Friday, June 30, 2006

If You Got Game, Are You a Leader? Research by John Beck

Continuing from the last post, John Beck followed John Ware with a discussion of research on the gaming generation.

Beck says that almost anyone born after 1970 is a gamer and almost anyone born before that time doesn't understand games at all. This, said Beck, is not just a US phenomenon. His research on leadership skills finds that the common thread that distinguishes those with and those without is their proclivity for electronic games, regardless of age.

Why Gaming?

Beck argues that once recognized, it makes sense:

--Growing up "on games" creates a new way of thinking about the world.
--Games are a valid way to experience and learn about the world.
--Games change how kids respond to incentives and risk and how players absorb new concepts.
--Games provide an important outlet for creativity and foster new problem-solving methods.
--Games command kids' attention better than most other sorts of interfaces and extend their attention span. It fosters rapt attention.

Beck told the story of his 18-year-old son with Downs Syndrome who beats him every time. As an antidote to challenges raised by Linda Stone, Beck responded, "It's impossible to have continuous partial attention when playing."

Developing the Brain

Beck argued that neuropath ways in the brain stop developing late in the teens. After that, we learn differently.

Up to the age of 12 or 13, data shows that there is no gender difference in gaming. Both boys and girls play the same games for the same amount of time. After this point, socialization takes over and gender roles begin to set in. Beck didn't talk too much about this, but he mentioned that boys tend to be more involved in war games than girls.

The Data

Beck then presented conclusions drawn from answers to questions asked of a large sample of gamers. Here are some examples:

--Are gamers more competitive? Twice as many gamers say "winning is everything."
--Are gamers global in their thinking? Yes, says Beck. One big of evidence is that the most influential media in most gamers' lives was created in Japan.
--Do gamers come off as self-confident? They answered that they have a high sense of their own importance and would prefer a bonus for merit over a salary.
--Do gamers believe more in luck? Gamers feel that winning is not entirely their doing. There's a random generator in each game that makes a round easier or harder to beat. Therefore, says Beck, gamers learn algorithms and resilience and optimism -- to hit the button again and start over with hopes to do better.

One Conclusion Worth More Detail

Although gamers have a reputation of living alone in a basement, Beck concluded that this group is actually quite sociable. Most said they find people more stimulating than anything else. Furthermore, families play together. All siblings can remain in a room often while two play. The better players help the younger ones, less experienced ones because it's boring to win against someone who's no good.

Furthermore, in multi-player games, Beck claims that gamers create their own teams, recruits, management styles, and strategies for winning.


Beck concludes that the overwhelming body of evidence reveals that gamers would make better leaders than non-gamers.

Although I accept the value of learning anything new, particularly strategic and physical coordination skills, I am skeptical that the Beck's data can translate directly and transparently to the off-line business world.

If a gamer sits in the basement, regardless of his social skills online, can he relate well with people in person? Will she engage with better with those who don't game than current business leaders who overlook peers or employees with whom they see little in common? Does the ability to manage an army in an electronic space translate to optimizing challenges of learning styles or social issues in an office space? Finally, would negotiating terms with a warrior opponent really help negotiate deals in the world of commerce?

Time will tell -- gamers are still young, and they have yet to make their mark on business culture.

On the other hand, as Beck pointed out as a virtue, this population is excellent at adapting to new environments, to fitting in, to becoming part of the culture. If this happens in the workforce, their impact will certainly not be seen at all.

Workforce Old and Young: What's Next?

Continuing from the last post on CTC speakers, there were some provocative ideas raised at CTC even if the conclusions were completely convincing.

Implications for Collaborative Technology in the Enterprise

Stowe Boyd moderated a panel on Wednesday morning that included John Beck, author of Got Game, and Jim Ware, executive producer of the Work Design Collaborative. Ware began with an analysis of the workforce as it is and as it ages, and Beck focused on the relationship of gaming to leadership skills across age groups. There wasn't a lot of overlap, but the combination made for a lively discussion.

As always, for a full transcript of this session, see Nancy White's reporting.

Where Are We Now? John Ware's Presentation

Stowe Boyd began as moderator by saying that 30% of 12-19 year-olds have created or written blogs. This social medium that emerged only recently went from adult use to attracting kids. In a few years, says Stowe, these kids will enter the workforce. His question: when looking at blogging, along with IM and other technologies used everyday by this age group, how will these people want to work, collaborate, and connect in business? And what will they expect?

Framing the Discussion: The Older End of the Workforce

James Ware began the panel to talk about the different expectatins at the top of the workforce from those at the younger end. He pointed out that over the next number of years, there will be over a 30% growth in the number of workers between 60 and 69 and over 20% for those between 50 and 59. As knowledge an wisdom leave the workforce, says Ware, not nearly as many people are coming in to replenish the needs of businesses.

