The Idea Dude


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who decided we should not mix play with work?

I'm not sure of the answer.

I sent my kids to Montessori school when they were too young for school. I didn't want daycare. I wanted them to flourish and grow at their own pace and into things that made special in their own way. Then school came, and they assimilated into the 'classroom system'.

Every day 20 children all dressed the same, facing the same way in each class. Education became industrialized. Of course, this was efficient. We graded them each year and promoted them to the same level. There is a curriculum. No-one, least of all parents, questions whether we are teaching them the right things and should all children learn the same stuff at the same pace.

Somehow modern education is about training, 12 levels, you get a diploma. Another 4 years in college, you're hopefully equipped for the real world. But it all seems so contrived, so regulated. Occasionally, a small percentage, break out of the system and become leaders, inventors, artists. But the rest, well, they sort of relegated to the monotony of boring jobs. Our goals become making the rent payment, paying of debt and looking forward to 2 weeks vacation after we have toiled for the other 50.

I called this the industrialization of mankind. I wonder what would have happened if we gave children the latitude to explore, discover, invent at their own pace. Without giving them rules that if you learn this 10 things, you proceed to the next level. Where would they be?

I'm pretty sure the inventors and innovators broke all the rules to discover what was seemingly illogical and impossible. We revere Galileo today and yet in his time, he was forced to recant his beliefs which ultimately proved to be correct. But at the time, it didn't jive with the what everyone was taught and expected to believe.

Somehow for most, we lost our sense of play by the time we reached our teens. Or rather we taught our children play and work were parallel paths and you couldn't do both at the same time.

Work is often characterized by doing the right things at the right time for a specific purpose. Over and over again. Play is about engagement, contribution, curiosity, exploration, discovery. Yet play is seen by most as time wasted, irrelevant, self-indulgent, unproductive... perhaps only because we made it so.

I wonder why?

Ray Ozzie's last post had an amazing quote..."And so, the first step for each of us is to imagine fearlessly; to dream."

Update: I found this wonderful presentation by Sir Kenneth Robinson an hour later after doing this blog post.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

if you recalibrate your perspective in life, it's amazing what you can see.

I mentioned the buzz about gamification to someone at lunch the other day. He replied that his father was a teacher many years ago and he took the unorthodox approach of making every lesson into a game. Not just give points for good behavior but literally created a game in such a way kids never thought of it as learning.

This conversation was interesting because the current hype of gamification has it's own set of critics, from "this is not a new thing" to "another case of the Emperor's new clothes". However, this man's father did things the same way I ran many of my development groups in the past. I figured that if people bought into a cause and felt an affinity to each other in the group, 90% of my battle was won. People would work beyond the call of duty and people would volunteer to help each other for the great cause. In the end, we all climbed the same mountain.

So I would agree that the folks from the gaming world wasn't privy to some hidden secret in the virtual world that was lost to the rest of us in real world. What they did do was figure out what were the important things to keep people buying games and playing them. In the gaming world (unless it is gambling), there is rarely a financial reward so game designers had to figure other ways to attract and keep players and get them to spread the word. Out of necessity, they figured many of the keys to successful user engagement.

It's an art that has been lost in the real world. It's either have fun or work hard. Indeed we were brought up that way. Remember the "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" saying. We were taught hard work was the oxygen of survival and we should not have fun doing it. So life (usually at the onset of adulthood) became work, chores and maybe a bit of fun. Sure there were others, like my friend's father who believed otherwise. So did the creators behind Lego's Serious Play. But they were among the few, like lost prophets in the desert.

So my point is that play like work is a fundamental part of our lives since the beginning of time. Society at some point decided they were two different things. The rise of social networks like Facebook and online casual gaming has help blur the line once more. So there is much we can learn from the gaming world, the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, why we play, what engages us. There is also much that the gamification folks need to learn about the real world, i.e. they need to undo decades of prejudice, perception and cultural bias. Take a poll of any top 500 business CEO's and I'm sure that they will tell you jobs are to achieve a purpose not to have fun.

So I spend my days now looking at my life and work in a totally different way. So much so, I am about to start another venture with a few like minded friends. If something looks like a chore or is unpleasant, I step back and think about what this context should like as a game. All of a sudden, I'm in control. I'll plan a couple of strategies and predict the outcomes. I'm constantly reevaluating, like the monk constantly regaining his balance in a fight (that's another post). Each failure, is only a setback not an indictment on me or my team. I focus on the prize, the epic event. Yet at the same time, I don't lose sight of the fact, the journey should be as pleasurable as the moment of reaching the end.

