More than a decade ago, Stephen Shapiro went on a quest to find efficiency and predictability in innovation. After years of working for Accenture and consulting for some of the world’s largest companies, he noticed that the same problem resurfaced time and again. Companies of all sizes kept repeatedly failing in their innovation efforts despite the vast resources allocated for these initiatives. For some reason, these behemoths had spent millions of dollars in facilities, labs and instruments but they had forgotten the most crucial component… the people.
After studying countless industries throughout the world, Stephen had a breaktrhough while working with a Formula One race car team in London.
What if innovation teams could work as efficiently and predictably as the pit crews who service the race cars?
Although it may look easy, the work of the pit crew is amazingly complex. In just a matter of seconds, they change the over-sized tires, fuel the car, and even adjust the car’s aerodynamics to improve the grip on the racetrack. A delay of only a tenth of a second can be the difference between winning and losing. While watching the crew, Shapiro identified a few principles that made these teams achieve a more consistent and repeatable performance:
- Everyone is in their optimal position: The person removing the lug nut on the right front wheel might not be as efficient doing the same task on the left rear wheel. The optimal positions are not determined by accident. They are the result of a laborious testing process.
- Every role is crucial: If just one position from the pit crew fails to do their job, the team will not perform efficiently, potentially costing them the race, countless hours of work and millions of dollars invested. If the person working the jack fails to raise the car at the right time, the entire process falls apart.
- Everyone knows the exact function they need to perform: The work is divided in a way that maximizes throughput and efficiency. The mechanic changing the tires does not try to fuel the car. Each person has a clear set of tasks. Having said that, they all know how to contribute to other positions should something go wrong.
Stephen recognized the power of the collaboration and repeateble results of the pit crews, and knew that he needed to find a way to apply these principles to innovation teams.
His first step was to create a simple diagnostic tool that would place the right people in the right roles. Like members of a pit crew, every employee has specific strengths. In the world of innovation, some excel at data-driven work, yet struggle with people-related issues. Others are brilliant at generating ideas, but never get any real work done. Some are great motivators, but rebel against planning. Some are born leaders while others work best on their own.
To test individuals quickly, Shapiro developed a simple spreadsheet with ten rows. Each row contained four words that test takers would use to rate themselves, from most like them to least like them. The words were adjectives, such as creative, empathetic, analytical, and driven. This new system was efficient and a person taking the test could determine their style in less than three minutes.
This early version evolved into a more complex PowerPoint presentation that was used with tens of thousands of people during Shapiro’s speeches. Although it was effective, it was also b-o-r-i-n-g. The energy level of the room dropped significantly as people filled out the assessments.
This put Shapiro on the hunt to create something more interactive. Something that would raise the energy level and continue to be accurate and valuable.
He found what he was looking for while playing blackjack in Las Vegas. He realized that he could map the four steps of the innovation process and the four personality styles to the four suits in a deck of cards.
That evening, Personality Poker was born.
For the first version, he took a standard poker deck and wrote words across the faces of the cards with a Sharpie. The words were the same ones used in the spreadsheet—plus a dozen others that he had uncovered during his previous trials. When this proved successful, he created cards that were printed at FedEx Kinko’s on 100-lb. card stock. He used this version with some of the largest corporations in the world. After experimenting and interacting with clients for a year, Shapiro realized that the colors and numbers could be used to add another dimension to the game.
After seeing the incredible results he achieved with his clients, he produced decks of casino-quality cards that were printed in small quantities through a local printer. Those cards have been the catalyst for creating high-performing innovation teams with over 25,000 people in Fortune 500 companies around the world. There’s even a Danish translation of the cards, due to their popularity in Denmark.
However, Shapiro longed for scientific evidence of the value of his poker game, so he hired a professor of psychology at Columbia College to help. Professor Michael Wiederman conducted a series of studies, surveys, and factor analyses to validate the effectiveness of Personality Poker. His work led to the scientifically tested version of the cards as they exist today.
With the methodology and words now perfected, in Shapiro’s mind, the next logical step was to share Personality Poker with the world. At the suggestion of several clients and friends, he approached several big New York City publishers about writing a book on Personality Poker. At first, the publishers clearly did not understand the concept. Their immediate reaction was, “It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure how you can take an experience and convert it into a stand-alone book.” Dejected but not deterred, he knew that there would be a publisher with vision who would understand the real value.
As fate would have it, while playing a game of Personality Poker at a conference in Chicago, the head of one of the largest publishers in the world was in attendance. He became intrigued by the accuracy of the results that were produced in a matter of minutes and immediately offered Shapiro a deal to publish the book along with a deck of cards.
18 months later, the book and cards were published by Penguin Portfolio. This is the book that you can buy today.