Serious games and collaboration

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Dr. Howard B. Esbin By Dr Howard B Esbin, Heliotrope, Founder & Director Guest poster Dr Howard B Esbin takes a look at the primal origins of play, the history of using games as a collaborative tool, and their growing importance for modern business.  It takes just 0.41 seconds for Google’s search engine to list 16, 200,000 results on the twinned topic of serious games and collaboration. The following search headings are representative.

  • Designing collaborative multi-player serious games
  • Problem solving and collaboration using serious games
  • Scripted collaboration in serious gaming for complex learning
  • Collaboration in serious game development: a case study
  • Problem solving and collaboration using mobile serious games

Let’s start with the term ‘collaborate’. It stems from the ancient Latin ‘collaborare’ meaning to ‘work with’. The contemporary definition is “work jointly on an activity, esp. to produce or create something”  (New Oxford American Dictionary). ‘Cooperation’ also stems from the Latin ‘cooperationem” meaning “working together”. The semantic roots of both words are closely intertwined for good reason. The science of evolutionary cooperation offers some insight why. Cooperation is practised by many species. Bees, for example, cooperate to produce their hives and honey. Humans learned, through long experience and adaptation, that cooperation is an immense asset for survival. ‘Play’ is another activity, like cooperation, with primal roots. “Anyone who has ever tossed a Frisbee to a beloved dog knows that playfulness crosses species lines. What does this mean? For humans and other animals, play is a universal training course and language of trust” (Fred Donaldson). Games grew naturally out of play. The original Proto-Germanic meaning of ‘game’ included: ‘joy, glee, sport, merriment, participation, communion, people together.’. In other words, our ancestors understood that games brought people together. ‘Communion’ a natural outcome is defined as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, esp. when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level” (New Oxford American Dictionary). “Games are formalized expressions of play which allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Games capture the ideas and behaviours of people at one period of time and carry that through time to their descendants. Games like liubo, xiangqi, and go illustrate the thinking of the military leaders who employed them centuries ago.”

Ceramic tomb figurines of two gentlemen playing liubo, Han Dynasty (25–220 CE)
Ceramic tomb figurines of two gentlemen playing liubo, Han Dynasty (25–220 CE)

Liubo, for example, pictured in the photo below is at least two thousand years old. “The realm of strategy… is where games have exerted the most remarkable impact on the conduct of war, serving as a tool for, as one U.S. Army general put it, “writing history in advance”.  Apropos, Lord Wellington is supposed to have famously said, “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. So we now understand that the role of play and games has been educational for a long time and instrumental in helping people work together more effectively. There are now 7.151 billion people living on this planet (as estimated by the United States Census Bureau). Practically speaking, anyone can contact anyone else thanks to ubiquitous Internet, inexpensive communication technologies, and almost free accessibility. Collaboration Play and games can stretch our imaginations in so many different and beneficial ways. Giving the means to billions of people is an immense phenomenon. No wonder the “worldwide video game industry is booming with sales revenues expected to reach $101 billion dollars this year”. For example, “1 billion people spend at least 1 hour a day playing games…(which means) 7 billion hours of highly engaged gameplay a week worldwide” (ibid). On the other hand, “89% of global workers are unengaged” according to Gallup (ibid). This is costing an estimated “$2 trillion dollars is the estimated cost of unengaged workers for companies annually” (ibid). Simply put, “realizing the engagement power behind games, companies…are looking to gamification as a way to better its productivity and employee satisfaction” (ibid). Deloitte Consulting’s Leadership Academy is a good example of this burgeoning trend. “DLA is an online program for training its own employees as well as its clients. DLA found that by embedding missions, badges, and leaderboards into a user-friendly platform alongside video lectures, in-depth courses, tests and quizzes, users have become engaged and more likely to complete the online training programs… Using gamification principles, use of its Deloitte Leadership Academy (DLA) training program has increased 37% in the number of users returning to the site each week. Participants are spending increased amounts of time on the site and completing programs in increasing numbers…The technology research firm Gartner, Inc. predicts gamification will be used in 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015, this will grow to more than a $2.8 billion business by 2016, and 70 percent of Global 2000 businesses will be managing at least one “gamified” application or system by 2014.” In conclusion, the relation between serious gaming and collaboration has never been clearer or its value more immediate. Dr. Howard B. Esbin is the creator of Prelude, a serious game that fosters trust and collaboration. It is used in schools, community agencies, and workplace training internationally. Its design is informed by his research on social learning, imagination, and positive psychology. He founded Heliotrope, a social enterprise to promote Prelude and related research. Howard also has two decades of senior management experience in the private sector, international development, and philanthropy. The International Labour Organization, Education Canada, and UNESCO have published his work. 

