Create The Best Game Possible By Utilizing Game Thinking With Amy Jo Kim

When you play a video game, you have to think to yourself, “Why am I playing this? What makes this game so addicting? Is it the learning curve or the art style?” A lot of research is done behind the scenes when it comes to video game development. Just ask Amy Jo Kim. She worked on notable games such as The Sims and Rock Band. Amy is the CEO, game designer, and startup coach at Game Thinking Academy. She is also the author of Game Thinking. Join your host, Dr. Diane Hamilton, as she talks with Amy on the game thinking mindset. What core design elements are needed in game design and development? How do you access your super fans? Follow the conversation to learn about all things gaming and why it’s alright to fail as long as you are innovating.

TTL 849 | Game Thinking


I’m so glad you joined us because we have Amy Jo Kim here. Amy Jo is the author of Game Thinking. She is named one of the Top 10 Influential Women in Gaming by Fortune and has done some amazing work. I’m so excited to have her on the show.

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Create The Best Game Possible By Utilizing Game Thinking With Amy Jo Kim

I am here with Amy Jo Kim, who was named by Fortune as one of the Top 10 Influential Women in Games. Her design credits include Rock Band, The Sims, eBay, Netflix. You name it, she’s worked on it. She’s helped thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators bring their ideas to life through her coaching programs. She’s also written several books. She wrote Game Thinking. I’m so excited to have you here, Amy Jo, welcome.

It’s a real pleasure.

I was looking forward to this. In fact, I was talking to somebody on the show before yours and he had a great question for you. I can’t wait to ask it of you because my background is in curiosity and perception and a lot of things that go along with what you’re working on. We’re going to have fun with that. I do want to get a background because I know you teach Game Thinking at Stanford and you do a lot of things now. Can you give me your backstory?

I originally studied science and engineering. I have a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience, which is a combo of Psychology, Neuroscience and Computer Science. I worked as an engineer and UX designer for a long time in tech. I started to work in gaming and blend that in with working in other areas of tech. I found that gaming was and still is the canary in the coal mine of industries in tech. The developments you see in gaming trickle into the rest of tech 3 to 5 years later. HUDs, Heads-Up Displays, interface elements, AI, graphics and all of that. Gaming is the canary in the coal mine. That was very attractive to me. I did a lot of work in gaming as a system designer, UX designer and creative director on large-scale multiplayer games.

I brought all of my experience from tech doing community design and system design into those experiences and found that there is a lot of psychology and a lot of perception in it. The stuff I learned in neuroscience, honestly, a lot of what that did is let me see through all the bullshit people throw around about dopamine this and that. I came out of science and engineering and worked in gaming, product development and marketplaces like eBay. In fact, there was a lot of overlap. My backstory helps you understand that I’m bridging gaming and product development in general because of all the different products I’ve worked on. Most particularly because there’s so much in gaming that enriches other products and vice versa if you understand how to do it right. It can also go terribly wrong.

I certainly can tell stories about that but eBay is an interesting example. A lot of what I did was helped them tune their reputation system and develop new systems, their profiles and evolving profiles which turned into a cornerstone of their business. A lot of that came out of gaming. It’s a core fundamental thing if you’re somebody who’s working on building games and building the systems that power the games.

What I do now is work with teams and with individuals. I’m training, coaching and empowering them to take the strategies, various specific tactics and approaches that have worked for the most innovative successful games and products. Translate those into their own innovation efforts to innovate smarter and faster and build engagement into their products from the ground up because that’s what the best games do. That’s what Game Thinking is. There’s a book, a website and several training programs that can go from lightweight to very deep to fulfill our goal, which is to help millions of entrepreneurs all over the world save billions of hours of time by innovating smarter.

That’s such a fascinating field to be in and I remember talking to Albert Bandura. He was on my show and the psychology and sociology type of discussions I’ve had of how certain things interact is always fascinating to me. I looked at emotional intelligence for my doctoral dissertation so I’m curious what you wrote your dissertation on now that going back to the fact that you have this PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience?

