Sunday, February 07, 2010

Total Engagement

I just finished reading the book Total Engagement. It's rare that I read a book that has me wondering if the authors have caught a glimpse of an unexpected future, and that ten or twenty years from now people will be looking back and saying: that was the book that spotted this crucial trend. Having lived in Silicon Valley for many years, I'm used to having that experience of being exposed to the future ahead of its time. This could be one of them.

The thesis is simple. Millions of people pay each month to participate in massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). I've tried them, and I have friends (and kids) that have been totally sucked into them. They punch a bunch of psychological tickets for humans: the game designers know what they're doing. The book discusses how this is done:
  • an epic story line(we're saving the galaxy from the Crumlons)
  • clear paths to advancement, with transparency about your skills and performance
  • intensely meritocratic societies called guilds that work together in groups to accomplish major tasks
  • strong social interactions with other people
  • the ability to try, fail and try again rapidly, learning quickly
  • the option to try on leadership roles
For many people, these games are where they come alive and truly experience their potential to solve problems, meet challenges and lead a team.

And then they go into the modern workplace, which is frequently as stultifying as these virtual worlds are thrilling. Fail!

Read and Reeves are convinced that at least some smart workplaces of the future are going to adapt some of the ways of the games to more fully engage their employees and become more effective as economic organizations. They don't have a magic formula for how to do this, but do invest a great deal of time analyzing what makes people inside these games tick and how those concepts transfer to the workplace.

Fascinating ideas, and well worth watching and thinking about.

4 comments:

Monica Willyard said...

Jim, this is a fascinating concept, one I've been hoping someone would talk about. I would love it if some businesses would start working with elements from online games.

On an RPG, I am free of disabilities, and I am respected for my abilities. No one knows or cares if I can see. Unlike the real world job I have, I am expected to achieve, work proactively, solve problems as part of a team, and learn new skills if I want to advance. Personal responsibility is rewarded, as is focused cooperation with your team. People who don't carry their weight don't advance. It's the exact opposite of what is happening at my government research job where people are punished by using innovation and creative problem solving. People are rewarded for actions that can undercut the goals of the team. Only those who will conform and stay with the prescribed traditional thinking are promoted. Worse yet, they wear their computer illiteracy and refusal to learn as a badge.

The RPG feels more real to me, more alive. I feel successful there, turned on and fully engaged emotionally. My employer gets maybe a quarter of my talent because they don't want it. If they allowed it, I could accomplish more, and probably with fewer resources than I use now.

Do you know if the Bookshare staff is going to add this book to the Bookshare collection? I'd love to read it. If the staff isn't doing it, I'll look for it on Amazon and will scan it.

I wonder if this is something Bookshare could use with its volunteers as well. We have a massive amount of talent among our volunteers that isn't being tapped yet. It goes far beyond books. We have advanced level programmers, web developers, graphic designers, recording engineers, retired teachers, lawyers, business owners, doctors, social workers, vocational rehabilatation counselors, and psychologists. I know Bookshare has to be careful with what it allows volunteers to do. Yet I can't help but wonder what would happen if Bookshare could tap into some of these talents somehow.

Jim Fruchterman said...

I'm sure you'll enjoy the book, Monica. Betsy Beaumon and I had both bought copies, and I suggested we send one down to the scanning team. But, it's not up yet...

Dennis Riedel said...

This is exactly what Jane McGonigal talks about at TED 2010. A very interesting concept.

I founded a "guild" in 1999 for an online multiplayer game and I had very engaging experiences playing in a team of 14 people, all from different areas around the country, only coordinating ourselves via IP Voice communication tools and the forum in our homepage.

But it was so time consuming, I had to give it up 2 years later to concentrate on my studies.

Check out Jane's talk at TED:
http://bit.ly/9U47FG

JCM said...

When I read this I also thought of the talk from TED 2010.

Its really exciting to watch this develop. More powerful and omnipresent mobile devices is empowering game-makers and entrepreneurs with the tools to spread games to as many aspects of our lives as you're willing to let them!