Lessons from the Team that Created Pokémon Go

Published: July 28, 2016

These days, you don’t have to travel very far to run into someone playing Pokémon Go. They have a unique appearance. They’re wandering outdoor spaces holding their smartphones at arm’s length with simultaneous telephoto and wide-angle vision. Their posture is slightly more upright than the stereotypical smartphone addict since they are searching the universe. The creative team responsible for this phenomenon achieved their augmented-reality goal: the gamification of daily life. How did they do it?

The Team

Begin with an interdependent team of scientists, engineers, and creative designers from Ingress, Niantic, and Nintendo. Each branch had a small core group where disciplines were both overlapping and distinct. Each core group functioned like a band where the primary instruments provided the foundation and ad hoc session artists were brought in when specialization was needed.

The Creative Team was made up of a small, seasoned group. They each had proven creative DNA in their career paths and, being in the 60-something age group, had very little ego on the line. They have yet to revel in the glory of creating the booming, cross-generation, world-wide success of Pokémon Go. They’re focused on evolving geo-mobile gaming to the next level.

The Method

The designers understood that magic happens when creative elements from diverse universes crash into each other. Everything is enabled by pulling things from other disciplines into yours. You have to be willing to get lost. Being lost happens when your actual surroundings no longer match your mental map. A lot is familiar but you can’t decipher your world.

When this happens, you migrate into the new world or perish as a lost soul trying to retrieve the old map. Those who adapt get to keep moving forward in an unknown direction toward a common goal (create a product that will make people want to go out and play). The new map invites you to treat the new world like the internet where all the resources you need are at your fingertips. In order to accomplish this, everyone on the team had to agree to a few basic rules of engagement.

  • The methodology is rooted in improvisation. You have to go along with whatever premise was created. Challenges and conflict are welcome as long as you begin with “Yes, and…” rather than “Yes, but…”
  • Keep the conversation progressing so that creative elements can emerge.
  • Allow the team to become biologic rather than industrial. Let the dynamics of the team fuel the energy needed to create something new.
  • Trust that structure will form as the conversation moves forward. These algorithms become the foundation for your invention.


Teams like the one that created Pokémon Go are always evolving. While this game is groundbreaking, each talented member of the core team has already moved on to their next project. What now appears as a creative ceiling will soon become the floor supporting the next imaginative endeavor. The team of 60-somethings will never lapse into irrelevance. They’re too busy discovering new ways to navigate the world.

How about you? Are you lost or found? Are you migrating or dying? Have you adapted to a world that rewards sharing and collaboration and sheds the perks of the hierarchy? Can you keep the conversation moving forward? Yes, and…

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.