[bctt tweet=”Math is engaging and when it’s expressed in a way that involves people’s curiosity.” via=”no”]

My dissertation was on the constancy of size perception at different distances and how spatial frequency affects that. My focus was on human and machine vision. For my doctoral dissertation, I was working at a NASA lab in Mountain View. I built a whole system and all the software. I was a nerd hacker back in those days along with all the science. I built all these systems to run these experiments on the original Sun Microsystems Supercomputers, which is how I got a job at Sun. It was my first job in tech. I built all these systems to run experiments and the experiments we’re digging into the fact that it’s a fascinating visual fact.

How do we have size constancy when something is much smaller on our retina if it’s far away than when it’s close up and yet we perceive an elephant to be the same elephant if it’s far away? It turns out that the way the visual system processes spatial frequency, that’s how neurons work. They essentially do foray analysis and spatial frequency analysis on the incoming data. What we did was I did a series of experiments where we degraded different spatial frequencies, low frequencies, high frequencies, etc. and did picture recognition so it was psychophysiology. It turned out that you get everything you need from a low frequency. That’s what’s interesting about it. It was cool, it was published and all that but I decided I wanted to go build products that people used instead of a postdoc in Kansas.

I lived in Mountain View, got paid three times as much and worked at an early tech company. That was my leap from science and PhD into doing the academic route. What happened was during my PhD, I built products that lots of people used. Once I got a taste for that, I could not go back. It was so impactful. I didn’t want to go argue with fifteen smart people at a conference. I wanted to impact the world and that’s what I did. The thing I loved about that was, it completely explains why it’s hard to recognize people when they change their hairstyle.

I wish I had read your work before I wrote my book on perception even though I didn’t deal with that form of perception. I dealt more with a business setting. It’s an interesting area too. You and I have plenty to chat about. Did you say that you worked with NASA at Mountain View? Do they have an office there?

NASA Ames. They have a huge campus there. I got them to sponsor my dissertation research. I worked in a UX lab. They hired me as a good UX designer and they needed that. I worked in a UX lab that worked on the interfaces for space stations. It was amazing.

How cool would that be? My daughter lives in Sunnyvale so I get up there quite a bit because her husband works at Apple.

It’s near NASA Ames. After you drive by NASA Ames, there’s a big dirigible hangar. It’s a crazy place.

Your background is fascinating. One of the first jobs I had was selling System/36s and System/38s so it’s been a long time. Everything that you work on is important. There’s so much game thinking in general if we’re talking about gamification or whatever it is. I hear the word game in everything. I had interviewed a gentleman right before you, Rahul Bhandari and he is also listed by Fortune as an Influential Thought Leader and I told him that you were going to be on the show. Gaming people seem to have curiosity down to a science and because we were talking about curiosity since my book is on curiosity. He said, “Why isn’t math as addictive and immersive?”

TTL 849 | Game Thinking
Game Thinking: There’s so much in gaming that enriches other products and vice versa if you understand how to do it right.


My husband’s life work is to make math much more engaging. For some people, math is addictive and immersive. Some of it is how it’s taught and some of us how people’s proclivities are but I watched my daughter’s spend hours playing Sudoku. That’s a form of math so I would argue that there are lots of ways in which math is addictive and immersive. How there’s emotional intelligence, there’s also thinking styles and some people have that mechanistic, “I want to do that,” and some people don’t. Some people are perhaps much more artistic, expressive and creative in a way where the math people might not be.

It’s a thinking style for some people and many people have tried to make math education better and a lot of people have succeeded but it’s tricky to do it within the standardized testing paradigms. If you look at societies like Finland, they’ve got ways that there’s more engaging math. There are many great math games but once you start building math games, you also have to have a business model to make that work so there’s the way education is funded. There are a lot of different things that go into that. There are also a lot of successes to make math more engaging but I’d say for people that like math, it is engaging and when it’s expressed in a way that involves their curiosity.

