Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

Lessons From Minecraft: Scenario Planning and Collaboration

on Thursday, April 18, 2013
[Sept. 12, 2014 UPDATE: It's been reported that Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, is in talks to sell Mojang, the company he built around Minecraft, to Microsoft for $2B. I can't begrudge him his success and well-earned compensation for a superb idea, executed and shepherded beautifully. However, I am one of millions who hopes that Microsoft will understand and protect what makes this phenomenon so special to super-users, occasional dabblers, children and moms alike. 
Below is my post from 2013 from when my children introduced me to the addictive fun and games of Minecraft. - @RoopaOnline]

[Original post from April 2013]
Earlier this week, I was flattered when I was invited to "join" my 9-year olds in their Minecraft game.

Me as Steve in the foreground, and my daughter, also as Steve
showing me how to prospect for minerals
Minecraft is an online game originally designed by a Swedish programmer (Marcus Persson, or "Notch") and went public in 2009. It one of the few games out there that doesn't have a specific goal, allowing players the freedom to do any exploration they wish to undertake. The default character is popularly called Steve, a name suggested in jest by Notch. Steve is a generic, genderless representation of a human. The game has been famously updated with an educational version by the programmer's wife. In 2012, an Xbox version was released, and the kids got in the act. Mine play it on iPads.

Joining means entering their virtual world to hang out, build fantastic homes and fight zombies and creepers. Lots of fun was had by all - some virtual animals may have been harvested, though.

I loved that there is such a high educational element to the game - you have to build your inventory of materials, craft tools and armor, and players can collaborate and share their wealth. It's like a virtual life skills class!

Both kids as Steve - launching arrows at me!
Here I am, being instructed on the basics of digging for minerals and flying while hunting. What struck me, about the whole experience, though, was not all the building and crafting prowess my kids showed. What struck me was the intense collaboration they displayed - these are very normal kids, lots of bickering in real life. In their joint world, however, these were teammates keeping each other safe, choosing art for each others homes, and collaborating to make sure they had the right armor and diamond pickaxes.

More impressively, these were kids who were playing out all kinds of scenarios. The what ifs they discussed reminded me of the best team strategy sessions I've been part of in my corporate life. Data was used, decisions made, agreements arrived at on what danger signs they would look out for.

As you may know companies like Shell perfected and then reaped the benefit of monitoring trends and laying out scenarios to ensure they were prepared for market shifts like the oil shock of 1973. It's a skill worth building - and does need building. When an education system AND planning system focus on treating data like data, rather than directional to a multiplicity of possible futures, they enforce a lack of vision. Knowledge can be power, but only when melded with some imagination.

Scenario planning was a process invented by the US military in the 40s and 50s, and perfected in the 60s and 70s by Shell. The process was a pretty complex one, but doesn't always need to be. You can scenario plan on a daily basis:
  • Put yourself in a new world - in Minecraft, you create a new world by entering a code in the opening screen - it's called a "seed". Or you can choose to enter a randomly generated world by not entering a code. So, lo and behold, it's really a new world out there. New resources hidden away in nooks and crannies, new hidey holes for the zombies to jump out at you. Remember when your industry got upended with the advent of digital technology? Something like that.
  • Reflect on trends you are seeing - what can you do with the lava and water?  Hmm, make stone for some solid stone axes, maybe? A jungle out there - does that mean new enemies and new friends? Hm, make stone for some solid stone axes, maybe? In your daily life. think through shifts in trends in your customers, markets, products and competitive spaces. For example, if you are in food packaging, don't just think of the changes in materials and food habits, think of how families are shifting, how farmers are changing their delivery processes, how international food production may be driving new power centers.
  • Decide on the most likely outcome of each trend, and combine the trends to see what emerges - learn to build the strongest fortress, but also figure out some nimble ways to beat the slime - I'm still talking Minecraft here. In business, scenarios can help focus your thinking. For example, imagine urban eateries getting used to working with reusable containers, local cuisine being more prevalent, then ask your salespeople to keep their eyes on when clients start asking for healthy, reusable bento boxes.
  • Now consider whether there is an extreme scenario when plastics no longer seem ok - what happens then. What's the capability you have in other materials, what happens when no plastics are needed anymore?
Take your time to work through these on a daily basis with your team - stay nimble. And play some Minecraft while you are at it!

Understand Trends:
Some questions to work through with your team:
  • What is going on in the market and world today, and how have things (no matter how small they may seem) changed in the past years?
  • How have these changes changed the way you work?
  • Have you seen this trends effect your customers, decisions, purchasing plans?
  • What are some extreme ways these trends may play out? How are the kids out there adapting to this trend?
  • What are your individual skills and capabilities that can be used to be successful in the new world - a world where the extreme example becomes the normal?
Other posts worth a look: 


Matthew Quint said...

Great insight, Roopa. As a spin off tool in line with what you note here, Prof. Schmitt has an exercise he uses with execs and students he calls, "Combining the Seemingly Incompatible."

It also reminds me of IBM's INNOV8 effort in which the company created has created a game to help provide context around business process modelling which created huge lead generation for IBM's offering in this area.

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