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Monopoly Data and Innovation

Monopoly, Data and The Importance of Innovation

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Category : Blogs

At the weekend, my 6-year-old son roped me into playing Monopoly. I’ve disliked board games like this for years – ever since playing with my highly competitive cousins as a child. Of course, I was just as competitive, and so games would get fairly heated and seemingly never end. After a particularly difficult 2-hour session (at which point no-one was any closer to winning) I remember my 12-year-old self resolving to never play again.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I started to play with my son. I tried every distraction technique I could think of – football, rugby, chocolate, even a documentary on Stonehenge, which, to his credit and my surprise, diverted him for half an hour. But eventually I had to concede that my son had entered the “board game” phase, and nothing would stand in his way.

But it was as I monotonously moved around that board that I realised two important things:

  1. What the biggest problem is for Monopoly players.
  2. Why so many real-world businesses suffer the same impasse.

The biggest problem with Monopoly, which I’m sure we’ve all experienced, is how long it takes and how repetitive it feels. It can take hours, and hundreds of unvaried circuits passed ‘Go’, for someone to finally win. From a grown-ups’ point of view, this can get quite dull.

What’s New?

But all this is caused by a more fundamental issue: there is no room for innovation within the game. Once the initial burst of buying up properties has taken place, all action slows to a halt. Nothing changes. There is nothing new.

As one of our partners, Richard Poole at Fluxx, has pointed out: all businesses are tending towards obsolescence, it’s just that some are doing so more quickly than others. If you don’t adapt and innovate by introducing new products, services, or methodologies, your business will quickly become outmoded.

This is most obvious for start-ups who need to prove themselves in order to survive. These companies are, in effect, in that first stage of the game; they are just trying to see if they can get round the board, pass Go and make some money.

As a result, most start-ups work in an agile and data-driven manner. They use the data they have at their disposal to facilitate innovation and speed as they move (metaphorically) around the board.

This agility is all they have to make them different – and an understanding of the businesses’ data, and therefore of its performance, is clearly vital for this kind of Lean working. If they can evaluate the data quickly, and therefore act fast, then they can fail fast, too. The money invested has not been too large, and they can move on to the next project.

The bigger problem is for larger companies with more established processes. In Monopoly world, they have passed through the initial phase of the game, made their investments (maybe bought some hotels!) and are now in the process of lapping the board, again and again, which can be comparatively dull.

At this point there are fewer incentives to make changes; you are less motivated to act on what your customers (and their data) may be telling you. This is partly because you’ve got to keep the operations going – to keep playing the game – and partly because the curve towards obsolescence appears so far into the future that there seems to be no need to innovate.

A Cautionary Tale

But this is, of course, a fallacy, as some of the big corporate failures of the last few years – HMV, Woolworths, Radio Shack, Blockbuster, Comet – have shown. Each of these companies was given the opportunity to innovate and even to lead in their relevant sectors (or instead to buy up those who were embracing innovation, like you would a new hotel on Mayfair).

But because those companies were blind to the threat to their business, and it was easier to just keep going round the board (passing Go, collecting £200…), they got complacent.

Before they knew it, the game had changed. It’s a lesson learned in why you must avoid simply going through the motions – and looking at your data can play a vital role. It can provide insight into how your business can evolve in order to optimise your performance.

Putting more time and effort now into how to build on what you’ve got with innovations and improvements, is the only way to secure a future. The first step is often to analyse your existing data: the insights it affords will help you to identify your opportunities (and threats) and to initiate meaningful change. Effective data analysis can help you to build an agile innovation programme that will help ensure you survive to play another round.


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