I talked to Anurupa Ganguly who was on my show and the CEO of Prisms VR. They’re making STEM more immersive through virtual reality like the Quest 2 type of devices to get math visual instead of X plus 2 equals Y or whatever on a piece of paper so you know what exactly you’re thinking about. Are you seeing a lot of that thinking going on in Silicon Valley?

You don’t need VR to make math visual. That’s silly. VR is fine but it’s also limiting because you have to strap a computer on your face. You can make math visuals with videos, animation, movies and math visuals scenario acting. There are all kinds of ways. Everybody who ever played D&D, Dungeons and Dragons, is doing math. VR is fine. That’s a rabbit hole that we could go down. VR is great for a lot of applications. Why does this need to be in VR?

There are certain things with physics that can be effective in VR because you can create a physics environment. In that sense, there’s applied math but there’s a lot of gee-whiz factor in VR from people that are new to it and don’t know much about it. There is a lot of potential in VR for learning but you can make things visual in many ways. It’s whether it needs to be kinetic because that’s what VR does.

Do you think that they’re going to make VR much simpler? You mentioned the cumbersome nature of the big headsets and stuff. What are you seeing in that realm? It’s hard, I imagine.

I don’t know. Everything is going toward glasses that are both AR and VR but I don’t know where all that’s going. I understand the human experience part of these things so I don’t feel qualified to speak on that.

You definitely work with startups and businesses to make the product-market fit all faster. How do you do that?

[bctt tweet=”To be successful as an innovation, you have to reach the mainstream. ” via=”no”]

I work with VR and AR. Sometimes it makes sense and a lot of times, it doesn’t. If you’re looking at VR, the big question is accessibility and distribution versus the advantages of VR. A lot more people can play a mobile app and can do VR.

I’m wondering about schools and the education base for that. She’s focused on the classroom setting and it’s interesting to see how everybody’s trying to bring products to market in a new way. A lot of it is giving innovative ideas and getting different things out there that haven’t been there before. You teach. In your, I was looking at some of the stuff you do and you’re saying that Game Thinking is a proven innovation system based on techniques from hit games. The games were The Sims, Rock Band and Ultima Online. You learned a lot that you’ve incorporated. What have you seen from games, gaming, even companies with which you’ve worked that can help people to create the next startup or eat product faster?

There is so much but it boils down to three practical and actionable tips that I can give people to think about and get started. If you want to dig deeper, you can pick up my book even before our training programs but we live to empower people with these principles. The first one is the power of early superfans. Let me tell you a story about Rock Band to bring this to life because that was the first time that it hit me. This is a principle that was true on The Sims, Ultima Online, eBay, Covet Fashion, Netflix and all of these products and games.

Superfans are early, high-need customers. There’s a paradox of innovation that keeps a lot of people from succeeding. To be successful as innovation, you have to reach the mainstream. That’s the definition of success but you never start there. Successful innovations always start pre-chasm using that crossing the chasm language. They start with the early high-need core market. They don’t start with the target market and the addressable market. A lot of people get that wrong but every hit I’ve worked on got it right.

Back on Rock Band, how does this play out in reality? There’s something called Innovation Diffusion Theory that explains this scientifically. We cite that a lot and I explain it in my book. Here’s how it plays out. On Rock Band, I was a system designer, specifically social systems. Part of what I did was studied who the addressable market was. It was an expensive and risky game as many of the things I worked on were.

We had to put some research behind it to get greenlit. I studied our target market, DDR, Dance Dance Revolution was popular in arcades, clubs and even at home. We could ride that wave and see how we could get to a target market that made the game makes sense financially. I did all that analysis and studied the behaviors of the target market and that was great. We started testing the core of the game, the core loop, one song, which was hard to get right. It’s a multi-instrument and lots of feedback. It has to keep people feeling positive but give them feedback so they could get better when they weren’t right and that kind of thing. It’s hard to do.