If you recalibrate your perspective in life, it's amazing what you can see and accomplish.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Hell has no fury like a user scorned

I was watching a YouTube video given by Randy Farmer. He explained why the rating system on YouTube was broken. When you looked at many video ratings, they either had 5 stars or none. It seems logical now that he explains it. If you watched an entire YouTube video, chances are you liked it and would rate it highly. You would never waste time watching the entire thing and give it a single star. At least not many people do. Ergo, the proxy for the 1 star was implicit, i.e. anyone who didn't finish watching was essentially giving it a single star or a thumbs down.

There's as much to learn about what was not said or not done when analyzing user interactions. We get excited about the pages where we get million clicks, but we never ask ourselves (rarely) what happened to the pages that got 1 click. Surely there is as much to learn from that, because that actually makes us better. But we don't because it points to our failures and we hate those.

Women have already figured this out. If two men are unhappy, they go outside, have a yelling match, maybe throw a couple of punches and then make up and go have a beer. A woman scorned will slowly kill you with her stare and her silence. It's a slow dagger that gets twisted with every second, driving you nuts because you don't know what she's thinking and how long the pain is going to last. Of course, this is said tongue-in-cheek, but you get the idea.

Ronan Keating has a song with lyrics I'm going to repurpose. It goes like this.

You say it best, when you say nothing at all

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

When do chores cease to be chores?

Watching kids play Farmville and Restaurant City, I asked myself why these kids are happy to plant vegetables, wait patiently for them to grow and harvest them. Why are they happy to cook, clean toilets and mop floors in the virtual world. Yet we cannot get them to pick up their socks or make their beds.

So when is a chore, a chore? and when is it fun?

I have two observations. Firstly, it's to do with self-motivation. When we are told to do something, there's a part of our brain that rebels. If there were no speed limits, most of us would self-regulate realizing speed kills. Nobody drives down an old country lane with no signage at 100 miles an hour. Yet, when there is a limit posted, there is desire to exceed it by 10 or 20 or just enough not to get caught. Being externally motivated (you must do this) vs self-motivated (I want to do this) is a key to that understanding.

The second observation is when you do something with someone, it's never seems to be as bad as doing it yourself. Try this with your children. Get them to go around the house and pick up stuff by themselves. Trust me, inventing perpetual motion is much easier. But make it a game, like treasure hunt and play it with them, everyone has fun and the job gets done.

Self-motivation and playing with others are keys to engagement. Same reason why people have personal trainers, it's hard to be self-motivated to exercise at home. Much easier to do it at the gym when you see others with equal purpose. The mere fact that you are in the same room doing a common task is sufficient.

My son refuses to buy games that are single player games anymore. His argument, he can finish the game in a couple of days and it sits on his shelf. Network games however allow him to play the game forever because each game is different with new participants. Note, often he doesn't know these people beyond their code names and most times, he'll never meet them again.

However, when we undertake journeys that are important, we prefer to do it with people we know, because they become part of the story, they become part of your history.

Why not?

This weekend, my daughter wanted to make Green Tea Ice Cream for a friend as a birthday gift. I argued that we didn't have the time, recipe or ingredients to make it. Besides, the local Asian supermarket had a delicious brand on sale. We could buy it cheaper than we could make it.

She looked me in eye and asked why not? At the moment, all my excuses why we shouldn't seemed pretty silly. We made the ice cream and it was delicious.

Adults ask why in the hope we find enough excuses not to do something. Children in their quest to explore ask why not? For them the journey is as important if not more so than the destination.

Our sense of possibility dims with age. We should learn from our children.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Lost in Translation

The more I think about gamification, the more excited I get. If the average teenager spends as much time playing games as he does in high school, there is a parallel universe that is untapped. Currently it is a universe that is tolerated rather than leveraged.

The fear I have is that when people get excited, it's like you have a hammer and everything looks like nail. Age brings the benefits of experience having lived the history instead of reading it. I saw the fads of AI, B2B, CRM, ERP, millions of dollars spent inappropriately because everyone wants that silver bullet, the holy water, the miracle cure. Many of these technologies thrive today because they are useful and strategic where they should be. Hundreds of casualties and dollars are littered on the way because they weren't.

Bringing new ideas into any company or life is by definition traumatic because they threaten the norm, they make you uncomfortable, they change your beliefs and they potentially make you look stupid when you see what you have done in the past.

