Innovation Muscle by Paul Ranson

Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL)’s

via Innovation Muscle by Paul Ranson.


Basil Fawlty Teaches Innovation Thinking


I bet you think that someone like this guy couldn’t possibly bring a h’penny of value to your creative world?

Well if you do, you’d be wrong!

John Cleese is famous for being one of  Monty Python’s Flying Circus. While he looks a bit dated and crazy in this picture (to be fair it was taken in 1975) he is actually playing character Basil Fawlty in the hilarious Fawlty Towers. He is an all round super clever bloke and definitely someone you should check out for creative inspiration.

If you’re not convinced check out John in this video.

Video of John Cleese talking about being creative

(Excuse me if you are British or of a certain age. You’re unlikely to be shocked by this revelation).

Innovation Challenges Any Convention

What I have tried to do in my initial statement is to challenge the perception of the sort of person who is considered to be creative in the 21st century. These days a creatives aim to part of the “hipster tribe” who swan around Shoreditch; downtown New York or Silicon Valley drinking specialist coffee. The represent the cool end of innovation.  By pointing out that creative people are not always cut from this cloth, I’m trying to make you think in a different way.

I call this Smash Thinking. Part of my blog is to try an challenge readers with these sorts of thoughts.

Innovation is where an idea smashes into a set of contradictory thoughts and comes up with a solution that has not been considered before that is actually useful.

What’s more I think anyone can do it.

But what do I mean about contradictory thoughts? I’d like to explain the different types of thinking you are going to set on a collision course to become an innovative thinker

The 2 thoughts are broadly labelled as convergent thoughts and divergent thoughts.

Convergent Thinking

A converging thought is one that is based on what is already known. It is the champion of the status-quo and is the safe thinking.

Think what your aging parent might advise your teenage self. Alternatively consider arrogant assumptions of the Captain of the Titanic as he sailed his “indestructible” ship across the Atlantic.

Its roots are based in the individual feeling safe in what has always been.

Convergent Thinking makes the assumption that the current state will always be like this and no iceberg on this planet could possibly rock the boat.

Wikipedia defines: Convergent thinking is a term coined by Joy Paul Guilford as the opposite of divergent thinking. It generally means the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity, for instance in most tasks in school and on standardized multiple-choice tests for intelligence.

The Nudged Solution

People who build innovations based purely on convergent thinking evolve a solution by nudging it forward. They correct what has gone wrong before.

I find the the focus group mentality where consumers are asked to come up with innovation is trapped in convergent thinking.

As Henry Ford dubiously said “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse please”.

My experience in interviewing customers for video game ideas is that they tend to describe the last game that they played and dress it up with something new.

While this nudging is a valid form of creation, it is unlikely to inspire the revelation that will catapult the idea to another level.

Divergent thinking

Divergent thinking is the opposite of the convergent. It champions the absurd and tries to come at the idea in a way that no one has thought about. It challenges all the assumptions that the convergent thinking has defined.

Wikipedia suggests that: Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

The Jumped Solution

People who truly innovate make a jump of thinking that catapult it to another level. If it’s good it can lay waste to industries that have existed before. Consider how Netflix has altered how DVD rentals worked. Can you remember you remember queuing at Blockbuster? If you would have asked an exec at Blockbuster before Netflix they would never have seen it coming…

Jim Keyes CEO of Blockbuster- “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,” he said. “It’s more Wal-Mart and Apple.”  

I find that most stand-up comedians are exponents of divergent thinking.

Q: What’s Brown and Sticky?
A: A stick

A funny joke sets up a convergent thought and then up ends it with a challenge that turns the whole thing on it head.

According to my mate* John Cleese “When you are being creative, nothing is wrong”.

When comedians make these sorts of comments we think this is funny. But if we can take this sort of thinking and apply it to the every day then it is innovative.

You could say then that another definition of innovation then is the art of applying foolishness to thinking.

This photograph is the copyright of the FILM COMPANY and has been licensed from Alamy

*I don’t really know John Cleese but I would like too


I hope you find this article interesting, check out my ebook,  Innovation Muscle. Its a short sharp read as to how you and your team can innovate fresh powerful ideas. Using these processes you will be able to create ideas that punch above their weight.

Innovation Muscle640

Anyone purchasing the book will receive not one, but TWO FREE mini e-books that are supplied directly as PDF files to your inbox. These can be distributed to you team when starting a new project or used simply to sanity check your existing processes.


How the Mobile Games Business Make Money From Piracy

The collective knowledge what game developers thought they knew and could rely has gone out of date quicker than you can say Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U .

