacher for twelve years, a principal and then a university professor in teacher education, and has taken that vast experience to write on innovation and entrepreneurship. Now, as Harvard’s first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center, and one of the United States’ top educationalists, he states “the world doesn’t care what you know, but what you can do with what you know” and has researched and distilled industry needs into seven clear and meaningful statements that can guide educators, schools and policy makers alike to engage with the entrenched and institutional imbalances and blockages in young people’s learning experiences.

Wagner lists the seven survival skills that young people need to masterTony Wagner describes the core skills that young people need to master today, asking “In a world where any job that can be turned into a routine can be offshored or automated, what skills matter most today, what’s most important?” Wagner interviewed scores of employers and innovators from as far afield as Apple, Unilever, the US army, community leaders and entrepreneurs and discovered overwhelming consensus. “I came to understand there is a set of core competencies that every young person needs, not just to get a good job, but to be a continuous learner and an active and informed citizen in the 21st century” he states, calling them the seven survival skills. It’s a different approach to the FSB, and offers a useful framework with which to address the challenge.

In his book The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner describes these seven interdependent survival skills.

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

It’s the ability to ask the right questions that businesses want. Business leaders told Wagner “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems. It’s not about incremental product improvement anymore”. Just upgrading and improving current product lines isn’t enough.

  • Collaboration Across Networks, Leading by Influence

Whilst the FSB calls for more teamwork in schools, Wagner goes further “Team work isn’t about working with others in your own building, it’s about collaborating across networks, being comfortable with virtual teams and what’s more influencing and negotiating with those in your team, wherever they are. Kids lack the ability to influence” says Wagner.

  • Agility and Adaptability

A large proportion of the job roles out there didn’t exist five years ago, and the pace of change won’t slow down. Careers advice has tended to focus on seeming iron-clad roles and rigidly straight career path progression. This doesn’t prepare young people for a world where the job you get hired for won’t be there for much longer. They need to be taught agility and adaptability to glide nimbly through the new world of unpredictable work patterns and roles, rather than just given more careers advice.

  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

One of the problems with large companies is risk aversion, and Wagner found a surprising number of businesses recognise this, and look for new entrants who will challenge and re-examine the way things are done, bringing fresh perspective.

  • Effective Oral and Written Communication

Wagner goes further than the FSB’s criticism of Reading and ‘riting. Young people have difficulty in communicating not only verbally and through writing, but also lack presentation skills. To Wagner this isn’t necessarily about grammar or spelling, it’s about being clear and concise. Students don’t know how to write “with a voice”.

  • Accessing and Analysing Information

Today’s new workers in the knowledge economy have no shortage of information and data. The trick is how to navigate and analyse selectively, researching and coming to appropriate conclusions regarding veracity, often on subjects beyond your immediate expertise. There is an astronomical amount of data and coping with that complexity is a survival skill.

  • Curiosity and Imagination

Of course none of the previous six principles can be approached without the motor of curiosity, nor exploited without imagination. It’s here that art and design competencies can really be seen to be key to preparing our young people. Imagination is muscular, and if you don’t exercise it, atrophy can set in. It’s the wellspring of innovation.

Tony Wagner’s books call for the reinvention of the school system

Tony Wagner's books call for the reinvention of the school system

Tony Wagner’s books call for the reinvention of the school system

The challenge of inculcating innovation skills runs through Wagner’s writing. “The culture of schooling we have grown up with is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators” he states. He points to five key issues that he believes schools need to address.

Firstly, Schools tend to celebrate and reward individuals, when “innovation is a team sport”. Accountable teamwork and collaboration should be embedded throughout the curriculum.

Secondly, our curriculum leads to specialisms with separate and often parallel tracks, culminating in separate faculties at university, when the world of innovation is interdisciplinary. “Problems can no longer be solved nor even understood within the bright lines of academic discipline” says Judy Gilbert, Director, People Programs and Systems at Google.