Changing Expectations: Traditional vs. Emergent Workers

Ware also explained that worker expectations have changed. Where a traditional worker felt the responsibility for her career lay with the company, the emergent worker believes the responsibility is her own. Where traditional worker believed that promotion was based primarily on tenure the emergent worker believes it should be based primarily on merit. Changing jobs used to inspire fear but now represent advancement. Where retention meant security to traditional workers, emergent workers focus on growth. Where management style was expected to be paternalistic, emergent workers expect a peer relationship. Organizational charts were admired, andnow they area ignored.

Ware added that retirement doesn't really take for many older people, either because they need the money or because they want to continue working for other reasons. In fact, many of these retirees will work part-time.

And So?

The implication is that there will be an increasing need to support retirees to work from wherever they are to continue to tap their knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

Ware concluded with these predictions:
--Be prepared for major talent shortages in the next decade
--Recognize the changing workforce values, expectations, and needs
--Learn to manage generational diversity

More on this panel and the younger side of the workforce in the next post.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reshaping Communication Across the Enterprise: CTC Continued

Getting the Word Out

There is so much to read from this year's CTC Conference, and so much written on Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps' work, that I'll be brief here. As always, for a full transcript of their talk, see Nancy White's thorough reporting.

The Big Idea: Cracking the Diamond

Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps spoke the second day and were concerned with the predicament: We can't solve 21st-Century problems with 19th-Century organizations. As they remind us, this perspective was first voiced not by a wandering team theorist but by the CIA -- and not too long ago, either.

Transforming Big Business From Bureaucracy Into a Network

The talk's goal was to describe strategies and tools by which to make an organization transparent. Effective collaboration is possible only when everyone's individual position is visible to the group. In other words, you need to see where everyone sits on in the company's architecture.

The speakers argue that an organization is a diamond rather the pyramid everyone assumes it to be. The average large organization is nine levels deep, although it's only the first five levels that usually receive key information from the top. Therefore, communication by way of cascade will not reach the whole organization
Because managers -- in the middle -- are not being hit.

One Solution

Lipnack and Stamps suggest communicating from one side of the diamond to the other -- rather than from the top down -- to ensure managers are reached. The focus, they say, should be on the middle of the organization and reaching it as quickly as possible. Then, each manager will do the work of communicating to his or her teams, and everyone will hear what needs to be said.

Both speakers spoke compellingly, and used technology effectively to show (rather than tell) of the challenges of organizational structure. If your organization is having trouble getting the word out, they have a lot to offer. Check out their website for papers and other resources.

More on CTC in the next post.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Touch of Class: Is US Business Theory Missing Something?

Continuing from the last few posts, it seems to me that it's not just Ken Thompson at CTC who hasn't addressed political issues yet in his investigations. Ken is Irish as well, so let's leave him aside for the purposes of this discussion.

A Touch of Class

Most American theorists seem to avoid class entirely, and politics and gender at least marginally, unless there is an explicit issue to address. For example, if working with people from other countries, those who collaborate are often trained to be aware of cultural differences among people of varying nationalities. Gender and class are often included in the mix, even if not addressed as such.

In fact, implicit politics, class, and gender issues often become either separate or collective elephants in the room when it comes to discussing human relationships at work.

Exceptions: Explicit vs. Implicit Challenges

It's not always the case for gender and race for theorists or practioners -- after all, explicit mention is required since discrimination laws have been passed. But the implicit politics and both explicit and implicit issues of class are almost never mentioned.

So I wonder -- what exactly comprises class in the US?

It Seems Obvious, but Worth Mentioning

Americans don't like to think we have a class system or of human relationships as political. Our national pride is to a large exstent predicated on the notion that anyone can make or remake himself or herself and rise to any position. And money equalizes everyone because it's the real measure of success. Of course, it didn't work out so well for Jay Gatsby or Silas Lapham, but we'll leave that for another discussion.

Technology also now offers the promise of equalizing power among people of all genders and classes (particularly because it could entail a good living). Anyone know of a study that seems useful in this area? Certainly Blogher offers an example of a conference at which women create an environment in which to raise issues not addressed elsewhere. So is technology the great equalizer?

Certainly the American legal system and technlogoy are two areas that hamper freedoms much less than others in terms of class and gender explicitly. But most people without an academic axe to grind don't like to talk about either topic as implicit challenges in work life.

Any Thoughts?

I haven't had the opportunity to discuss this much with anyone, and I'm interested in feedback. I've turned off the comment option due to storms of spam, so please write through the email address on the site.

Back to CTC in the next post.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ken Thompson: What's the Buzz?

Ken Thompson (right) with Mario Gastaldi

Bees Do It

Continuing from the last post, another presentation at CTC was given with great charm and wit by blogger and consultant Ken Thompson. The topic: bioteams.

The General Idea

Ken's blog and Nancy White's reporting offer a lot of detail on Ken's very smart work. Furthermore, Ken's charm is impossible to reproduce and should be experienced in conjunction with the persuasive power of his ideas. Because I could never give the full effect, and that would be a pity, here I will be brief.

The Swarm

Ken began by admitting swarms have got a bad name, particularly because one thinks of being attacked by bees or other dangerous insects. The movie industry probably hasn't helped either.