Behind Every Great Woman, Is a Primary Care Giver?

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
Not a particularly catchy phrase is it? Yet, it was perhaps the loudest message to attendees of a recent conference on gender in the workplace.

The delegates, predominantly 20- and 30- somethings, were treated to a line up of some of the most incredible women in the fields of business, government, finance and media. Many of these inspirational leaders attributed their success to good networks, a strong sense of purpose and never shying away from risks and opportunities when they arose. Interestingly, however, many also emphasised the importance of “finding the right husband.” And in this case, the right husband was one who would be prepared to raise the kids, relocate for your career as quickly as he would for his own, and who would accept your long working hours, high stress levels and long periods of absence.

Now, few women, even us stereotypically independent Millennial types, would reject the benefits of having a supportive, caring and kind partner to turn to while we navigate our complex careers. What we might perhaps find less palatable is turning this “nice to have” into a “business critical”. (This sentiment was echoed by one attendee, who posed the question “What advice would you give to single mothers because I’d hate to add ‘find a husband’ to my to-do list?” That this question received a rapturous round of applause, spoke volumes.)

With 42% of marriages in the UK ending in divorce, finding the right husband is not a particularly resilient career plan, nor is it advice that anyone can really act on unless partner-finding takes on the same rigour as the average recruitment campaign (and while there are signals that this is the approach favoured by some, it is thankfully not yet accepted by many). Instead, perhaps we should be encouraging men and women to create sustainable and resilient networks of support including, but not limited to, a husband/wife should they desire one, find one, marry one and manage to avoid divorcing one. Likewise, the advice should perhaps be for a stronger call for real flexible working arrangements that cross something off the to-do list of single parents rather than adding to the workload.

The advice was of course well-intentioned and drawn from the particular experiences of some of the guest speakers in attendance. To request they recommend anything else would be insincere. Instead, we’ll do well to take the principle of the recommendation – building good support networks – and then tailor the rest to suit the lifestyle we ultimately half create and half have bestowed upon us by luck, circumstance and events beyond our control.

Perhaps the phrase should instead be “Behind every great leader is a support network, future-focused organization and an awareness that relationships can rarely be project managed.”

Still not very catchy though is it?

Join us for Collaboration Week

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As the world around us becomes more digital and more connected, we all have to collaborate in ways we never previously considered – and collaboration is at the heart of any successful initiative.

What’s On

Join us from 14-17 April 2014, for our special programme of collaboration-themed events:

  • Collaboration webinar, 14th April, 10am BST and 3pm BST – Join Lynda Gratton and special guest speakers for a discussion of why collaboration is such a timely topic, as well as the latest findings on collaborative working and tips for increasing collaborative potential within your organisation.
  • Tweetjam, 16th April, 10am BST and 3pm BST  – Lynda Gratton, our COO Tina Schneidermann and special guests will be responding to your collaboration questions live on Twitter. Follow @HspotM and use  hashtag #collabweek14
  • Collaboration pop-up, 17th April, Somerset House, London – Join the Hot Spots Movement team for this exciting pop-up event featuring lightning talks by guest speakers, collaboration activities, and the opportunity to talk to an expert about your current collaboration challenges.

Get Involved

  • Join one of our events – contact sarahlouise@hotspotsmovement.com to register your interest for our free webinar and/or pop-up event.
  • Invite your network – Do you know anyone else who is passionate about collaboration? Invite them along.
  • Submit an article – We’re also taking submissions on collaboration for our newsletter and blog – so if you have an opinion or a story to tell, get in touch. To register for any of our events or to submit some content, contact sarahlouise@hotspotsmovement.com.

Keep checking our blog and Twitter feed for the latest speaker announcements and collaboration content.

Sex: Does it Make You Better at Your Job?

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By Emma Birchall, Head of Research – Future of Work

The link has been contested for centuries with Plato warning Olympians to abstain before competitions. Sex is, of course, just one of the long list of activities we are told to do or to avoid in order to concentrate better, be more creative, have more energy and generally succeed in our work. So, what’s the answer? How do we know what works and what doesn’t? Well, the latest development in the movement to quantify everything could help. Forget the Quantified Self – which tracks calories burned, miles run and steps taken – we now have the Quantified Mind. This movement promises to capture data on our mental performance, day-to-day and year-to-year, identifying patterns of behaviour that enable us to be our best. For some people, this may mean abstaining from sex, but being sure to have a full breakfast. For others, perhaps the combination of meditation and meetings scheduled for 4pm rather than 3pm is the winning formula.

