Read this article on ‘Vulcanus – Spirit of Innovation’ workshop as featured in ‘The National’.

The year is 2072. Between Earth and Mars, a tiny new planet with intelligent life called Vulcanus has been discovered. But the Vulcan race have no means of long-distance transport, and companies on Earth are now pitted against each other to develop a solution that meets the transportation needs of their newly discovered intergalactic neighbours.

This may sound like the plot of the latest Star Trek film, but it’s actually a new corporate game designed to help employees better understand how innovation really works and, more importantly, get their creative neurons firing.

Brought to the UAE earlier this year by the Dubai-based corporate training company Protraining, Vulcanus – Spirit for Innovation was invented five years ago by the Dutch games creator Hans Vegter.

Mr Vegter says that despite the role-playing game’s subject matter, he’s no sci-fi fan and simply felt the theme “was a good showcase for innovation”.

His company, Customer Games, has also produced the game TacticTravel to make employees more customer-centric and the Change Management game – a real-life simulation of a change process.

“I create games that you can learn from which are also fun,” says Mr Vegter. “When you enjoy yourself and you experience a new skill, you learn a lot more than someone who is simply telling you information – especially when you are talking about innovation, because you have to do it to really understand it.”

Mr Vegter created the concept to help project, product and service managers that work for organisations where innovation needs to be a driving force. After noting the game’s successful test run across Europe, Patricia O’Sullivan, managing director of Protraining – which has offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul – decided to bring the game to the UAE to complement its “drive to encourage innovation in the workplace”.

“The solution itself is innovative, so we are walking the talk,” says Ms O’Sullivan.

To market the concept, Protraining held a taster event. “Companies” of three to four people were provided with key information about the Vulcans, and also Lego to help them develop transport designs to meet the requirements of the Vulcan transport importer, in other words the consumer, played by Protraining trainer Charral Izhiman.

Emirati Bader Al Mansoori, a leadership and capability management adviser at Adnoc, took part to see whether it might aid Adnoc’s management workshops. For him, the game’s main advantage was team-building.

“Sometimes we need an avenue like this for people to get to know each other, instead of working in silence”, says Mr Al Mansoori. “This is a great way of getting people of different cultures and job titles to all work together for the same target.”

During the trial, Mr Al Mansoori’s fictional company initially produced tyres. But they realised the need to diversify early on. “We upgraded the tyres, then we went to aeroplanes”, he explains. “Now we are doing choppers that can go everywhere and that’s why we’re trying to sell them outside the planet, as they can resist a harsh working environment.”

The executive found the toughest aspect was winning the trust of the other competitors. “Also knowing the market well, and anticipating the future needs of these entities,” he adds. “I learnt we always need to be able to adapt our ways of thinking quickly to be the pioneers, and also to get the patents, because the more you are No 1, the more everybody else will copy your ideas for themselves.”

The event was a chance to try something out of the ordinary for Zeina Kanaan, group HR director for Ittihad International Investment company, based in Abu Dhabi. One of the main takeaways for her was learning the importance of shrewd negotiation skills when it comes to taking a product forward. “You come up with an idea and then you have to negotiate with your team, that’s the next step”, says Ms Kanaan. “We had many ideas. We dropped some and then after some market analysis and meetings, we went back to the original idea.”

Ms Kanaan, who is Lebanese, says Vulcanus gets staff thinking outside the box. “From my experience, people get bored during training sessions with the usual slides and presentations – they only grasp about 20 per cent of what’s being taught. But if the trainees are hands-on and taking it forward by themselves, they learn much more.”

Ms O’Sullivan has 27 staff on hand between her offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to help teach Vulcanus in companies throughout the UAE. But she faces stiff competition from other companies with a UAE presence that also offer cutting-edge corporate games to stimulate innovation.

For Vulcanus, though, the game’s winning company is the one that makes the most money. “But there is no perfect answer or strategy to the game, just as in real life there is no perfect solution but a lot of good solutions,” adds Mr Vegter.

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