We worked on that for months and we were testing it, not with our target market, not with the DDR players in the arcades but with these hardcore rhythm action players who have played their previous game, Guitar Hero, a previous game of this wonderful studio Harmonix. They were the nerdy, hardcore, going to be in beta and they were the people that we were testing with. We were testing rough visuals trying to get the feel and the feedback right. I didn’t understand this because I had come out of more of a UX background. I said, “I did all this work to find our target market and yet we’re not testing with them. We’re testing this thing. I don’t understand. Why are we designing fancy avatars?”

The leader took me aside and he’s, “You’re great. You’ve got a lot of talents but I’ve got to tell you something. We’re not going to greenlight this game unless we can make one song feel like four people are playing music together on plastic instruments and we’re not there yet. All that stuff that you want to work on, all the exciting stuff, all the onboarding that we know that we need to polish but we’ve got to get this core experience right. We’ve got to get it right in rough form feel-wise before we can do anything or we’re not going to invest the art in it. Do you understand? That’s how it works here.”

TTL 849 | Game Thinking
Game Thinking: A good game needs a strong learning loop inside of a compelling mastery path. A good game should last.


I had grown at the UX or, “I’m learning so important.” I was like, “I get it. Why are we testing with these people?” He said, “Because these people can give us useful feedback with crappy art because they’re sophisticated enough that we can get useful feedback from them with the game in this rough stage. We will test with other people later and believe me, you’ll be involved but it’s a staging thing. It’s a road-mapping thing.” They had done games like this before. I’m like, “Fine. I’ll get into it,” but I was like, “I wanted to work on the fancy avatars, this and that.”

We polish that core loop with these early superfans for months, built this improbable game, turn it into a huge worldwide hit and developed the whole franchise. None of that would have worked if that core loop hadn’t worked. None of it. That was a huge a-ha for me. The first thing is the people that you need to breathe life into your idea early on are not the same people as your addressable market when you’re innovating. That’s the superfan principle.

Before you went into the second tip, I wanted to add something. I had the creator of UGG Boots on the show, which backs up what you were saying. How he got known for the UGG boots was to go to the surfers who would wear them, which I was surprised that it was the surfers who were wearing them because it was warm. He said that he got the cool surfer dudes interested in them and that later brought in everybody else, which I thought was an interesting side note.

That can be a great marketing strategy but it’s also the same thing. One of the great quotes I love and I collect these kinds of quotes is from Brian Chesky, the Cofounder of Airbnb. He said this on a podcast with Reid Hoffman. That’s a great podcast. He said, “Build something that 100 people love, not that a million people kind of like.” It’s a staging thing. Especially people that had been burned by doing this wrong. They don’t understand the difference between a beachhead and a cul-de-sac. A beachhead, it’s more like when you get your beachhead market, that’s your early market. That beachhead allows you to cross the chasm and reach a more mainstream. For some people, they’ve gone down a cul-de-sac.

Maybe they were trying to get a beachhead but they didn’t know how to stage it and they experienced it as a cul-de-sac so they’re afraid of small markets. They don’t understand that it’s a beachhead. I helped a lot of people untangle that but I wanted to get to the 2nd and 3rd ideas. There are three principles. One is the superfans. I love that you have innovators who have stumbled onto the same thing because I keep relearning this. The second I hinted at with that core loop, which is the core design element of game thinking which is a strong learning loop inside of a compelling mastery path. That’s what Rock Band was. That’s what a good game is if the game lasts.

I work on multiplayer games, not little trivial games like MMOs, Rock Band. The Sims is not multiplayer but we worked on multiplayer elements that were outside of the game. The Sims is a very long-lasting engaging game. How do we do that? It’s the same thing. I have all the stories from The Sims about the same issue. It’s the core learning loop within a mastery path. On Rock Band, part of what we designed was the mastery path. Anyone who has played Rock Band knows that there’s this core mental model. You’re a rock star and you start in small venues like a garage and you move into larger venues, harder songs, cooler outfits and all that levels up and you’re playing in stadiums with amazing outfits and gear. That’s the journey.

I never got good enough to get that far.

That’s the journey.

[bctt tweet=”So much of innovation is about being wrong aggressively on the way to being right.” via=”no”]

I’m still on On The Road Again by Willie Nelson.

