Tools of the Trade | January / February 2019

Grenoble’s new serious game makes innovation a habit, and a new simulation aims to motivate people to combat climate change.


Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) in France has developed “21 Days: The Innovation Quest,” a new serious game designed to teach master’s level and executive education students six dimensions of innovation. The game is inspired by research that indicates that it takes at least 21 days of repetitive activity for an individual to establish a new routine or learn a new skill.

Photo courtesy of Grenoble Ecole de Management 

Students play the board game version of 21 Days. (Photo courtesy of  Grenoble
Ecole de Management)

In the game, players are stranded on a virtual island where they are given 21 tubes and a diary. Each day, they open a tube containing a scroll inscribed with that day’s 15-minute mission, which they must complete using limited resources. Each mission is designed to teach a key component of innovative thinking. After 21 days, players will have completed six hours of training. The game is available in an online version or as a hard-copy board game, which looks similar to the Advent calendars used by many to count down the days until Christmas.;

The board game is meant for executive education students, explains Hélène Michel, a professor at GEM who specializes in innovation management and the development of serious games. Michel mentions one group of managers at a large insurance company who have played the game as part of a group. “After each session, the board game is given to a new participant, so each game is traveling around the world. As the participants interact with the game, taking information and giving new information, they build a community of players sharing the same view on innovation,” she says. “In game design, we say, ‘You come for the game, you stay for the guild!’”

The digital version is meant for graduate-level students. In December of 2017, for example, 1,000 students in GEM’s master of innovation management program played the virtual version of the game. The students received daily email notifications to complete that day’s task.

Since then, developers have integrated “21 Days” into Microsoft Outlook’s Calendar. When “21 Days” becomes part of the daily to-do tasks on each player’s own calendar, “it aims to make innovation a routine,” Michel emphasizes. The game acts as a behavioral “nudge,” she adds, that encourages players to embrace and adopt more innovative behaviors and mindsets.

The first version of “21 Days” was developed in the OpenLab Ideas Laboratory, also based in the city of Grenoble, in collaboration with Low Tech Lab, a collaborative research project; Suez, a company that helps organizations manage resources more sustainably; and GEM’s research Chair for Public Trust in Health.

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If research studies outlining the effects of climate change won’t move people to save the planet, maybe a game will. That’s the idea behind World Climate Simulation, an online game in which groups of people play the roles of U.N. delegates negotiating a global climate change agreement. The research-based simulation, which can last from 45 minutes to three hours, is intended to help everyone from high school students to executives develop critical thinking, systems thinking, communication, and negotiation skills.

John Sterman, a climate scientist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, is a co-creator of the game. He recently conducted research on the impact of the simulation with lead author Juliette Rooney-Varga, associate professor of environmental sciences at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, and seven other co-authors. According to the study, which appeared in August 2018 in PLOS ONE, 81 percent of users who engaged in the role-playing simulation expressed an increased motivation to combat climate change.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the World Climate Simulation has been used in institutions and organizations in 85 countries.

Learn more and view a 60-minute webinar aboutrunning the simulation.


Canvas, an open online learning management system created by Instructure, has made the code for its Canvas Skill app for Amazon Alexa open source. Launched last year, Canvas Skill for Amazon Alexa enables users to link their Canvas accounts within the Alexa app so that they can ask Alexa for details about their courses. Canvas leaders hope that, by making the code open source, they will encourage the 350,000 members of their customer community to design their own applications to be deployed on Alexa. Such apps might focus on simplifying tasks such as providing feedback to learners or checking in on at-risk students.