3 Things for Innovation Management I learned from the game „Plants vs Zombies“

3 Things for Innovation Management I learned from the game „Plants vs Zombies“

Plants vs Zombies“ („PvZ“ for short) is a tower defence ans strategy video game developed and originally published by PopCap Games in 2009 (acquired by EA in 2011).

My son happened to watch a video-introduction to the game and fell in love with it because of the adorable design of both plants and zombies (to mention, this game is 5 years older than he is).

For his love and interest for strategic plays, I bought him this game as one of his birthday presents as he turned 6 a month ago. I observe at his side when he plays, how a 6-year-old boy develop his own pattern and way of strategic thinking to depend attacks from zombies.

At the same time, I also derive some thoughts on Innovation Management from this game.

1. Why do we need Innovation Management

A “Color the Picture” Work from my 6-year-old son

The picture above gave me a very direct answer to this question: Innovation Management is – from a passive point of view – a Must-Have to defend your house from being attacked by the zombies.

In the game: Zombies keep moving closer and closer to the house, wave after wave. You have to plant different plants with different functions, e.g., some generates sunny points to sustain the growth of other plants, some shoot peas to fight against the zombies, some just lying there and doing passive but still effective defence. All in all you need a Strategy behind to balance the resource generation and consumption.

To debrief shortly: Most of the companies know the importance of managing innovation. We know very well that, we need innovations (product, process, service or business model) to keep our competitive advantages, explore new markets, gain a larger market share, reduce costs, increase efficiency etc. But not every company knows the importance of having a clear strategy. Even there is a clear strategy, they tend to underestimate the importance of having a sustainable internal communication about the strategy. Even the strategy is communicated, they tend to keep one strategy from the beginning till the the end. In the VUCA-era, strategies have to be managed in an agile way to adapt to the fast changing environment.

Back to the question: Innovation Management is more than just introducing new stuffs, we need a clear strategy behind, which is flexibel to adapt to changes. What is more, communicate about the strategy as often as possible to make sure your employees stay on the same page as you do.

2. Why we need to open up and collaborate

A “Mix-and-Match” Work from my 6-year-old son

The picture above illustrates a fight scene in the „PvZ“, in which my son invented a volcano, which is not at all included in the game, to flow lava to destroy the „Gargantuar“ (a kind of giant zombie). Two weeks after playing the game my son knows already quite well how to choose different plants, how to plant them in the lawn in different rows and how to combine to generate synergy effect.

In the game: there are other features a player can apply to diversify his/her strategy, e.g., a Zen-garden to grow new plants and sell them later at higher price for other investment, Crazy Dave’s shop to buy extra items to increase your ability to defend, by reaching certain achievement one can unlock some hidden plants for better performance.

To debrief shortly: Back to 20 years ago „open innovation“ coined by Chesbrough was a fancy word. 10 years ago we began to know more about „platform innovation“. More often nowadays, we hear about the term „innovation ecosystem“. No matter how you name it, the things behind remain unchanged, open up and collaborate. We have to see that the cake is big enough for more players to share and it does not necessary keep everything alone and undercover. The risk of „closed innovation“ is much bigger and the probability of success is lower.

One might say: These topics seem only interesting for big enterprises, for SME it is too huge to be operated. Yes, SMEs do not definitely have the resource to have a professional innovation manager to manage all these stuffs. But it is more about Mindset: Open up and Collaborate!

There is a saying, if you only have a hammer in the hand, every problem is a nail to you. Therefore, be equipped with more than just a hammer, open up, join what is existing and collaborate with others.

3. Why wait until the brain got eaten?

Game Screenshot from Youtube

The ultimate purpose of the zombies is to eat the brain. My son hates it. He will click the menu button to restart the level once he feels his planting strategy is not working as planned. I would do the same if I have the feeling that I am not going to win the level perfectly. In this case I sometimes bear the bad conscious in mind and ask myself if I am giving up too early.

In the business context, it is difficult to admit making a strategic failure (because it will generally block the career path). Rather, we tend to continue to pump money in a certain innovation project until reaching the dead end, where no U-turn is possible any more. Sometimes it is not easy determine if we are making a failure already or we are giving up too early.

But that the similarity between Game-Play and Innovation Management in my opinion. In the explorative phase we should generate as many ideas as possible, make as many experiments as possible and learn as quickly as possible from the failures. Narrow down the number of innovation projects to just a few with better market promise. Learn not to fall in love too early with our own ideas. The same principle could also be applied on the strategic level, be adapted and be ready to learn.

The point is: Don’t wait until the brain got eaten. Take the lessons learned and adjust the strategy as soon as possible.

To Close

#learningalways is a good sister to #lifelonglearning. Not matter if we are learning from kids or from game-plays, we can always bear to mindset to be ready to learn.


All copyrights of the mentioned game belongs the publisher. There is no intention for commercial application.

(First published on Linkedin in October 2020)

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