Risk and uncertainty

Exposing and exploiting variables in quiz games

I’ve frequently said managing uncertainty can be done by exposing and exploiting variables. We over-simplify when we express risk as a single point (“There’s a 40% change this will happen”) and we can get a more useful understanding of things when we look at the variables.

In this sense, managing uncertainty sits in the world of creativity and innovation. Perhaps that doesn’t fit with the stereotypical image of a risk manager, walking around with a (mental) clipboard measuring problems. But maybe it fits better with the image of a dynamic project or programme manager, always finding innovative ways of solving the next looming problem or navigating a current crisis. One of the secrets of innovation is identifying and tweaking existing creations. (“It’s like Blockbusters, but the videos are delivered to your door… It’s like that postal video service, but you download them from the internet… It’s like that video download service, but they produce their own content, too…”)

I’m always interested in how people expose and exploit variables, so I was intrigued to read about the creation of a new trivia game. That’s seemingly an impossible problem. After all, how many ways can you tweak a trivia quiz? Most innovations are around the scoring mechanism (“When you’ve got all six elements you’ve then got to race to the centre…”) or theme (“It’s a quiz just about film and TV”). But the creators of one game wanted to make a general knowledge trivia game that allowed people to feel intelligent—and even win—without being trivia nerds.

Variables that they exposed (i.e. which might not have been obvious) and exploited (i.e. which they changed for their benefit) include:

  • Who answers the questions (they decided everyone should be able to answer every question);
  • How the answers are presented (they went for multiple choice answers);
  • What counts as correct (they chose questions with multiple right answers);
  • How many answers you need to get right (they allow trivia experts to give themselves a handicap by needing to get more answers right).

The result is a game called “Half Truth” that seems to be somewhat different from the norm. And what’s most eye-opening to me is the exposing of variables. The trivia game format seems limited, but the creators of this game found ways to open it up that were not obvious, even to them.

It’s a useful lesson when we are faced with tough situations and need to find imaginative ways to deal with them.

Photo by Jim, the Photographer

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