7 Lessons in Creativity from “The Imitation Game”

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Do they deliver Value to Value Innovators?

Photos are shots taken from the movie directed by Morten Tyldum: The Weinstein Company Pictures

The movie “The Imitation Game” is based on a true story. It depicts how the secretly gay British mathematician (Alan Turing) and his team saved an estimated 14 million lives during World War II by building a computer that cracked the Nazis’ supposedly unbreakable “Enigma” encryption code.

This is one of our most successful blogs that was first published in March, 2015.  It was time to bring it back with a few updates.

Can Value Innovation benefit from these 7 Lessons?

Hare are our thoughts on each of the Lessons:

1.  Do Good Work to Get Good Work

Alan Turing was 23 when he was reluctantly hired to lead this effort.  He was hired because he was recognized as the leading light in artificial intelligence in the UK, not because of his ability to speak and understand German,  He didn’t speak a word.

We would restate the Lesson to:  When you have a major challenge, hire the best qualified individuals to address the challenge.  Just be prepared to lead and manage the team (see KAI Index below).

2. Welcome the Outsider


Turing hired a woman, Joan Clarke, to join his team because she solved a test crossword puzzle faster than all her male rivals. The prevailing thinking in the UK at the time was that women were only qualified to carry out menial tasks.

In the world of Value Innovation, we are in full support of this bold move made by Turing.

We believe that the best teams are diverse in make-up.

We recommend that team members be selected on the basis of the Kirton Adaption Innovation Index (KAI).  For more on KAI, take a look at the slides below:




Obviously we do not know the KAIs of Turing, Clark and the other team members.  If I had to guess, Turing had a KAI of 140+/-, Clark a KAI of 120+/- and some of the other team members were probably in the 70-80 range (adaptors who would get the problems solved and the solution implemented).  This wide range of KAIs would account for a lot of the team discord we see in the movie.

The key about KAI is knowing what it is and what it means.  When you are separated by more than 30 KAI points, it’s akin to two people in a house, where one is looking out of the front windows and the other is looking out of the back windows.  What they see is entirely different.  So rather than each thinking the other is Wacko, when they have a differing opinion, they should just relax and listen to the other point of view….Hope this made sense to you.

3. Sometimes It Takes A Bit Of Bravery

When Turing’s boss turned down his request for 100,000 pounds to build the machine, Turing wrote a letter to Winston Churchill requesting the funds.  Churchill approved the request immediately.

In our world of Value Innovation, our goal is to reduce risk.  Clearly this was another bold move made by Turing but he concluded without the funds the project was dead.  He felt he had no choice but to go around his boss.  We are in agreement with Turing’s decision.

Imitation_Game_1503044. Do Not Act Like an Ass

Hugh Hart shared, “A loner by temperament, Turing isolates himself to obsess over the bronze, copper, and wire “Bombe#Dec” contraption he’s built to beat Enigma. Joan Clarke upbraids him for leaving his collaborators in the dark, saying: “I’m a woman so I can’t afford to behave like an ass but neither can you. You need help and the only way you’re going to get it is to make them like you.”

The next day Turing passes out apples to his co-workers and clumsily tells a joke. The gesture is appreciated and shortly thereafter, Turing’s most talented colleague Hugh Alexander makes a critical improvement to Bombe electro-mechanics.”

There are two lessons here for the project leader leading a Value Innovation project:

1.  Involve the team on all important decisions – the team’s conclusion(s) will be better than yours.

2.  You are responsible for motivating your team.

5. Think Big, Even When It Hurts

Once the team had broken the code, the natural reaction was to immediately start winning battles and saving lives.  Turing shared with his team, “Our goal is to help win the war, the Germans must not suspect, we’ve broken their encryption code.”

I don’t know what the learning here is for a Value Innovator.  Few of us will ever find ourselves in Turing’s position.

6. Engage the Power of Secrets

Hart shared, “Turing’s wartime service remained a state secret for 50 years but his personal life became public knowledge when he got arrested in 1951 for consorting with a gay man. Secrecy defined Turing’s legacy, Tyldum says. “In his paper ‘The Imitation Game’ Alan wrote that you’re only human to the extent that you can convince other people that you are, that you are what other people think you are. If a machine can convince you it’s a human, then it’s a human. This is coming from a closeted gay man who is imitating a straight man, who is hiding who he is his whole life. You can see how these revolutionary ideas that essentially created computer science came from all closeted gay man who had to hold everything inside at a time when homosexuality was illegal.”

The lesson for Value Innovators?  A Trade Secret maybe the best way to protect the invention/innovation.

7. Turn Personal Loss into Professional Gain

I’m not sure if there’s a lesson here for Value Innovators.  what do you think?

Want to up your innovation game? Want to up your organization’s innovation game? Attending one of our Mastering Value Innovation Workshops is a great place to start. In 2016 we are going to change our approach. We will work with you to develop your own custom workshop that addresses your problems and you define the length and location. More information can be found in the Workshop Brochure.