That’s not the only journey. There were other journeys we considered. There’s a whole indie rock journey that we considered as an alternate journey to take you behind the scenes on the front line. We didn’t think about one journey. We thought about multiple journeys. We looked at different art styles. Should we be hyper-realistic or cartoony? All those decisions, somebody has to make them but all that stuff that’s where I wanted to go quickly and develop. We sketched it out and we zeroed in on that core learning loop and tuned it. That’s the big takeaway. People get so carried away with fancy onboarding early and they build a leaky bucket. They have no strong re-engagement.

That’s the re-engagement loop. That’s how you build retention from the ground up and it’s easy to get excited by mastery levels, points, badges and all that crap. That’s gamification. That’s the icing on the cake. That’s not what matters. It’s easy to get that wrong but if you understand what is your re-engagement loop and what are people getting better at. The thing that makes every game more interesting is revealing things over time, getting better at something you care about. That’s the secret of how you deliver it. It’s a learning loop. What do you do on day 21, 30 and 40? What are you learning? What’s different?

If you get that little bit strong at the beginning with your superfans and think through but test and refine the other pieces around it rather than over developing them first so there’s an ordering issue with how great games come to life. They start in the middle with the habit-building piece and they don’t polish their onboarding early. Why can you do that? It’s because you’re using superfans who are sophisticated enough to deal with clunky onboarding and maybe not great graphics because you’re trying to get the feel, rhythm, flow and how it feels over time right.

You can layer in the graphics later. That’s the way that the greatest games come to life, like all the hits that I’ve talked about. Games, products, the whole thing. That’s the important stuff, the engine that makes the whole thing run, not the icing on the cake. I’m mixing metaphors. The third thing is related to that. That model of ordering and how important that core learning loop is and tuning it. You don’t build it and ship it. You tune it.

The third thing is the equivalent of what we call paper prototyping in gaming. If you’ve ever worked in board gaming, there’s this idea of paper prototyping and some people do this in UX as well. You use paper and cut-out mock-up interfaces. It’s cheaper than building them out. It’s one way to do things or you use bits and pieces of stuff from your household to mock up the dynamics of the game. That’s paper prototyping. You can do something like that for your customer journey using storyboards.

Storyboards are great because they communicate that they’re rough but you can test your end journey with storyboards before you build anything. It’s transformative for unlocking your ability to not go into a cul-de-sac but instead create a beachhead. Those techniques are absolutely from gaming but translated into general UX and product design. To recap, you have superfans for early testing. They are the people you first need to delight, capture their hearts and minds then you can cross the chasm more into the mainstream.

Get into your addressable market to the importance of honing in on re-engagement and what’s your learning loop within a journey toward getting better at something. Third, how you can test these ideas in a format before building or committing to code or even committing to detailed design in storyboard form. That gives you a little piece of that magic that Pixar gets by storyboarding out their ideas and refining them at that level before they commit to animation.

TTL 849 | Game Thinking
Game Thinking: The market reality is polarizing. It very much reveals a deep truth that some people don’t really want to hear. It’s a tussle between ego and market truth.


It’s interesting because I’m working with a group. Reid Hoffman’s work has been incorporated into an app that Flourish is working on and Reid’s an investor in this. They’re using my curiosity work to create a learning journey. As you were talking about this, I’m trying to figure out how they’re creating this journey. For example, I remember talking to them about the four factors that inhibit curiosity and maybe taking a journey this way, this way, this way on those different factors to build them. In my mind, I’m going through this, trying to visualize this and thank goodness that somebody else is doing it because I’m not good at that. I’m thinking that being able to visualize that part I can relate to and that last third point. For me, I have to see things. Do you find a lot of people have to?

Absolutely. There is an incredible forcing function when you sketch out the key story beats in your customers’ journey and sketch it out. One of the tricks that make all the difference is you don’t necessarily show the interface on a mobile phone, a computer or whatever you’re doing fully. You show people using it in a context, who’s around them and what time of day it is. When you start forcing yourself to think about people using your product in a context over time, a lot of things snap into place and a lot of the cloudiness and your thinking go away. More importantly, at that point, you can show it to your superfans and get concrete feedback about, “Does this make sense to you? Would you be doing that?” It’s an astonishing way to save time and money.

