When we started GameChangers in 2007, the phrase “gamechanger” was not in common usage. Beginning around 2009, I began getting phone calls and emails from friends telling me they’d heard us mentioned in the news. Or that, hey!, we were getting all kinds of free promotion for our brand! Everyone is using the phrase, in a multitude of contexts.

Nike launched a Gamechangers sports micro-funding venture in 2010. As we don’t own the name in the sports category, this was cool. We were running with the big brands! Then The Huffington Post and Bloomberg used our name in ways that clearly violated our trademark (business communication, business training, improvisation for business, etc., we own the name in 17 categories, total). A couple of years ago I consulted with intellectual property lawyers who basically told me, “You’re right, they’re infringing. You can sue them. Do you know what they’d do? They’d tie you up in litigation until you’re out of business.” Suing wasn’t a viable option. We rolled with it.

We still get phone calls from confused customers of a company in Ohio that mistakenly printed our email address on some of their “gamechangers” materials. I have to deal with a bible college in Southern California and a self-improvement company in Houston who currently infringe on our trademark with their marketing.

Gradually, the phone calls and emails from friends have stopped, because by now we all know that the word “gamechangers” is ubiquitous.

Ubiquity is the way of Bayer AG’s Aspirin, the classic case of a brand name that fell into common usage. This is what’s happening to us. We have no current plans to change the company brand name. The way we’re dealing with it is to emphasize our offerings:

ERGOTM is our trademarked game-based system for agile communication training.

Quantum Storytelling is the science of how stories live in networks.

Today, these offerings are what differentiate us. Game-based communication training and the science of storytelling in networks are our way of shaping the future on a human scale. It all falls under the description of “Agile Communication Strategies.”

GameChangers? Well, as dismayed as I am at the difficulty of defending it, I’m proud that we own the trademark, that we are the genuine and authoritative voice of gamechanging, and of gamechangers everywhere. And it’s a good confidence builder for our clients that what we are participating in today will have a bearing on their future.

I want to explain one important thing about the act of changing the game. Whenever a company claims that a product is a “gamechanger,” they are hyping you. Products don’t change the game. People do. Steve Jobs explained to Stanford grads in 2006 that “you can’t connect the dots going forward, you can only connect them looking backward.” We shape the future by connecting one dot at a time, with a sense of purpose and intention toward the future. This is something a product, or an isolated event, cannot do. Anyone who says their product is going to change the game is bluffing. Because only time will tell. Looking back, it’s easy to see the gamechange. Looking forward, it’s impossible.

The only legitimate claim to gamechanging belongs to human beings. And only in the present. Only a human being can have the skills and awareness to see and, if necessary, change the game in each and every moment. Control of our response to our environment, the ability to adapt and make optimal moves–these are truly the gamechanging skills. So remember this the next time you hear the word “gamechanger” (which should be, oh, any minute now): the potential to change the game is not in our products, it is in ourselves. 

And our money and our lawyers : /

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