Monday, July 25, 2011

Overcoming unnecessary obstacles

'Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.'

I like that definition of game playing by the late Bernard Suits. But I focus too much on the 'unnecessary' - I see too many necessary obstacles to be overcome to choose to engage in something as apparently frivolous as a game and, rather boringly, I often choose not to get involved in the game to start with.

Yet games have much to teach us about life and business. All games share four common traits, according to game designer Jane McGonigal:
  1. A goal
  2. Some rules
  3. A feedback system
  4. Voluntary participation 
And we can see these traits at work in much of the rest of life, too. For example, businesses most definitely have goals, even if they're of the rather tame 'make a profit' kind. There are rules, which we sometimes see in their absence or when ethical codes are broken as at Enron or the News of the World. Certainly business has a multitude of precisely measured feedback systems, whether sophisticated digital dashboards or simply the P&L and Balance Sheet numbers. 

Maybe it's just in the area of voluntary participation that businesses differ so much from games: in the present climate, those who have a job generally appreciate how lucky they are and won't rock the boat for fear of losing it. And yet they mostly work for the salary reward at the end of the month. 

Perhaps one of the keys to success is to do as Google and similar have so famously done; to make the work place a source of fun and entertainment to increase that measure of voluntary engagement. That way, we unleash the best of our collective creativity. 
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