Saturday, 6 February 2010

Work sucks, play games!


World of Warcraft  Ive recently been reading a new book, ‘Total Engagement’, by Byron Reeves and J Leighton Read and it’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read during the last year.

Despite the title, there’s not a lot of new information in here on engagement, but there is a lot on gaming (the book’s sub title is ‘Using games and virtual worlds to change the way people work and businesses compete’) and on gaining Social Advantage too.


Gaming Engagement

I should explain that I’ve never really spent any time playing computer games, never mind massive multiplayer online role-plaing games (MMPOLGs).  I have experimented in Second Life but the type of environment the book describes is quite new for me.  Nevertheless, I’m happy to go along with many of the authors’ conclusions.  I can believe games are fun, and I completely support the ideas that people should have more fun at work.

I also believe that gaming can develop useful skills.  The book Leaders make the Future, which I reviewed recently on Talking HR, suggested that game players would stand an advantage in leadership roles in the future.  This book’s authors support this conclusion and also claim that every skill in the list of O*NET generalised work activities is included multiple times in gamers’ experiences.

Gamers gain other benefits as well – they are apparently physically healthier, work harder, make better grades, earn higher salaries and are more socially connected than those who play less or not at all.

So I’m quite motivated to try some games out – but probably not until I’ve finished my Social Advantage book (although I make try out 10 day free membership to World of Warcraft at some point in the next few months).

However, I also feel that the book pushes the argument for gaming  a bit too far.  The authors note that work is often repetitive and dull; that workplaces are legacy-bound and risk averse; and that workers are overloaded with information and worried about the future.  But is bringing games into the workplace, or making work more game-like, really the solution to these problems?

This situation clearly needs to improve.  Particularly since, as the authors point out, the future of work is going to be more about engaging people than commanding them.

Leighton Read writes about his experience attending Gary Hamel’s MLab meeting in Half Moon Bay in 2008 (which resulted in the Moon Shots for Management which are the focus of my ning community).  He describes the group’s conclusions about the remedies for work and management as:

  • A sense of purpose (mojo)
  • Connected structures that minimise degrees of separation between workers and actual customers
  • The end of short-termism, micro-management and burnout from corporate initiatives.


Well OK, so games provide the same ingredients that will help solve these business problems.  But suggesting that games are the definitive model of engagement is a bit far fetched. 

But I am prepared to accept the points it is a model, and that some people will soon do their jobs inside a game (perhaps a ‘mixed-’ or ‘augmented-reality’ one).

Supporting this, I’ve also seen a very compelling presentation from Microsoft’s Ross Smith (who is referred to in this book) at a MLab Management 2.0 event, describing how his team test software in a game type environment in order to make this work more interesting.

Also, as the authors write,

“Games can make huge improvements in work with only small adjustments to current practice and technology.  You don’t have to build an entire game to use games at work.”


Meez at Work

Examples of these small adjustments include using three-dimensional environments allowing you to do things otherwise impossible in the real world.  But more than anything else, the authors focus on the use of avatars (see their blog / recent HBR post too), providing people the opportunity to try out new styles, new behaviours and so on:

  • Customised avatars increase engagement and affiliation compared to impersonalised activities (a personalised avatar provides ownership and arousal leading to engagement, commitment and learning in a similar way to taking an action in the real world)
  • The use of avatars can create emotional and social connectlons
  • I also like the authors’ comment that social trumps efficiency (“‘efficiency isn’t the sale criteria by which virtual [I’d suggest any] interactions should be evaluated’).


The authors expect use of avatars to further increase with growing expressiveness as facial features become more distinct, movements more lifelike and user control more richly intuitive (they become ‘mini-me’s’):

“It’s the equivalent of looking in the mirror, only the character in the mirror has a lot more freedom to do things you can’t do yourself.”

“At IBM, thousands of employees meet weekly, using their avatars , in a virtual space to talk about business (dubbed the company ‘intraverse’.”

“A majority of the Fortune 100 companies we’ve spoken to in the last three years have at least one virtual-world prototype that makes use of avatars.”


I also think it’s interesting that I probably get more verbal comments about the Meez avatars on my blogs than anything else.

But I still don’t think that work necessarily needs to become a game in order to improve…


Taking Lessons

The authors note that “gamers don’t discuss hypotheticals or simulate play when the real thing is readily available”.  So why simulate business as a game when the real thing (ie work) is readily available too?

So I’m probably more interested in the use of gaming to support work, than to replace it, for example in development:

“We also believe that companies could explicitly include multiplayer entertainment games as part of their leadership development programs.  These would be like' ‘management flight simulators’ for softer aspects of leadership, as opposed to the more analytical aspects for which simulators and spreadsheets are available.”


And for me, the even bigger opportunity to those I’ve described above, which seem to assume that work can’t be improved other than through gaming, is to use the lessons from gaming, rather than gaming itself, to make work in the real world more engaging.

I’ll be coming back to write more about this soon.



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