The third issue to Wagner is about how schools are often structured to be risk averse. He paints a picture of how they can often penalise failure, and pupils are motivated to figure out what the teacher needs, so as not to fail. However the motto of the innovator is fail early, fail often. We need to get used to failure, and learn how to recover from mistakes, not fear them. We need to reframe the concept to talk about iteration not failure. For innovation, “F is the new A” quips Wagner.

The fourth is the scourge of passive consumption that can be part of both our schools and our general culture. We are all brought up as consumers, but we need to gain the propensity to be active creators and cultural producers, creating and sharing the real products of our imagination. Passivity is the enemy of creativity and innovation.

This brings us on neatly to the last key issue. Schools tend to rely on extrinsic incentives for learning, carrots and sticks, trying to motivate students to produce good grades, (cold cash has been tried in at least one school in the States) rather than encourage more personal motivation through exploratory play and experimentation. Wagner found the real innovators tended to be those students who had gained the intrinsic impulse of innovation, developing a passion and a purpose for themselves.

Creating-Innovators-Book-by-Tony-WagnerOf course Wagner’s experience is of the American system, and it may well be our system is more adaptable and pliable, because we can all name good practice where all these qualities happen in isolation, but Wagner’s point is the system was not invented to accommodate these issues, which makes it painfully hard to innovate, and much harder than it should be. His seven survival skills are a useful measure and guide and take us beyond the impasse of just demanding that schools ‘Must Try Harder’. It seems to me that we need to also add one more item to Wagner’s list of ways to foster a new innovation culture in our young people, and that is to raise the status of the teacher, and to celebrate those motivated paragons who surmount the barriers and walls of the current system.

That would be a great Press Release to see!

The Intrapreneur: the unsung hero of our industries?

preneur_picThere are certain strong ideas that we instinctively and rightly want to highlight and see nurtured in our creative industries.

One is the idea of the entrepreneur, and it’s no wonder. We know from experience that growth will likely be initiated by a new generation of innovators, leaving University courses and setting up on their own. After all, several now-massive companies in our sectors have done just that- the Gower brothers and JagexMichael Acton-Smith and Mind CandyDavid Sproxton and Peter Lord founding Aardman, all the way through to ‘the two Steves’- Jobs and Wozniak, and Apple. All these entrepreneurs went on to create international brands.

Most entrepreneurs recognise themselves that they had an element of good fortune to survive the journey, as the attrition along the way from an original great idea to commercial fruition is huge, and thousands never make it.

The word entrepreneur, described as “an enterprising individual who builds capital through risk and/or initiative” was defined as far back as 1723 by Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon. The idea was refined by Joseph Schumpeter, the first scholar to develop theories in this field. According to him entrepreneurs are innovators who use a process of shattering the status quo of the existing products and services, to set up new products and new services.

However, in the 20th century’s new era of mass communications and international flows of capital, modern businesses developed ever more complex structures and chains of command. A new parallel word gained purchase, then got forgotten- that of Intrapreneur. As the prefix intimates, the intrapreneur essentially innovates from within a company.

So we have two definitions that should be seen in parallel:

  • “An Entrepreneur is someone who has the skills, passion and financial backing to create wealth from new business opportunities and is willing to take full responsibility for its success or failure”.
  • “An Intrapreneur is someone who manages that business with entrepreneurial flair in line with the limitations of the business environment.”

The first written use of the terms ‘intrapreneur’ and ‘intrapreneurship’ date from a paper written in 1978 by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot. Later the term saw daylight in a 1982 issue of The Economist, but seems to have been first used in popular media in February 1985 by a TIME magazine article “Here come the Intrapreneurs” after a book by Gifford Pinchot emerged titled Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur (Harper & Row, 1985). Finally the neologism gained official status in the 1992 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

The Intrapreneur is distinct because they also have the operational skills of running the clockwork mechanics of the business to enable a good idea to be turned into commercial reality.  Some people are born intrapreneurs. Not every small business needs an Entrepreneur, but it may be that every innovative business needs Intrapreneurs, who operate within business confines, without the high testosterone of risk.

