Roo and I are very much looking forward to these guest posts we are going to be making here where it brings a chance for yet another voice to be developed. So thank you for the invitation and an obvious /bow to Ren Reynolds.
Before we start I do have to say the postings on this site are of course our own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.
Having worked in a corporate environment for a 17 years, but having been a serious gamer for even longer, I have been struck by the similarity in some of the concepts found in games and how they appear to be being played out in a supposedly buttoned down, “professional”, serious environment.
Much of this thought has been sparked by the challenges Roo and I faced in the last 17 months bringing virtual worlds/metaverses, such as Second Life to a corporate environment initially under the banner of Eightbar. We have spent a long time explaining to people that just because it looks like a game, it does not mean that it is. Now I am starting to look at the opposite point of view that business is a game it just does not look like one.
Initially much of this made itself apparent in the power speak of the mission. The use of warfare and action adventure terms is an attempt by people to glorify their existence. E.g. Road Warrior, it may have started as a joke, tongue in cheek, but now people believe they are indeed Mad Max. (Yes I do get a kick out these things too).
That is not to say that military analogies are not applicable when used in illustrative terms. Our good friend and colleague Sandra Kearney often uses excellent metaphors around flying planes and applying leadership and those mean something.
There is a somewhat deeper relationship to games, around politics, ritual and club membership. We seem to spend a lot of time attempting to justify to one another who we are and what we know and do. We need to show what we have done before when we meet new people. Many corporate environment rank people relative to their peers using all sorts of dilbertesque criteria in a crude attempt to instrument the achievements of an individual.
So I started to wonder. What happens as we get more and more open and transparent in our actions. Lifelogging, track records in blogs, popularity, reputations recorded and shown to the world? Are we (corporate employees) going to turn into characters in a huge role playing game?
Conceptually it’s an arena, that already exists. We are in a giant roleplaying game, though many people drop back into being non player characters merely following the simple instructions. In gameplay terms certain player character types may provide an imbalance to the game. E.g. traditional constructs such as “is manager” act as trump cards in most corporate situations regardless of the weaponry of the other player.
Business as a game has all sorts of rules, many players and apparent winners and losers. I view this as something more tangible when observing digital natives in a corporate environment, forming groups and guilds, relating to one another in a metaverse, and putting themselves out there for the challenge. They risk their reputations and are public in all their actions. It is also clear to see what they are doing.
At the moment political guile tends to beat any technical skill in most corporate environments. Politics is very important in the likes of WoW and Eve-Online, but it has to be backed up with strong skills, time served and a complete passion for the environment. The classic thing that many senior technical people experience in other companies is the power play where two people are of the same level. One has come up via a technical route the other via a more business style route. The business person will ask the technical person to fix their <place any gadget name in here>. This attempts to assert the business person as the more important by issueing a challenge to the technical person. Fix it and they are subservient, fail and they are discredited. It’s a minor political move which I am sure many people have seen?
Will it become acceptable that when someone, apparently in a position of authority in a hierarchical structure, is challenged by someone who is part of the masses? Will it come down to a spirited PvP duel? It may sound like a breakdown or rebellion, but it feels like the benefits of wiki style self organization being applied to business organization.
The PvP element may also spread to clans and guilds. Already parts of many organizations are fighting one another for scarce resources. The funding for a research project, the sales bonus for a customer, the headcount to pursue an investment idea, venture capital for the latest and greatest Web N.0 idea.
Everyone has tools and weapons at their disposal, but many of them
are hidden away. Can we use MMO’s and the Metaverse to make these
battles and alliances as transparent and useful as we have with the
user generated content of blogs and wikis?
It is interesting to see a battle going on in an MMORPG, to be part of the battle, to plan, to collect trophies, to show your reputation and your level of skill on your profile?
When I started work I often heard the phrase “visibility” of “a face that fits” applied to people who seemed to do the political thing and climb the corporate ladder. Now I am often telling people to make themselves visible, but they can do that through their own efforts now, not wait until invited to present to a tier of management as the duly appointed time.
I can only feel where this is going, just like many things it feels like things are heading this way. Codifying skills and experience has been a fruitless task up until now. People are often asked ‘rate your skill in x on a scale of 1 to 5” Where 1 is nothing much and 5 is expert of experts. Typically this does not work. The true expert never puts 5, as they know all the things they don’t yet know. Or someone else in a reviewing position helps you “normalize” your skills with little real knowledge of the criteria.
In RPG’s you have to have done things to get experience points. You tend to choose to invest those in things to indicate the sort of role you’re are suited for. Or, as in Eve you train skills over time. You have to wait hours, days and weeks for some skills to be regarded as yours. Even then though that only allows you to start using them when you have achieved some success in the role too. Of course there is the ‘cheating’ of buying characters and skills, the business analogy would be “its not what you know its who you know”. In a more transparent set of processes though this should be self- correcting.
So if we have a professional corporate role playing metaverse, both for communication, skill growth and reputation then we have the opportunity to settle differences, gain funding, appraise performance in a much more interesting way.
It is not all about fighting, spells, hulking battlecruisers and railguns. There may be other emergent skill metaphors, though the ones we do have might make it very interesting.
There is a Japanse saying “bunbu itchi” which I believe means “pen and sword in accord”. We need to make sure that we are both strong and clever. Much of what we have today in the workplace is the pen tends to win because the people with the pens are the only ones allowed swords.
This new way of thinking, of being open, of collaborating, of self organizing could be considered as a peasant sword factory. A feudal system break down enabled by education and communication.
These thoughts can be applied to many establishments, structures and organizations.
Will it work?