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  • Marc Curtis

Innovation through Play

Vienna is a strange city. Once the cultural centre of Europe, sometime home of Mozart, origin of the eponymous waltz, Vienna now has the feel of an experiment to see what would happen if a university from the future crashed into a 1950s theme park.

Vienna now also top of my list of vegetarian friendly destinations in Europe. Vegan ice-cream stands compete with Weinerschnitzel kiosks, and most menus boast a selection of vegan and vegetarian delights.

Food, however, was not the reason for my visit (although it might be the reason I come back).

I was invited to spend a day with Playroom - an exciting hybrid of product development and innovation consultancy nestled in the heart of the futurist WU university campus in Vienna.

Playroom is the brainchild of two old friends - Rene Massattii and Alexander Wolf. Their original mission, to democratise the innovation process. I found it gratifying to hear the same message from Rene and Alexander that we at Lyreco have been preaching; that innovation is not the preserve of a few ‘special’ individuals, rather that it is a process that can be taught, and replicated. This process is often linked to various methodologies such as Design thinking, journey mapping, brainstorming and so on. One thing, however, unites all of these tools; that at the centre of any innovation process, must be the user.

Over time, Rene and Alexander recognised that there was a real need for a more tangible set of tools that could help them run more effective workshops and create better and more consistent results. Also, crucially, they noticed that, once a workshop had finished, there was a failure of some companies to continue using what they’d learned. What was needed was something that could remain after the workshop that would continue to inspire and provide a framework for the future long after the team had moved on to the next business.

This gave rise to their first product - FRAME.

A modular wall that can be configured to represent any of the different innovation processes and effectively create an innovation space in any business or event.

They then considered how to take the process and functionality of FRAME and create a version that could be used as a tool by people who do not necessarily have experience of running workshops. Something that can be used in any environment and provide real value to the innovation process.

This led to the more portable version, FLIP THINK - a flip chart version of the FRAME wall that can be rolled up and taken anywhere, and provides clear step by step workshops for a number of different outcomes and needs. This product enables innovation teams to really focus on the objectives of the workshops, rather than getting bogged down by the organisational challenges.

Product designers at heart, the Playroom team have recently been focusing on the presentation tools used by teams in these kind of workshops. They looked at the traditional items found in most offices - i.e. whiteboards and flipchart easels - and have given these ubiquitous tools a new twist.

During my visit I used their handheld dry-wipe tablets, their a-frame flip chart and their workbox - all made from post-consumer recycled plastics and water-based adhesives - all designed to make the job of presenting and workshopping a more delightful and even, dare I say, fun experience.

The flipchart easel can be removed from the wooden base (called the Donkey - which in turn can be used a seat), and placed on a tabletop or even dismantled and attached to the wall. Even the flipchart holder is magnetic, so can be removed or repositioned.

The smaller tablet sized white boards are perfect for visualising ideas or taking notes and again can be reconfigured in many different ways.

Ultimately this is what lies at the heart of the Playroom philosophy. When we consider the time in our lives when we were at our most creative, many of us will think back to our childhood, back to when we really knew how to play. Innovation, ideas, creativity… all start with play.

I am looking forward to seeing how we at Lyreco Innovation can use some of the tools Playroom has developed to introduce more play into our processes!*

*Playroom is part of the Edding group, a key supplier of Lyreco



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