Lets face it the adverts “convincing” people that pirating digital content is theft simply fall on deaf ears of even the most middle class of families.

The New Digital economy is not about selling physical “atomic” discs of the olden days of say 3 years ago.. Then consumers saw value as they physically walked out of their house to purchase physical things made out of atoms at a physical place called the “high street”. Now all the effort a consumer has to make is to press a button and electrons move from wherever they were to be duplicated in magnetic form on his computer. At this point he assumes that because it has no mass and has had no effort to acquire it has no value.

Enter then the business model of Free to Play. This model embraces the concept that the customer sees the distribution of digital stuff as valueless. Its a high stakes game that has the developers of content staking their mortgage payments on knowing their customer so well that their players have an experience so good that they will choose to pay for it on their own volition.

The User Experience that the game devs gave in the olden days was considered to be an art form that was inherently understood by key members of a publishers “committee”. In these olden days, gnarly experienced designers and jaded journalists based what was “good” on a gut feeling based mainly on the fact that they were the target consumer. But the age of the all knowing guru has gone. Games are mainstream now not just for passionate teenagers and ladults.

As such games have had to embrace a more systematic UX approach. UX formalises in a fluffy way the concept that the developers are making stuff for a variety of different people. In a short it imagines a whole set of consumers even to the point of naming them. Their lives are constructed with a sense of their tastes, likes and dislikes as well as abilities. The development of the project is done trying to view it from the point of view of these individuals… more of this in another post me thinks.

Free to play turns UX a quarter turn more. It distills the actual experiences people have with the game into a series of numerical values that can be analysed. Those of a programming background will lap up its analytical approach. Its stacked with acronyms and totally new business concepts, but mastery of this subject is essential for a F2P game to succeed.

First mind blowing concept is the vast majority of players of a F2P game do so totally for free. Income is derived from those who are keen express their devotion by acquiring additional experience by making an In App Purchase (IAP)*. A conversion rate is the ratio of people paying to play game versus those freeloading. A conversion rate of 5% is considered good in this market and this is because the potential audience is amounts to tens if not hundreds of millions. A good conversion rate also means its a good game.

(*other mechanisms exist)

That’s not to say the freeloaders are valueless, each player is treated as a future customer and this quality of service developers hope will be advertised by them for free. They are vital for the “virality” of the game. This is the value attributed to how knowledge of the game spreads from player to player (like a virus). A value attribute to how “virussy” a game is called the K-Factor and has a whole heap of voodoo maths associated with calculating it too.

What I find fascinating is that other key game characteristics can attributed to numbers that in turn can be calculated. Just like a formula one racing car, the telemetry for the game can be monitored while it is being played and improvements made accordingly. Here we enter an acronym soup. Here that are some that are lobbed around by F2P analysts


Daily Active Users

the number of unique players who actively play the game in a day


Monthly Active Users

the number of unique players who actively play the game in a month


Average Revenue Per User

the mean average taken from all the money made by the game for all players


Average Revenue Per Paying User

the mean average taken from all the money made by the game for all the players who pay for the service


Average Revenue Per Daily Active User

the mean average income per day per player per day


Average Revenue Per Monthly Active User

the mean average income per day per player per  month


LifeTime Value

The average profit made on each player in the game


Cost Per Aquisition

How much it costs to get a player playing the game.

Now with this sort of information the games can be monitored to see how well they are being received and furthermore how much should be being earned.

For example by monitoring the percentage of players that stay in the game for over a month the game design team can monitor retention. Conversely the percentage of those that leave the game each month is referred to as churn. Engagement is now another digital value that gives a numerical estimate as to how the public are receiving the game.It is calculated on a rolling month and is the ratio of the DAU/MAU. Adverse figures here mean that the team need to look again at what they are delivering as it evidences (dis)satisfaction with the game.

The bean counters on the other hand are closely monitoring how marketing is spending their budget. The CPA (cost per acquisition) is value that is calculated by reviewing the new users acquired each month and dividing by the monthly marketing spend. By having a figure to account for the Lifetime overhead (the amount of money to create and maintain the game) a value can be attributed to the LTV (Life Time Value):

So while some would argue that the art has been removed from the development of games, I’d argue that it’s subjective nature of reviews scores that were so powerful in the past has taken a Mario style hammer blow to the head. These Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) give a democratic indication to the developers that is far better than some Metacritic average or the opinion of some dude with a ponytail from the publisher’s. They are a foundation on which the management and developers can converse with the players on to create a better and therefore more profitable experience. Done well they are reaping the developers an excellent living.