To produce the data required to identify winning behaviour patterns, companies such as QuantifiedMind provide people with a series of tests they must complete before and after the activity in question. Ever wondered whether your morning latte really does increase your alertness, or if it is merely a habit or placebo? Join Quantified Mind’s Coffee experiment and, by completing a set of tests each day before and after having your coffee, you will produce a set of data that indicates how this routine activity really helps or hinders your performance.

But, how accurate is this data on the complex relationship between an activity and subsequent performance? Critics such as John Bogle, founder of investment company Vanguard, argues that “Numbers are not reality. At best, they are a pale reflection of reality. At worst, they are a gross distortion of the truths.” Hence, relying on statistics to create a direct causal link between one activity and another could be misguided given all the distractions, events and emotions that influence our performance on a given day. Even if the data does provide some clues as to how to increase our effectiveness, is this a path we want to go down as individuals and as society, tracking our thoughts, actions and behaviours to the point that it becomes oppressive and perhaps even narcissistic? If the success of the Quantified Self movement is any indicator, these concerns will surely be overshadowed by our curiosity and innate desire to do all we can to enhance our performance. If your colleague skips their morning coffee tomorrow before submitting a winning proposal, you too may find yourself more curious than concerned about your Quantified Mind.

Fulfilling the Promise of Virtual Worlds

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Guest blogger Darren Keegan, Director, UK, Tycoon Systems, lets us in on the secret of why businesses have been wary of virtual worlds – and explains why they are missing out. 

At a recent Future of Work Masterclass event I presented on the use of an IndustryMasters business simulation within a bespoke Virtual World named VirBELA. The talk included inworld footage of globally dispersed virtual teams grappling with business issues in a highly-charged competitive environment with the only real difference being that we were watching avatars instead of the people themselves. We heard and were able to watch arresting behaviours such as team conflict, negative and positive body language, exceptional levels of engagement and critical decision making as it happened in-world. All of which had very clear and obvious applications for business use. Which is why the question I was asked almost immediately did not come as a great surprise: “Whatever happened to Second Life?”.

In this article I’ll try to give a more detailed and thoughtful response than I gave at the time, but even there I was able to recognise that the answer had as much to do with what happened to virtual reality and its value to business as it did the progeny of Linden Labs. For further context, it’s worth considering that in Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Virtual Reality still finds itself rooted firmly in “The Trough of Disillusionment” with an expected wait of 5 to 10 years before potentially reaching the “Plateau of Productivity” where mainstream adoption begins. And whilst Second Life’s 10th Anniversary last year was an opportunity to celebrate a marketplace with over 2m virtual goods for sale and revenues of $3.2bn – hardly a failure – its use by business has all but disappeared. So what happened?

Firstly, it is arguable that the very public failure of many virtual world projects has had an arresting influence on its growth. Research has indicated that over 90 percent of corporate virtual world projects failed within 18 months and less than 10 percent of virtual world registrants become active users, figures largely attributed to technology issues with bandwidth requirements, rendering speeds and the stability of virtual world platforms. A more significant yet largely unheralded issue is likely to relate to issues of privacy and security within virtual worlds, where firms simply do not trust them enough to openly discuss or work on sensitive material.

Yet, technology has improved immeasurably in the past decade and many of the issues which beset the first forays into virtual worlds by pioneering companies such as Cisco and IBM have been largely addressed with bespoke and secure platforms such as VirBELA offering further solutions to issues of security. From research across a staggering range of disciplines we know that virtual worlds offer a host of benefits, particularly where team collaboration across multiple geographies is a necessity. With numerous studies accentuating the superiority of virtual worlds over alternative collaboration modes such as videoconferencing, both in terms of cost and bandwidth requirements.

Our own work demonstrates that the missing link here may, in fact, be purpose. Simply put companies have been unsure what use to make of virtual worlds. Now, simulation technology has progressed to the point that almost any business issue can be modelled in an effective way allowing organisations to address issues such as M&A activity, Diversity and Innovation, Talent Management processes and so on. Yet the potential now exists to build models within a virtual world where the environment itself can be leveraged to reflect the themes being discussed. Genuinely global teams can be formed around business issues which resonate with employees in an environment specifically adapted for synchronous and asynchronous use, where geography can no longer be responsible for the distance and dysfunction common to virtual teams. A place where the potential of virtual worlds may finally be realised.