The problem why ideas don't stick or don't apply is that something got lost in translation. Usually it is the intent, the core of the idea. We sometimes get caught up in the mechanics, the rules. We argue about the how instead of the why. Logic is at arms with the illogical. We forget that logic is often not a product of mathematics in our lives, it is a product of our culture, teachings and learnings. We forget these were created in the context of time. But time passes, so should cultures evolve, new discoveries lead to new learnings.

Be definition, at least mine, an expert is someone who knows when to apply something and what to do in that context. It is a generic principle. We should take heed as we go down the path of making business fun. Before of technology and ideas that get lost in translation.

My mission, making sure "making business fun" should no longer be an oxymoron.

My epiphany of the day... Progress is learning from the future not from the past. Is that not the definition of imagination?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Shall we play a game?

10 years ago, I had this weird and wacky idea of making games on the Gameboy so that kids would play in class as part of the act of learning, or is it learn as part of the act of playing. Several years later, I thought Serious Play, a Lego initiative was just as important, introducing play into the workplace as a serious tool to problem-solving. So much so, I made it a practice to buy small Lego kits for all my team members. The whole premise was that if they learnt to 'play' at work, they would come up with some pretty unique solutions and have fun doing it.

Fast forward to 2010 and gamification as a concept is the latest buzzword on the Internet. The wikipedia describes gamification as the integration of game mechanics or game dynamics into a website, service, community, campaign, or application in order to drive participation and engagement. There's a whole bunch of folks in the gaming world who have realized that there is a lot of learning we can glean from the gaming world. We have created games that make people spend inordinate amount of time without coercion or incentives to play games. Games that involve problem-solving, coordination and collaboration. The argument goes as follows... If we have successfully created environments that are so immersive and engaging, why can't we do the same in the real-world.

With every new technology, there is undoubtedly a tremendous amount of hype, think artificial intelligence, push technology, yes even blogging. But that doesn't necessary mean it's the Emperor's new clothes scenario. I kept thinking how often we create gaming type scenarios because it took the drudgery of daily chores. Recently, my daughter and I were left for a number of weeks to fend for ourselves. Cooking would be the number one dread and concern. I decided that fast food was not the answer and my daughter and I set off on a quest. My daughter was my recruit. There is no epic event other than survival but each day was a mission, define a goal (what we are going to cook), forage for food (finding the best price and freshest produce), locate a recipe (look up the rules), cook (complete the mission). In short, 6 days out of 7, we complete our mission. It was fun not to mention healthy. Looking back it was a game. And that is probably the difference, we didn't set out to cook and find the fun in cooking, we set out to have fun together, cooking happened to be activity and delicious food the by-product.

I call it fun with a purpose. Think of those who do spinning (cyclists who ride in a group in a health club). The leader most often has a narrative, e.g. we're climbing up the mountain - tightening the tension, or we're coasting on the shoreline - relax. If cycling was a list of mechanical rules, i.e. ride hard for 2 minutes then relax for 1 minute etc, I would propose it would have never garnered the same kind of following it has today. Basically, there is a moderator, there is a theme or a narrative, a group of people with a common purpose, this is actually a game.

BTW: The government has already found a way to gamify taxes, it's called the state lottery.

So why do I think gamification is not just the next fad? Because we already do it subconsciously or in an unstructured manner. e.g. there are 21 traffic lights from home to work, to cut the tedium of the daily commute, I often try to make it home without stopping at any light. If I succeed, it gives me an incentive to repeat that success. It is a game. Whenever, there is a task I don't particularly enjoy, I create a story around it, add a goal at the end, break up the task into mini tasks. I'm creating a game to play in my mind to move my psyche from a context of resistance to one of participation.

Like any tech geek, I would love to write the next Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. I never do. I always feel whatever I do should be useful, productive and make a difference. Ergo, I always wanted to change the world, not just entertain it. Perhaps gamification may be journey that will allow me to do both.

Is this the next big thing? My friend Sharleen has convinced me it is. She covers this in tremendous detail and insight on her blog. It is becoming the de facto source on gamification on the web.

My passion has always been to inspire people, encourage them to imagine and explore the possibilities, to initiate and be the cause rather than be the result, to exceed their own expectations. If I can get them to do all that and have fun doing it and become better and more productive employees, it would count as my part of changing the world.

One man can only change so much. How much more can he change if he is able to inspire others to the change the world too?