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Welcome to the Take the work out of work Moonshot blog

by Ross Smith on October 25, 2010
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Welcome to the Take the work out of work Moonshot blog

Human beings are most productive when work feels like play. Enthusiasm, imagination and resourcefulness--the critical ingredients for success in the creative economy--are unleashed when people are having fun. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called it flow - "the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity". 

As we envision the future of work, the most successful organizations will be the ones that have figured out how to blur the lines between vocation and avocation. The efficacious organization of the future will display, among other things - a close alignment of personal interests and professional responsibilities; an ability to eliminate drudgery from the work, and a philosophy of autonomy, where workers display greater control over their work.

The prevailing school of thought these days seems to be one of hardship. No doubt, it is difficult to devote time to having fun in the midst of an economic crisis. Why is anyone thinking about playing around when we have real business problems on our hands?  "We don't have time for games here - we are at work." Games? - "games are gimmicky" - we can't be fooling around - we are on the brink of elimination.

Let's pause for a minute to take a quick look at a few historical examples of creative, productive, and innovative people --Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Leonardo Da Vinci -- to name a few. They all demonstrated the behaviors we celebrate as the building blocks of creativity and invention: freedom to fail, experimentation, persistence, imagination, and risk-taking - they were bold and threw caution to the wind to change their world. These behaviors are core components of an innovative culture--and of productive and creative people. And what opens the door to finding those behaviors? It's the willingness to bring looseness and informality to what we do; to work in a climate of high trust and free exploration without a fear of repercussion; to flourish with a sense of freedom and experimentation -- in a word -- playfulness.

As Hosea Ballou remarked, "No reproof or denunciation is so potent as the silent influence of a good example".

Consider those who explicitly play their way through life's ups and downs- the hardcore gamers. Check a basement rec room and observe teenagers playing Guitar Hero, or walk into a youth center to watch a round of Halo; check out the Bejeweled leaderboard  - or watch your Facebook friends playing Farmville. Now, let's revisit those core elements of an innovative culture - freedom to fail, experimentation, persistence, imagination, and risk-taking. How do gamers improve their game play? They try new strategies, take big risks, experiment - they are not afraid to "die" in the games they play. We want and need that behavior in the workplace. The leadership skills required in World of Warcraft are identical to those in organizations around the globe. How can we play at work?

Think back to when you were a kid on the playground or after school with your friends. Could you try out new tricks or climb to new heights on the jungle gym without a penalty of more homework or being grounded? Of course! Could you take risks, use your imagination, and play hard to discover those new frontiers? Yes.  Did you improve?

But in a typical organization, employees are encumbered by performance reviews, rules and regulations, the time clock, the employee handbook, with a set of deadlines and commitments that prohibit (or severely inhibit) the freedom that comes with play. Those restrictions bring with them the unwelcome bedfellows of - a lack of imagination, a fear of failure, a reticence to experiment, complacency, and unwillingness to take risks. Albert Einstein once said, "If A equals success, then the formula is: A equals X plus Y plus Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.

"Taking the work out of work" means we need to start taking play much more seriously! In their book, "Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the Way People Work and Businesses Compete", Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Reed "believe that some people will soon do their jobs inside a game, and many more will thrive in information environments that have features borrowed from today's best games."  

Taking the work out of work is not as radical as you might think - it is happening all around us. As Forrester noted in a recently published report, 66% of US adults play online games. We see games in education, productivity games in large enterprises, and innovative entrepreneurs using gaming elements to grow their businesses.  The critical work of this moonshot is to surface the most progressive ideas and practices in this realm, telling the story of the pioneering efforts going on around the world--and moving our agenda forward to turn games and play into real business process change. The Forrester report continues, "While much of the conversation about empowerment is about solving problems in sales, marketing, and customer support, what we see in the productivity games example is empowered workers leveraging a consumer concept -- casual games -- to solve a product management problem."  Productivity games might well be the Six Sigma or TQM of the 21st century.

Here are a few questions for your consideration:

  • Is your company already using sales quotas and contests? Can the principles be applied to teams other than sales?
  • Do people talk about "gaming" the system - for rewards or career advancement? Why are they calling it a "game"? What elements does this tradition practice share with game design?
  • How many of your employees play games? On a console - or more likely, on their smartphone?
  • How is your team or organization impacted by the growing generational and demographic trends?
  • What percent of your customers and partners play online games?

If all this gaming and creative play is going on all around, can you really afford NOT to investigate the use of games and play in the workplace?

We hope that this moonshot will help coalesce some of the pioneering efforts in to real business process change.  Please share your thoughts and stories with me here in the comments--and read more from some of the others listed below who are leaders in this effort, many of whom you will find are already on the MiX!

As Arlo Guthrie says in Alice's Restaurant, "And friends they may thinks it's a movement."  

Helpful TWOW Links

Serious Games Initiative and Serious Games Summit at GDC
Total Engagement by Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Reed (MiX)
Raman Chandrasekar - Microsoft Research
QA Test and Software Test Professionals conferences
Brock Dubbels - Video Games as Learning Tools -
Jonathan Winter - CareerInnovation  and MiX
Forrester - TJ Keitt
Forbes - Olivier Chang
Phaedra Boinodiris at IBM
Osamuyi Stewart at IBM
Games for Learning Institute
Office Labs Ribbon Hero
Julian Birkinshaw - Reinventing Mangement and MiX
Ethan Mollick and David Edery - Changing the Game
And our work at and

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