It ties into the research I did in curiosity and perception because you’re asking for input to empathize with somebody else’s journey in this. You don’t know what you don’t know unless you’re curious enough to ask and get that empathy. I noticed on your website that you had this graphic that said, “Hypothesize, empathize, design, playtest and validate.” What part of that do you think people struggle with the most?

I find the place people struggle the most is validate and sometimes design. Anybody who picks up my book will learn about this. A lot of people are excited about hypothesize. That’s where my scientific background comes in. I know how to do that in a product-centric sense. Every good experiment starts with a crisp hypothesis. What this relates to is the ability to be wrong. Our schooling shapes us that you need to be right. To go up the ladder in this corporation, you need to be right but so much of innovation is about being wrong aggressively on the way to being right.

Hypothesize. The way we do it and it’s freeing, as a team, we’re going to put down our assumption. This is also to test your assumptions in lean startup language. You put down your hypotheses but then you also prioritize them in terms of risk, which is important. You test your high-risk hypotheses and you figure out how to do it. You know if it turns out to be wrong, you’re winning. Learning from failure is absolutely acceptable, which is key to moving fast, innovating and learning. That’s an important part and people love that. I’ve got an amazing way that usually takes people 2 to 4 months to do it and do it in 2 to 3 weeks.

For empathizing, it’s streamlined. It’s a funnel. It’s called the Superfan Funnel. It starts with a very specific six-question screener, goes to five-minute interviews, generates data and that preps people for the validation. It also generates a lot of data that you use in design because you want to habit stack in your design. One of the things is there are a lot of stuff in the habit building, literature and discussions that are great but not complete, specifically nudges.

[bctt tweet=”The people that you need to breathe life into your idea are not the same people as your addressable market.” via=”no”]

Tiny habits are a wonderful way to get started with things but they’re not complete. A lot of people who have tried to implement them need products to see that. The way that you extend on that is with a mastery path or a learning loop and getting better at something not only like, “Again and again.” Within that, one of the things that are completely common in Tiny Habits, James Clear’s Atomic Habits and Charles Duhigg’s in every smart habit-building approach is habit stacking. It’s completely embedded in Game Thinking.

Habit stacking means you understand and empathize with, specifically, the existing habits in your customers lie not your big group of customers. That’s too complicated. Start with your superfans. That’s the group you can get your arms around. Understand existing habits that relate to when they’re going to use your product, whatever it is. If it’s a game, a lot of times, it might be at night or at a break. It depends on the person. If it’s a financial product, it might be on payday, etc. You understand the moments related to your product that already exist, those habits that already exist that you might stack on top of or maybe they’re going to shift from playing this game to playing your game.

Understanding what they’re going to switch from to use your product, when what and how that has context in their life, that’s habit stacking. When we empathize with customers, we’ve spent a lot of time understanding the relevant habits in their lives. That’s input into your design process. Sometimes people struggle with that. They struggle with designing the story beats of a journey versus all the details of a UX. It’s a different way of thinking. It can be hard for people. It was hard for me when I started. I struggled with this but then we have a framework. That’s why we have all this stuff, training and framework, sample text to use and all that stuff.

Some people struggle with that. Some people go for it and it’s great. With the validation part, during design, we help you generate a storyboard of your 30-day journey, 60-day journey or whatever it is. It’s not going to be every screen. It’s story beats. It’s the important ones, not the operational ones that are important and it forces you to say, “How does this thing evolve over time?” It forces you to think through a lot of things. We help you generate that during the design phase and for validation, you test it with the aforementioned superfans who made it through your funnel. That’s where the rubber hits the road. When you test it, you’re not saying, “What do you think?” You’re getting them to react to something and how it would fit in their lives. At that point, it’s completely polarized. My clients react in a completely polarized way. It’s fascinating at that point.