So, it’s surprising we don’t use this word more. When you don’t have a word to describe something, you don’t really have a way of discussing a concept, and this is really my point. Whilst the skillset of Entrepreneur and Intrapreneur are very similar, there are specific and individual barriers to success in each. If we go back to our previous example, Sproxton and Lord may be classed as entrepreneurs, but Nick Park could be seen as the intrapreneur. Interestingly, to millions he is Aardman Animation. I daresay Park’s innovation is different from Sproxton and Lord’s.  In another example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were the entrepreneurs behind Apple, but the ultimate intrapreneur might be Chingford’s own Jonathan Ive, lead designer and conceptual mind behind the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

In fact it seemed Jobs was acutely aware of the power of this role, in an interview in the September 1985 Newsweek article where he stated, “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship; only a few years before the term was coined—a group of people going, in essence, back to the garage, but in a large company.”

So is this demarcation between entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs just splitting hairs? Both are kinds of visionary, driven by passion for what they do, and ambition. But being an entrepreneur isn’t right for everyone.

“Some individuals don’t want to go off on their own and build something from scratch wearing every hat (or hoodie) under the sun in order to find professional fulfillment.  There’s no shortage of books and media messages that paint the world in black and white in this regard. You are either a faceless corporate cog in the machine of a large, soulless organization, or you are fighting the good fight as a free and independent entrepreneur in charge of his own destiny. But I’m here to tell you from experience that there is a third way, and it’s called being an intrapreneur” says David Armano, executive VP, Global Innovation & Integration at Edelman, the world’s largest independent Public Relations Agency.

At Creative Skillset we know the world needs entrepreneurs. We’re pinning our hopes on the start-up mentality that can emerge both from our universities and from the street.  These days it seems there are entrepreneurs behind every app, social network, or new media service. But as soon as these organisations reach a critical size, they need the intrapreneurs, to regain their entrepreneurial spirit and continue to thrive and innovate, combatting an often understandable inertia and sometimes creeping complacency.

bus_planIn the past NESTA has described this plateau or flatline that young companies can suffer from after initial success, and indeed have set up mentor schemes to try to “increase the ambition and drive to grow creative businesses” and to help them “raise their game”.  That is one tactic, but what about shifting focus and assistance from this external agent of change as a possible solution, (the business mentor) who is often only available sporadically anyway, to an internal agent of change, the intrapreneur? Many companies fail because they don’t adapt, and this is because they don’t have these intrapreneurs on board.

This is the real difference between intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, especially in the creative industries. Yes, we need to breed entrepreneurs, but maybe we’ll increase the odds of success if we train a new generation of intrapreneurs. Jonathan Ive couldn’t have started Apple, Google’s Serge Brin and Larry Page couldn’t have taken their search algorithms to market without intrapreneurs Omid Kordestani or Wayne Rosing, and Nick Park couldn’t have made a thriving business out of moving plasticine alone.

It could be argued that the intrapreneur is sheltered from risk- they have a job and a paycheck, and so they’ve got it easy. They are sheltered from losing their house if a business deal goes wrong. That maybe be so, but that’s no reason to ignore their contribution, this isn’t a macho comparison about who suffers the most, and we shouldn’t divert resources from assisting the entrepreneur, but if we could recognise and support the intrapreneur, how many more start-ups might succeed? How many more jobs might be created?

Maybe the intrapreneur should now be part of our mental map, similar yet distinct from the entrepreneur. As for Creative Skillset, we could promote this facet of commercial innovation, suggesting to our friends in academia that intrapreneurism might be given equal prominence to entrepreneurial studies in their curriculum, articulating the different competencies and choices each necessitate, and reassuring graduates who (sometimes because of family dependents) don’t want to live with the all consuming risk of entrepreneurism, that there is another way of taking that skill for innovation to the workplace. Who knows, intrapreneurs could become a new oxygen supply for the growth agenda we all want to see flourish.