Gumption: Teacher's pet project

Gumption: Teacher's pet project
Remember those hours of fun and laughter in economics class learning about demand, inflation and GDP? Probably not. But then again, your business studies teacher wasn't Mark Snoad, creator of educational board game Gumption.

board game gumption nz businessRemember those hours of fun and laughter in economics class learning about demand, inflation and GDP? Probably not. But then again, your business studies teacher wasn't Mark Snoad, creator of educational board game Gumption.

Mark Snoad has an infectious enthusiasm. It’s a rarity and more impressive because it’s catching on right where it needs to – in high schools, and specifically, in business classes. Teenagers, not exactly known for their bright eyes and bushy tails in the classroom, are engaging with business and economic concepts that were formerly met with loud yawns and glazed eyes.

To combat teenage apathy, Snoad created an educational board game called Gumption, which he says has the power to spark ideas and tell the stories of enterprising New Zealanders.

“Gumption teaches kids about the heroes of New Zealand business – the Gallaghers, the AJ Hacketts and the Stephen Tindalls – while also being a great vehicle to introduce economic theory and business concepts such as strategy, trade and resource management,” says Snoad, a teacher at Ormiston Senior College in Auckland.

“The teachers can then draw out the theory and concepts behind it. Kids love negotiating and trading to get what they want out of it. It may sound intense, but it’s not – my seven-year-old can play too, and keeps beating me.” Snoad says Gumption is a great entry-level introduction to business studies, a recently added NCEA subject, but it’s also helpful in subjects such as social studies and economics.

“Instead of diving right into theories on GDP, growth and inflation, Gumption can be presented to students and after a few rounds teachers find they can easily draw out some of these more intangible, abstract theories.”

mark snoad board game gumptionMark Snoad, creator of board game Gumption. PHOTO: Tony Brownjohn

Snoad says the approach is different – not about assessment, but rather engagement and sparking kids’ curiosity. He believes his board game not only celebrates Kiwi business success stories, but will also encourage more of them.

“It opens the possibilities in their minds. It means if they have an idea they can run with it. It’s about teaching the confidence and perseverance to back-up innovative thought.”

Gumption’s success at engaging teens (almost unwittingly) with economic theory can be put down to its partnership with some of New Zealand’s biggest business brands, such as Charlie’s, Sanitarium and The Warehouse. However, getting big names on the board proved to be Snoad’s biggest challenge. He wanted to build upon his first educational tool, a board game called Business Tycoon, by embracing these success stories, as “students latch onto stories and these ones show the possibilities of business in the real world”.

The GFC and recession initially held up commercialisation of the game. He admits the timing was terrible: “We would approach these big companies and get the same feedback: ‘We love the idea and we would normally commit but there is just too much uncertainty’. So I had to keep pushing and wait it out.”

Eventually he was able to get sponsorship deals with the big names and success stories he wanted – such as Fisher & Paykel, Icebreaker and Charlie’s, as well as Massey University and Air New Zealand. These organisations are profiled on the game board, using the human, capital and natural resources that make those organisations successful.

The business studies teacher is proud of the game’s success since his lightbulb moment back in 2001. He’s sold more than 1,500 games – a huge achievement given schools are strictly budgeted. Gumption also took out the Game of the Year and Teachers’ Choice Award from the New Zealand Games Association this year and has had orders coming in from Australia. Yes, even Aussie schoolkids are learning the success of Kiwi business stories such as the BloKart.

“The call from a Brisbane girls’ school was a bit out of left field, I didn’t think they would really get it – but now they are really keen for me to make an Australian version as well. But it’s great that the basics of the game and the theories behind it are universal,” he says.

Snoad’s students in Auckland’s Flat Bush were surprised to learn that their business studies teacher walks the walk.

“When I show them my photo in the games information booklet, they think I’ve Photoshopped it in,” he laughs.

The next big move for Gumption is a retail push through one of the board game’s profiled businesses, The Warehouse.

“It’s about grabbing that opportunity by both hands, because if they don’t sell then it’s done. But that’s what I teach my students about – business is not about sitting on your hands. Business is all about risk.

“That’s why I called it Gumption. Gumption is about that perfect mix of ambition, analytics, intelligence and guts.”