Business is at a crossroads, moving from the assembly-line structure required by the last century's industrial economy to a responsive, flexible model that today's real-time economy demands.
Business is speeding up, customer desires are changing rapidly, and product life cycles are shrinking. At the same time, we are surrounded by a bewildering and rapidly evolving array of social media and consumer IT. The path to business success in this real-time economy involves meeting the challenges of the former by using the capabilities of the latter. It's time for CIOs and other IT leaders to consider new technology and management approaches to organizing their operations.
Games provide a useful organizing framework for thinking about how to do this. A prominent game designer, Jane McGonigal, defines the four traits of a game.
- Goals: what the game is about, its mission
- Rules: what players can and cannot do to accomplish the goals
- Feedback systems: keeping players informed about the results of their actions, showing if they are getting closer to or farther from the goals
- Voluntary participation: understanding and accepting the goals, rules, and feedback systems, leading to enthusiastic engagement
At their core, games are engagement engines. The success of a game is measured by the number of players it attracts and the level of engagement it generates. Likewise, a business can be defined as an engagement engine that uses goals, rules, and feedback systems to engage customers, employees, and partners. The success of a business can be measured by the commitment of its employees and partners, as well as the number and voluntary participation of its customers. This is illustrated by the diagram below.
Continuous response to change and emerging trends is a powerful driving force for success in our real-time economy. This level of responsiveness is required in order to maintain the enthusiastic participation of customers and employees. Companies that fail to do so will fade away, because they cannot maintain the engagement of customers and employees.
The recent past is littered with examples of companies whose products and services failed to keep up with changing times. These companies were very efficient at what they did. They organized their operations using the model of the assembly line -- the great organizing paradigm for business in the industrial economy of the last century. The strict linear process put everything in its place and maximized efficiency and productivity. In the industrial, assembly-line economy, the goal of technology was to increase productivity and efficiency.
In today's real-time economy, efficiency alone is not enough. A company must match efficiency with responsiveness to thrive. In the real-time economy, the goal of technology is to generate enthusiastic participation and drive responsiveness to changing situations. Video games can guide us as we explore ways to accomplish this goal. The games are field-tested models for generating responsiveness. They integrate people, process, and technology to create enthusiastic participation and continuous response to changing circumstances.
The first widespread effort to apply technology to increase participation is known as gamification. At present, gamification focuses on creating feedback systems through the use of points, leaderboards, and badges on company websites. It's a start, but the game model goes far deeper than that.
Professor Byron Reeves and the venture capitalist J. Leighton Read, working together at the Stanford University business school, make a case for using games to change the way companies operate. In their book Total Engagement, they state: "We believe the highest use of games will be to redesign work so that it is more like a game and to allow work to be conducted within games." Based on their research, they go on to say: "Work will be hopelessly confused with play and the result a possible win-win for the players and the businesses that sponsor them."
Games provide an organizing paradigm for business and (as we've discussed before) a model for applying technology that will become even more powerful in the real-time economy than the assembly line was in the industrial economy.
[Editor's Note: Learn more in Michael Hugos' newest book, Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business.]