Exploring mega-trends with GEA

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

Earlier this month I was in Dusseldorf delivering one of our new workshop formats for engineering firm GEA – a combination of our latest research, insights from the Future of Work Research Consortium and company-specific data.

GEA holds regular monthly meetings of their senior HR leadership and wanted to initiate discussion about their future HR strategy by preceding one of their meetings with a workshop discussing the mega-trends and how they are impacting GEA, and in particular its HR function. It was a useful opportunity to take time to think about these mega-trends, which affect and drive much of the company’s HR strategy.

The workshop we devised was divided into two parts: a morning session during which we discussed the mega-trends we’ve identified during our research and an afternoon session which applied these trends to GEA and extrapolated the challenges they are likely to face in light of these trends.

The one thing we needed to make the afternoon session work was data on how GEA is currently dealing with major challenges. To obtain this we sent our Future of Work diagnostic to all attendees in advance of the workshop, and invited them to complete it and send it to other members of their teams.

Using this information, we were able to give the attendees three different perspectives on mega-trends: how they will affect the corporate community as a whole; the trends FoW members feel will be most important over the coming two decades; and the trends and challenges GEA considers most important. There were often differences in these data sets: for example, a number of things FoW members thought would be important were less important to GEA. We were then able to examine this at a deeper level and encourage attendees to consider the reasons for the different perspectives, weighing up whether their industry make some issues less relevant than others, or whether there are some trends to which they need to pay more attention.

The real value of this for GEA is that we were able to give them access to what we know about trends and help them apply it to their current challenges and to a specific rather than speculative future.

We’re hoping to run some more of these workshops over the coming months – contact tina@hotspotsmovement.com if you’d like to learn more.

Five insights on engagement

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

We had a busy start to the week as we hosted our Engagement 2.0 masterclass in London. It was a diverse event offering a wide range of perspectives on the topic, so towards the end of the day, we asked our delegates to think about – and then share – the key insights they were going to take away. Here are the top five…

  1. The link between engagement and performance

    In her keynote, Lynda pointed out that the popularity of engagement surveys is based on the belief that measuring engagement is a way of measuring performance. But some recent research suggests that low performers can be highly engaged and high performers disenfranchised. If this is true, and engagement isn’t as reliable an indicator of performance as previously thought, what does that mean for the future of the engagement survey? And, what are the implications of tying managers’ bonuses to engagement scores?

  2. Is HR ready for Big Data?

    There’s no doubt that Big Data holds a lot of promise. Guest speaker Guy Halfteck gave us his perspective on the potential of Big Data has to help companies identify the best talent for each role. Guy’s company, Knack, uses gaming to generate real-time data about people’s skills that can predict an individual’s performance in a role. But, as one of the videos we commissioned with Central Saint Martin’s highlighted, there is still a lot of work for companies to do when it comes to ensuring they are extracting the most relevant data and interpreting it correctly.

  3. Appreciating diversity

    One thing our delegates were concerned about was how to customise engagement approaches to reflect diversity. While organisations have traditionally focused on adapting their offerings based on gender, race, disability and other visible indicators, our members felt that diversity ran deeper and that truly customised approaches must now reflect life stages and aspirations.

  4. Renegotiating the employee/employer relationship

    The workers of the future won’t be looking for a “permanent” role – they’ll be looking to organisations to add to their career portfolio by providing them with opportunities that will help build their own personal brand. In light of this, how can organisations prepare themselves to renegotiate the deal? How can they create portable credentials that employees can transfer into their next role?

  5. Managing intangible assets

    As our recent newsletter highlighted, health and wellbeing is at the forefront of many workers’ minds. At the masterclass, it was pointed out that in the days when jobs were for life, employers took care of employee health and wellbeing – a priority that fell by the wayside as careers models shifted. The big question is how organisations can re-integrate health and wellbeing into their outlook given that in future employees will be on the scene for a few years at most.

And finally…We all need more sleep!

One of Lynda’s key take-aways from Davos was the need for a solid eight hours’ sleep. Lack of sleep causes poor decision-making, poor health, and can even trigger conditions such as Alzheimer’s. But does anyone but the most eccentric of senior executives have the opportunity to take a nap in the middle of the day? One of our delegates said their company encourages naps – and perhaps in future this practice should become more widespread.