Give me an example.

Ninety-five percent of them react with, “Holy camoly. Why didn’t I have this a year ago?” It’s like the heavens opening. It’s like shining a flashlight in a dark room. A small percentage of them freak the fuck out. They ghost me. They start saying, “Your process stinks.” They attack the process, they attack me, try not to pay and things like that. It’s always at the same moment. It’s when the reality is slapping them in the face. What this process does is it gives you market reality the way it filters it down. The market reality is polarizing. It reveals a deep truth that some people don’t want to hear. They’re not ready.

The people who do that, do they ever come back and go, “You were right.”

Not all but some do. Usually, when they try another startup and they’re like, “Here it is again.” It’s interesting because it’s a tussle between ego and market truth. Successful innovation is paradoxical. It’s hard. It requires a weird set of skills. You have to have a huge ego to believe that you could create something from nothing and follow that and it’s a wonderful and amazing vision, ego. At the same time, you need to be brutal about market truth. It’s hard. You have to know that you might not be right. What I’ve seen is that the most successful founders and the best founders have that balance and I’ve worked with some of them. Look at my resume. They have that amazing ego that sometimes might even be hard for me to deal with but their hunger for market truth exceeds even their great ego.

TTL 849 | Game Thinking
Game Thinking: Innovate Smarter & Drive Deep Engagement With Design Techniques From Hit Games

It’s a beautiful thing. It’s those qualities together that do make the most successful founders. Some founders I’ve worked with have been successful on a bit of a fluke. Sometimes you hit luck and it’s hard because you maybe think, “Why should I seek out market truth? I didn’t do it before and it worked.” I’ve worked with some founders who had three big failures after one huge success because they were trying to reproduce it with the way they got that success. That can happen and that’s human nature. We all try to use the methodology that led to our success for other successes.

That worked out not so well for Blockbuster, Kodak and a lot of other companies because they relied on whatever worked in the past.

What I’ve learned is getting market truth, if you’re a founder with a great idea, it’s like walking over hot coals. Everything we do helps you walk over the hot coals and get to the other side.

Everything you do, you do these online team accelerators, masterclasses, custom workshops and those kinds of things in addition to the book. If somebody wanted to do that, I noticed you had a masterclass starting in October 2021. How often do you do these and how do people find out about these?

We’re going to move to a monthly rolling registration for our masterclass, which is a six-month training program that’s amazing and a great starting point. You can go to the certification and apply and you’ll find out everything. If you go to or, you’ll see the masterclass. We also have a team accelerator and that’s full through July 2021 but we’re taking applications and that’s on a per-team basis and we work with the whole team for a minimum of three months. It’s accelerated. It’s a combo of training and hands-on work. We have different levels of that including a level where we bring in our team to supplement your team or it can be more of a training thing.

We’re starting one with a large car manufacturer whose innovation team is using game thinking to innovate smarter. We have several large car manufacturers who are digging into game thinking. I can’t say names but it’s interesting that we have a wave of corporate innovators, several large media companies. They’re looking for a better way to innovate. We also have tons of startups. We work largely with startups but also corporate innovators and more of them I’m finding are going through their own shocks with digital innovation, digitizing, remote work and they’re using game thinking both internally and externally.

It’s these three components I’m telling you about, which is to slice off a group of superfans so you can get your design moving quickly. Target a beachhead and don’t design all the UX details, design the journey and test it with the people who are going to be using it and find out where you’re right and where you’re wrong. Also, set up a smart experiment by creating crisp hypotheses that could be right or wrong and you don’t know. If you know, it’s not an experiment and prioritizes by risk and that’s extremely useful.

As a doctoral chair, I had a lot of my students come to me with their dissertation ideas and they go, “I’m going to prove this,” they know exactly what they think you’re going to find. I said, “You don’t know. You can’t know.” It’s the same thinking here. You don’t know. The thing is you have to have the ability to be wrong. Thomas Edison’s always quoted for that and how many times you got it wrong. You have to have that sense of being willing to fail. From all the stuff that you were working on, I know this is helpful to so many people. I hope they read your book, Game Thinking and check into your site. I wanted to see if there’s anything else that we didn’t cover that we need to cover before we’re almost out of time. Is there any other site you want to share?

