Unpredictability, games and companies

Some people tends to associate the concept "game" with others like randomness, unpredictability, chaos and therefore (here comes a second and more dangerous conceptual association) they see the former as an undesirable element in their businesses.

Truth is that, as it happens with other cognitive biases, this perception has (partial) real grounds that serves to sustain an entire chain of (not-so-clear) causes and effects that move us away from embracing all the possible benefits that the playful design could offer to educational, occupational or product design settings.

Games are sets of rules at their core. Almost all existing definitions give set rules as a key element when analizing the concept of "play ". Rules that have been voluntarily accepted by players... and are not much different from the rules we accept, for example, when joining an organization.

Machinations : Games as a set of rules
I daresay that, analyzed as a whole, rules in games are much more balanced and usually have much greater internal coherence that rules governing organizations. They've even been more exhaustively tested than many internal processes at a company. At that difference has impact in our players - workers.

Then, Isidro, you're just saying that unpredictability in games is just appearance? No. I'm not saying that we can make organization processes fully deterministic by redesigning them in a playful way (I think determination is impossible as long as human factors are involved). But I want to highlight the fact that unpredictability is a must that can be better managed by learning from game design. Randomness is one of the things that make games interesting. Therefore we should not try to override it, but manage it properly to add value to organizations when trying to improve their efficiency. 

But... How?

Very simple. If unpredictability is due to a poorly designed game (rules are poorly balanced, or they're not defined at all, unreasoned changes or they don't follow the same patterns for everyone according to his profile or level) players will not feel that they're facing challenges, but living within an unwanted Russian roulette they will try to escape from by any means ASAP .

But as I said before, randomness and unpredictability could become drivers of efficiency when they emanate from :

1. Clear rules of probability: If I skip chain of command to do something that I believe true... what will be the consequences? If I volunteered to a project, will I be able to apply my professional knowledge or I will onle be following orders? I don't need a numerical, quantified answer to this questions, but I can be able to can predict with certain a degree of reliability if the probability of a consequence is "high, medium or low" in order to manage my resources properly. Are this chains of rules-actions and consequences clear enough at organizations?

2. Changes in skill level: In soccer, different skill levels carry different executions. Therefore, although the rules are identical, final results can vary mediated by individual differences between players. The same is true at sales, project management or bakery. If we are able to get proper feedback on our performance, skills improvement to succeed against unpredictability can become an intrapersonal (or interpersonal) challenge .

In games, well-designed randomness empowers challenge
3. Complexity: Complex systems do not involve necessarily complex rules. If you don't believe me, take for example chess or Candy Crush. Complex gamification doesn't need complex mechanics. Games with a short range of possible options that can be easily assimilated can result in an emerging process which entails many possible strategies each one of them with variable efficiency... and therefore an uncertain outcome.

Where is this trail of thoughts leading? I think many situations, jobs and processes at companies cope badly with unpredictability because they are poorly designed. People try to move in an environment whose complexity is not based on improving your performance or defining more efficient strategies, but in trying to understand the basic rules of play. THAT is frustrating.

It's like you are sitting at a table with five cards in your hand, but do not know what game you are playing at with each one of the other players. This design flaw also prevents getting all your efforts to challenges that matter: Make your company earn money and boost your professional (and personal) development.

It is understandable that, with the latter scenario, many times the workforce try to get off the train or rest disengaged at the boundaries of the company ecosystem. And when situation worsen they're most likely to begin to show helplessness behaviors like apathy, negative emotions, biased perceptions and other common symptoms of "zombiefication".

Can we change this? I think so. This should be our 2014 challenge.

My wish for you is that 2014 will be a year full of games, playfulness, happiness and a journey of 365 epic days.

2 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Hi Isidro,

I wish you a wonderfull new year, may 2014 be the year of Gamification.
Well done for the perception of Gamification in common companies; especially the Zombification effect is damned well found.

All the best,

Hoping to read you soon.

Vincent Etienne

IsidroRodrigo dijo...

Thank you Vincent! I wish you an awesome 2014 for you too!

Glad you share the ideas and agree that avoiding zombification is one of the great responsibilities for companies (and professionals!) this year.

Maybe gamification will help us :P