Lessons in innovation
18 Jan 2024 by Steven Giannoulis
We established the Mīharo innovation lab in late 2021 as a vehicle to grow our creative thinking, keep learning and developing as individuals and as a company, and to explore new commercial and social ventures. Two and a bit years on and the learning is through the roof. And that’s not the only goals we are delivering on with this initiative.
After a first year of establishing the innovation process and mechanics, 2023 continued the strong focus on participation and learning, while also dialling up a commercial and funding aspect. I couldn’t be any prouder of our team and everything they’ve achieved so far with Mīharo. I’m also excited about the potential they’ve created to achieve so much more in 2024 and beyond. Mīharo has changed our business and it will continue to transform it in the years ahead.
Through 2023 we ran four Mīharo team challenges. Teams of 3 to 5 were given a problem statement – such as diversity, mental health or defining what it means to be a kiwi – to consider and develop innovative communication solutions for. Each group had to work collectively to further define the problem, generate ideas for addressing them, evaluate their ideas, refine their solutions and propose an innovative solution which has commercial or funding potential.
These challenges will see all staff in the company involved in at least one challenge, lifting the overall problem solving and idea generation skills of the entire organisation. We’ve seen this flow through into our business as usual, strengthen our core creative and idea generation capabilities on client work.
Not to mention, many of these challenge solutions have real commercial potential and we’re assessing possibilities to attract partners and/or funders to bring them to market.
Our biggest innovation initiative in 2023 was the development and launch of Colorway Antics, a VR colouring game. As far as we know this is the only 3D colouring game available on any gaming platform in the world, meaning we’ve developed something truly unique and innovative.
Building on what we are best at - storytelling, design thinking and user experiences - Colorway follows the adventures of a group of teens through a series of worlds. Players can colour in these worlds using a variety of techniques (paint, stickers, paintballs, etc) while also adding their own creative flair. In a world dominated by shoot 'em up games, it’s a very different game designed to appeal to players who want to express their creativity.
We knew next-to-nothing about game design prior to taking on this project, so the learning curve has been astronomical. Despite this, we not only fully designed and developed the game, we also now distribute it through major platforms like Steam, Oculus (Meta) and Pico to millions of players worldwide. Additionally, we’re also in the final stages of getting the game on the PlayStation network.
In the process we’ve also learned about the gaming industry – here in NZ and around the world - the importance of publishers, distributors, influencers, funders, and gaming communities. And while the game‘s sales haven’t set the world on fire, the exercise has been an almighty success, helping us grow skills and capability, build relationships, strengthen a culture of innovation and create learnings that we can build on again and again.
Before the end of 2023 we conducted an extensive post project review (surveys, workshops, interviews, etc) to capture all the learning from Colorway so that we can use them for the next projects we’ll kick off in 2024. For me the key lessons are two-fold:
- Focus beyond a good idea. There are millions of good ideas out there that no one hears about. We must put the same energy into the process of bringing a good idea to market as we do to building the object of the idea. For future projects we’ll run two parallel streams – the first building our innovation solution, the second focused on how we maximise the opportunity for commercial success. We’ve already structured our resources accordingly to achieve this.
- Innovation needs process. While we are pushing the boundaries and looking for new ways to do things, we need to make sure we’re still applying the tried and true disciplines that allow successful product development. Things like market assessment, audience testing, channel relationships, business case development as well as good project and risk management and governance. In hindsight, we were so focused on the idea that we may have not done justice to some product development basics.
What we’ve learnt from the first two years of Mīharo will make us better at what we do in 2024.
We have a new and very unique idea which we’ve developed a business case for and are seeking external funding for. The design and business thinking for this is many steps above what we’ve done previously and the implementation planning is also next level. We hope to confirm funding early in the year, which will see the prototype for this become a key focus in the first half of 2024.
We’re also working on some thinking around how to leverage what we’ve developed in Colorway and also undertaking a series of workshops to explore innovative ideas driven by key social, lifestyle, technology, communication and entertainment trends. Some of these may pick up on the ideas that came out of the Mīharo team challenges in 2023.
And we’ll still keep running team challenges in 2024, pushing the teams to be even more innovative given it’s the second and third time many of them have been involved.
Given how far we’ve come, I’m excited to see how far we’ll go in 2024.