Post Mortem on Project Mirrar

A Gamified Approach to Training IED Location

So it turns out that the training required to to educate people looking for a bomb under a vehicle is to give them a device that looks like a mirror on the end of a stick and get them to stick it under a car and look in the reflection. Experiential training they call it. Not surprisingly its not exactly got any sense of jeopardy or and attempt to give a sense of variety of vehicles or different places to find the IED (improvised explosive device).

So not surprisingly when I was told about this in an informal conversation I though it could do with a bit of innovation and my solution was to use Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality is an app that works on a mobile phone. The idea is to take the live stream of pictures that comes from the camera and then draw features over the top. By keeping the image you draw in sync with the movements of the camera it is possible to give the illusion that the video camera is seeing something that in real life doesn’t exist. Here’s an example made for Audi that gives the illusion that in an alternate reality you have a spanky new motor sat outside your garage.

The system relies on the camera “seeing” a marker and replacing it with a 3D rendered image of in this case a car. AR apps have been made by Ikea, Lynx and DFS.

I figured that we could rig an iPad to the end of a “stick” and have it spot a marker on the underside of a table mocked up to appear to be a generic vehicle. Our markers would then be replaced by the underside of an array of vehicles from Land Rovers to Toyota. Furthermore we could make mini “games” where instructors could “hide” suspicious packages and the trainees locate them under a time pressure.


Receiving a positive response to the presentation above I worked with our head of development Craig Weeks to assemble a team. A deadline was set to have a show and tell product for the Small Arms Symposium later that month. As code team SGIL were committed to paying work we found a contractor in none other than Dr David White to help us with the prototyping software with the remaining resource coming from all-round ace designer Gavin Cooper and 3D work Robert Baker.

Apart from the obvious computer art we also needed to fabricate a device to hold an iPad on the end of a pole as well as a rig to replace the table drawn above with something that looked a bit more like a vehicle and less of a coffee table.

After much deliberation, a well expensive quote and a false start we decided to fabricate the “vehicle” prop ourselves. Gavin’s idea was to mount a canvas screen with an image of a Land Rover over a frame constructed of aluminium scaffolding poles. The result was military grade scaffold that frankly could have withstood a nuclear attack let alone an excitable sales force.


To do this I purchased a walking stick from eBay and an iPad in-car mount. Using calipers and a tape measure Gavin and Rob were able to virtually design a fitting that meshed with the off the shelf car mount and walking stick. This was then printed out on our freshly purchased 3D printer. The resulting device was a thing to behold although when demonstrated at the Small Arms Symposium fooled no one…

The results were spectacular and did our combined efforts of a team who are normally responsible for developing virtual products proud. Our efforts were rewarded and my design has since had the University spend cash on attempting to patent the product UK Patent Application Number 1314412.6


I hope you find this article interesting, check out my ebook,  Innovation Muscle. Its a short sharp read as to how you and your team can innovate fresh powerful ideas.

Innovation Muscle640

Anyone purchasing the book will receive not one, but TWO FREE mini e-books that are supplied directly as PDF files to your inbox. These can be distributed to you team when starting a new project or used simply to sanity check your existing processes.


What Jamie Oliver’s Fridge Knows About Programming



Jamie Oliver strikes me as a a similar sort of bloke as the ones I have been associated in my long career making video games. He seems casually confident and skilful. On occasion he is challenged vocabulary wise to describe how great the recipe will be reaching out with confidence inspiring… “it’ll be Pukka mate”, his passion persuades the wanna be chef that he can do it. I for one am a fan of how his simple light touch guidance has helped me turn out some fab meals.

The great coders I have worked with over the years share the same traits… casual, confident and skilful. Heck on the whole they even share the same hipster dress code! Often they too are challenged to describe the complexity of what they are making… “don’t worry Paul mate trust me it’ll be awesome”. Working with these passionate guys and a light touch management we have turned out some great digital projects over the years.

I recently glimpsed how Jamie manages to mix casual Laissezfaire leadership with the military authority required in a commercial kitchen. In short while his communication remains casual, his actions and craftsmanship become precise and professional when it involves direction. One could almost say Jamie becomes strict. This was elegantly defined when he set to organizing a fridge:

A team of chefs turning out hundreds of fancy restaurant dinners can not be delayed by being unable to find the garlic, fish paste or milk. All the chefs working in a commercial kitchen therefore need to quickly know where and what ingredients are available. They do this by strictly organizing the fridge keeping ingredients in mutually agreed locations and what is more by maintaining it. 

This concept translates to digital development and is written about in the book Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert C Martin. While every coder can produce great software Martin describes that not all of it is easy to maintain thereby reducing its value. 

