By John Ohab
Garth Jensen is currently the Director of Innovation at the Carderock Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center. Garth was previously an Office of Naval Research Science Advisor at the Pentagon.
mmowgli is both the coolest project I have ever worked on and the hardest to describe in words, but here it goes: mmowgli is an experiment in generating collective intelligence and a pilot project being developed by the Office of Naval Research.
Beyond that, mmowgli is ultimately the answer to a few questions, ones that haunted me every day during my tour as a Science Advisor at the Pentagon: why did I experience such a disconnect between technologists and “innovators,” on one hand, and warfighters and end users on the other? Why didn’t “game changing innovations” generate more enthusiasm from those who were “in the game?” And what was I doing to make it better?
As my Pentagon tour drew to a close, these questions nagged at me and morphed into a thousand others: What if we took a heavy, formal approach, and made it lighter and more of a continuous conversation instead of a blueprint? What if you didn’t need a fully formed idea to make a contribution? What if ideas, even half-formed ones, could meet up in space and recombine with other ideas to form new ones? What if this conversation engaged more stakeholders and tolerated more excursions? Finally, what if this conversation became so rich and compelling that, instead of truncating the debate, it actually enlarged the universe of possibilities?
A pivotal moment occurred as these questions were swirling around in my head. I attended a speech by Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of The Institute for the Future. What she presented became the kernel of an idea that grew into mmowgli. Marina showed me a world where Alternate Reality Games were being used to engage the imaginations of thousands players to harness fresh insights; where Massive Multiplayer Forecasting Games were redefining how we look at technology horizons; where companies like IBM were using Innovation Jams to create value across their entire workforce and with their stakeholders; and where the notion of innovation as a social phenomenon was moving to the fore.
From there, it was a short leap for me to connect the dots between Marina’s world and my own struggles with innovation — mmowgli was born. In reality, it wasn’t quite that easy. We’ve had to persist through all of the typical hurdles associated with any first of its kind innovation. But, now that we’re almost there, we’ve got a really engaging game in store, and I’m excited about the launch.
mmowgli goes live in just a few weeks. You can register for the game at http://mmowgli.nps.edu/mmowgli. I’m looking forward to meeting you online during the game.