[bctt tweet=”Build something that a hundred people love, not that a million people kind of like.” via=”no”] is where you can go. We do run free meetups. Every few months, we do a free three-day challenge for our whole community. We have one on June 1 to 3, 2021 but we’ll have one later in the summer as well. If you go to you can join the Game Thinking Hub that is our learning community. There’s no obligation but you find a lot of resources. We have meetups for different parts of the world. We have an active APAC group for the Asia Pacific but also a lot of other folks participate. We have a whole educator’s community and game designers there. Do feel free to join our community as well. That’s where you hear first about all these upcoming free challenges and that’s a great way to dip your toe in and see if this is for you.

That’s great. I saw that you have so much great information on your website and a lot of people will be checking it out. This was fun. Amy Jo, thank you for being my guest.

It’s a pleasure. I look forward to getting to know you better and learning more from some of the other great shows that you’re sharing.

Thank you.

I’d like to thank Amy Jo for being my guest. We get so many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at We got a lot of great information on there about curiosity and perception. I know we touched on that a bit in the show. If you’re interested in taking the Curiosity Code Index or the Perception Power Index, they’re both available on that website. They offer a lot of insight into some of the ways that we perceive information, which is fascinating to look at. It’s important with developing curiosity to find the things that hold us back from our natural sense of curiosity because we know we peak around age five and it starts to tank after that. It would be nice if we all kept Amy Jo’s level because she certainly is a highly curious individual. I would like to see more people have that natural sense.

To do that, you have to figure out the things that hold you back and what I found in my research are there are four things. Those four things are fear, assumptions, which is the voice in your head, technology and that’s the over and underutilization of it and the environment. The acronym is FATE to help you remember that better. It’s helpful to take an assessment to see where you stand and where you can improve. This isn’t the assessment that puts you into a box and says, “This is what you are. Live with it.” This is the kind of assessment that’s more an emotional intelligence test that says, “Here’s your level. There are areas here where you can improve.”

That’s helpful if you want to have an innovative, engaged and productive workplace. I hope you take some time to check out the information on curiosity as well as perception. Both the assessments can be given by certified operators which would be either HR professionals or consultants. If you’re interested in becoming certified, you can do it asynchronously or on your own time or whenever you want virtually, which is nice during this time.

If you want to become certified to be a CCI or PPI provider, you would get five hours of SHRM recertification credit for each one of those. It’s something different that a lot of people have been asking me how you can become certified. That’s right there on the site. We have tweetable moments, which is nice. If you want to tweet out some moments that stood out to you. I know that guests always have these amazing things that they say and we try to highlight those things. Feel free to tweet out a moment that stands out to you. We’d love to hear from you.

Please follow me on Twitter and Instagram if you’d like to connect. I’m @DrDianeHamilton on all the social media sites. I wanted to give you that little bit of content to round out the show. Amy Jo, I appreciated all the great content. There are many great women and men who have done some amazing things in tech on the shows in the past. If you’re looking for a particular topic that you find interesting, you can search for that topic in the top right-hand corner under the search bar. Let’s say you’re interested in emotional intelligence, you could pull up a show with Daniel Goleman. There are many amazing people we’re getting 1,300 to 1,400 people who have been on the show and there’s so much content. Take some time to explore the site. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Amy Jo Kim

TTL 849 | Game Thinking

Named by Fortune as one of the top 10 influential women in games, Amy Jo Kim is a game designer, community architect, and innovation coach. Her design credits include Rock Band, The Sims, eBay, Netflix,, Ultima Online, Covet Fashion, and Happify.Amy Jo has helped thousands of entrepreneurs & innovators bring their ideas to life through her coaching programs. She pioneered the practice of applying game design to digital services and is well-known for her books Community Building on the Web (2000) and Game Thinking (2018).

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