A coder spends a disproportionate amount of time simply reading his or another person’s code. Try this as an experiment: at the end of a day, (after saving the code), press and hold the undo key in the editor and monitor how little time is spent actually typing code. The majority is spent scrolling up and down, typing deleting and simply reading the code. It therefore follows that if the code was written in an easy to read and mutually agreed format coding would be easier to understand and easier to maintain.

Martin’s book is not an easy read and putting the idea into practice is a tricky ask, gnarly monolithic coders in particular will need some convincing. But a code base can not be the domain of one individual (frankly it never was). I believe that as digital software production moves more and more into a service the art form of development is moving more into the maintenance. As well as simply getting the code to function, developers need to add the parameter of how team members will be able to consume and understand what has been made. In short they need to keep the fridge tidy so that the other chefs don’t spend an age looking for the garlic.

Jamie proves that his organization does not need to turn into some draconian military style junta. His skill at maintaining a casual, creative and calm character is down to the fact that in the background his fridge is structured in such a way that all the members of his kitchen know where everything is too.

Defining a team clean code policy is another essential tool for the development of creative software. Maintaining it will make for a more harmonious team that is essential for a software as a service production.


The Incredible Hulk Shows Us How to Estimate the Complexity of a Project

Bruce (David) Banner thinking about his next deadline

What the heck do these project management types actually do? Check what has been done; Make a list of what still needs to be done and guess how long its going to take for the rest of it to be done. Bosh my whole career distilled into one line. Obviously there’s a few nuances I have missed out here and there but there’s no escaping that at some one has to make a guess about the completion date.

This means that at some point we have to get our team to commit to something and at times this can be like pulling teeth. No creative wants to be responsible for tie-ing their own noose. You’d be forgiven for thinking that my recent zeal for Taleb’s Black Swan would have me throwing my arms in the air too and running a team with a mañana sense of there’s no chance of knowing what’ll go wrong so it will be done when its done philosophy. But being that at times in my career I have been the one paying the salaries I know how important it is to keep some sense of timely ambition. Creativity is not just the marshalling clever people thinking “out of the box” in fact forcing them to think inside a box labelled “must be done before next mortgage payment due” can lead to some pretty good stuff too.

But there is a problem. No one can predict the future… Taleb says so.

So what do you do?

Generally at this point most people would reach out to their most trusted, reliable team member. The head guy (or girl). The grizzled developer with grey hair and a thousand war stories of late nights, loads of coffee and slashed scopes. However it turns out that beneath this façade lies a complex set of competing egos… a real life Incredible Hulk riddled with the conflicting opinions of a reasoned Gama radiation scientist versus a raging 200 pound green monster.

To be fair it’s not just the head developer. Beneath all of us lies not one, but two complex decision making machines. The idea was first brought to the world’s notice by Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow“. I recently watched a program on BBC science show Horizon that gave me a 40 minute synopsis of the ideas.

It turns out that your brain has two different competing solution mechanisms. One is a calm thinking analytical engine the Dr Bruce Banner if you will. The other is primitive lazy and prone to snap decisions otherwise known as our good friend Mr I Hulk. The idea is demonstrated by asking the simple question what is 2+2? Hulk knows the answer to this and so in quick sticks time will blurt out the answer leaving Banner to wait. However, ask Hulk 13*7 and he is likely to stay shtum and Banner will have to sing for his supper.

When the Banner side of the ego is thinking it expends a whole heap of energy. This is demonstrated in the show by getting people to walk while being asked questions. An easy question (2+2 et al) sees hardly a pause, but ask something hard and the people literally stop in their tracks to give additional compute power to their brains.

Given half a chance however the Hulkster will intervene and while this is useful to have these sort of reactions if you are about to be punched in the mouth by a super villain, its probably best avoided if you want a reasoned answer. Hulk is riddled with what the psychologists call cognitive bias. He uses this as short cuts to reduce the power consumption in his answers, but sometimes they are wrong.

There are heaps of biases that ALL humans have as listed on this Wikipedia article. Some deal with peoples negative thoughts others with a spooky “anchoring” effect where there is a tendency of an individual to base an appraisal on the answer to a preceding question.

What is evident though is that we need to try and avoid working to a schedule defined by the Hulk. It follows therefore that relying on the *quick* set of answers given by a seasoned professional are more likely to be tinged green.

Agile tries to circumvent this by asking the estimates in a more circumspect way. Hulk (initially) doesn’t know that this is being done and the answers are likely to be less prone to bias. Combine this by involving the while team and we are more likely to have an answer we can base some metrics on.

