Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spaceward Ho! and lessons for innovation

Whenever I think of the fun side of innovation in business, I'm reminded of a genius game that my brother and I played growing up called Spaceward Ho!  Yes, the name of the game has an exclamation point in it.

It was quite an amazing game actually, and pretty summarizes well research, development andopponents were in a universe with a finite number of planets and your goal was to conquer it.

You had a fleet of ships that you designed yourself.  Design was driven through R&D, which you could perform on five dimensions, range, shields, weapons, defense and miniturization.  

Plus as the ships evolved they looked totally awesome.  Can't find the one with the dog-nose cone.  I'll have to start playing again.

The sixth place you could invest was on radical innovation, where your R&D team would try to hit a couple of goals you wanted and it would be a home run if they ever did it.  Here's an example.  Although the decoy ship was awesome.  Love how they depict engineers.

You controlled renewable (cash) and non-renewable resources (metal) which were necessary to fund your expeditions.  These had be mined and earned from the planets you owned.  

There were so many lessons from Spaceward Ho! that are applicable to the world today.

  • You can use technology and R&D to gain a competitive advantage.
  • Mini was all about resource conservation.  It seemed so stupid and expensive at the beginning of the game, but at the end it was a massive competitive advantage.
  • The law of diminishing returns: 20% increased effort and spending in mining didn't result in 20% increase in output.  Genius.  
  • You need a good innovation strategy, and a good "go-to-market" strategy.  
  • Going after radical innovation is massively fun, but unpredictable.
  • Doing innovation well is do-or-die in Spaceward Ho! and business
  • Everybody wants to rule the world.  Only the bold get to.

Spaceward Ho! taught the 12 year old version of myself a lot about innovation before I had to privilege of learning about it from the likes of Fiona Murray, Clayton Christensen and Ed Roberts.

As it turns out, Spaceward Ho! is still around and being made better.  It is my belief that every business school student at Harvard, Stanford, MIT Sloan, etc. should be required to play this game to learn about innovation.  Check it out and get on it.

If interested, another good post about the lessons learned from Spaceward Ho! is here.  This one's for private equity.

Addendum: This link contains some details about the clever little facts in Spaceward Ho!


Jake de Grazia said...

Maybe apply some of these principles to energy policy?

You had a much educational gaming childhood than I did. All I learned (from early versions of Madden on the Sega Genesis) is that a championship defense blitzes on every down.

Ted Chan said...

That's funny - I was a darn good Madden player. I liked to drop everyone into coverage and just use a beast defensive end to get sacks...