The team are asked to estimate not how long a work package will take to make, but rather how “complex” it actually is. Some PM’s try to get the team to get to a consensus on a number following the Fibonacci Sequence 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. The beauty of this is that the numbers are spread in a non linear way. It is often quite hard to estimate the difference between the complexity of something rated 21 and 22, but it is much easier to agree if it is either 21 or 13.

Conversion to days of work is done by multiplying it by a factor that defines how quick a team can complete each work unit… known as the team velocity. This velocity is monitored through out the development using a chart which I will describe another time.

So in short reduce your dependency on snap decisions, they are more than likely the opinions of a monster.


I hope you find this article interesting, check out my ebook,  Agile Fu. Its a short sharp read as to how you and your team can innovate fresh powerful ideas.

Agile Fu Cover 600

Anyone purchasing the book will receive not one, but TWO FREE mini e-books that are supplied directly as PDF files to your inbox. These can be distributed to you team when starting a new project or used simply to sanity check your existing processes.


Ronnie O’Sullivan on Predicting the Future


Ronnie O’Sullivan is a brilliant snooker player. (For american people snooker is a version of pool played on a table the approximate size of an actual swimming pool). Last week O’Sullivan leathered his opposition in the Welsh Snooker Open. So clever is he at this game that on the final frame of the final match he maxxed out a 147 break – the largest sequential potting of balls you can make… so smug was he that he even took the last shot left handed! See the video here So I reckon we could all agree that this guy is an expert at smacking balls together and predicting where they will end up.

Not only has an empirical practitioner like O’Sullivan got billiards down, Newtonian physicists amongst you will also agree that using high school maths; a scientific calculator and access to a high school maths teacher it is possible to predict the outcome of the collision of two resin balls.

In short then a jury would agree that a combination of science and skill has the nailed predicting the future of snooker ball movement…. or have they?

It turns out that what we perceive as a solvable scales to exponential complexity the moment another 2 snooker balls are added to the equation: the 3 body problem. It was originally brought to the attention of the Newtonian gang over a hundred years ago by the French mathematician Henri Poincaré. It was conveniently forgotten about for a while but has resurfaced in the 20th century in a subject called Chaos Theory.

Put (VERY) simply if we were to ask Ronnie or Isaac to calculate the resting point of a ball bounced off two other billiard balls they would have to start including a whole heap of other parameters to maintain the accuracy. By this I mean they may need to understand how sticky the table surface is,  the speed of any draft about the snooker hall, temperature of the room; heck they may even have to consider seismic activity. The reason being is best described by the following diagram.


Basically if you get any collision slightly wrong and the rate of error magnifies the result exponentially. Even if you did manage to nail 3 objects… what about 4 or 5 bounces?

Given that I’ve smashed the ability of snooker players to predict the outcome of collisions what chance then has the project manager (or worse a sales man) on predicting the delivery of an innovative piece of software?

In the real world of development there are an infinite number of human variables to consider with the schedule. Should you predict the health of your lead coder’s mother in law? What happens when your lead developer has car trouble?  Or your customer liaison gets head hunted to work on a different project?

In short just like ricocheting a snooker ball in to the top pocket off two other balls predicting the future of a complex system is virtually impossible and the complexity mounts the further into the future you go.

Yet everyday developers stake their reputations on knowing the future development often betting their future income on meeting these milestones months into the future – because everyone knows that to motivate a creative you need to threaten their ability to pay the mortgage! (not).

Whilst no system is perfect Agile attempts to work with this understanding. By selling developer “time” backed up with the guarantee that a valuable delivery will be made, teams work in short bursts of activity that are inherently more predictable. By stopping at these (lets call them) milestones to agree the future steps with the commissioner, valuable lessons in predicting the schedule of future milestones can be introduced into the emerging plan.

A fully integrated agile team attempt to measure the teams ability to predict the future empirically using a project velocity and burn down chart which can also be used to attempt to improve the accuracy. (More on this another time).

In short then if a maestro of snooker can’t predict the ricochets of a ball in the future we need to understand that no one can really predict the future of anything. Rather than belligerently sticking to a system that randomly relies on fate agreeing with your initial large scale plan simplify the problem into smaller bits. In doing so you can stack the odds of predicting with (more) accuracy one small sprint at a time.


I hope you find this article interesting, check out my ebook,  Agile Fu. Its a short sharp read as to how you and your team can innovate fresh powerful ideas.

Agile Fu Cover 600

Anyone purchasing the book will receive not one, but TWO FREE mini e-books that are supplied directly as PDF files to your inbox. These can be distributed to you team when starting a new project or used simply to sanity check your existing processes.


(*Adapted from my understanding of Taleb’s the Black Swan).