However, he says, nature has sustained teaming for millions of years while we humans have only been working on the project over a few centuries. Ken suggests we learn to bioteam based on the ways organisms team outside human experience.

Based on behaviors of ants, geese, bees, and other non-human examples, Ken summed the main principles in an acronym:
O: Outgoing -- Talk to other team members.
R: Recruit -- even if you're not the group leader, pull in whomever is useful. Don't be tied to roles too rigidly. It's the end that's important.
G: Go! Forage and build networks.
A: Ask
N: Note
I: Investigate
C: Collaborate

What Next?

As Ken quite pointedly noted in his concluding images (a penguin falling through the ice), no model provides a useful solution if imposed direclty and completely relationship on a situation in which a problem resides. In other words, there is never an entirely transparent relationship between a model and life.

However, this said, what might be missing from Ken's otherwise persuasive arguments?

Cultural Norms

In the next round of research, it would be fascinating to see what part national culture and gender play in Ken's theories. For example, Tit for Tat or the notion that if one is betrayed, one retailiates once -- is something Nancy White suggests would sink a team in many cultures outside the US. Futhermore, within national boundaries, businesses and departments have varying cultures of their own. How should these differences be factored in?


Estelle Dodson, Collaborative Technologies Manager for NASA Astrobiology Institute, raised an excellent question: what effect does gender have on bioteaming? Ken replied that he hadn't approached that issue yet but is interested in learning more about it.

My sense is that probably unlike the better part of natural world, it is indeed gender, and not sex, that exists as a variable in the bioteaming model. Gender in humans, a series of beliefs and behaviors, is certainly influenced by one's sex. However, gender is a meeting point of many discourses -- culture, age, heritage, parenting, body type, and so on.

There are gender roles in nature, no question, but they are more consistent than in the human sphere. Educational studies have proved this repeatedly in schools, for example. So how does one articulate the boundaries of gender as a variable in a human study?

It will be fascinating to see what lies under the next stones Ken chooses to turn over.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Who Knew? Linda Stone, Stowe Boyd, and Woody Allen

For all readers old enough to have seen (and quoted) Annie Hall, you'll appreciate this.

I had a Marshall McLuhen moment a moment at CTC.

How It Started

Stowe Boyd almost famously disagrees with Linda's reading of trends. He's blogged about it both on his own and on the CTC site, and he argued with me after Linda had finished. The only problem was he was arguing on the basis of misrepresenting what she said.

I like Stowe a lot and appreciate how smart he is about so many things. With this argument, however, I had a rather large bone to pick.

What Ensued

Stowe told me he disagrees with Linda's contention that authorities are entering a trend of protection, authenticity, and trustworthiness. He added that the trend to connect will increase, not decrease.

I pointed out that Linda had said that one trend absorbs another rather than entirely replacing it. Trends are never erased. We simply react against a trend to fill the needs that weren't fulfilled by putting our attention in a new place.

I also added that Linda never mentioned authority figures and their practices. She was speaking about cultural trends and the sweet spot of opportunity for technology. In this case, Linda predicted the opportunity lies in making our quality of life richer through better filters that protect us from the noise of being a live node on the network.

Boyd argued using (mis)quotes again.

A Marshall McLuhen Moment

Luckily, Linda was standing nearby. I pulled her over and asked her if I had missed something she said about authority and trends.

To Linda's credit, she wasn't rude as McLuhen was in the movie line with Allen. But she definitely told Boyd to get his facts straight.

Don't you wish that could always happen in life?

Back to the main events at CTC in the next post.

Friday, June 23, 2006

CTC Continued: Paying Attention to Linda Stone

To continue on the topic of CTC speakers . . .

Linda Stone: Continuous Partial Attention

Linda Stone gave a compelling talk on the meeting point of social, commercial, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual trends based on where Westerners have put their attention over the last forty years. It was similar to her presentation at GEL but filled out nicely some of the points to which she didn't give a full reading in May.

A Recap and Some Further Detail

As at GEL, Stone focused on what she called the "sweet spot of opportunity" which lies at the "meeting point of human desire and technology." From 1965 to about 1985, we yearned to reach our full potential as individuals. We multi-tasked, putting our full attention nowhere, in an effort to be as productive as possible. Consequently, Stone says, we found ourselves isolated and yearning for connection.

The result was the trend Stone calls continuous partial attention -- the desire to be "a live node on the network" and to live an "anywhere, anytime always on lifestyle." In this mode, from about 1985 to the present, we scan the network for the most valuable connections and people who might show up at any time. Such living creates an artificial sense of crisis, which is exhausting, but we just didn't want to miss anything. It's as though "we expected our human bandwidth to keep up with" that of technology.

In crisis, we get an adrenaline rush -- fight or flight. Stone admits that it's a great system for fighting a tiger, but "how many email are really tigers?" How many are flies? In crisis mode, we're not in a position to tell the difference.

A New Trend Begins

For a little while, we have been creating a new trend. Exhausted from the energy required to be always tuned in and available, if only partially attentive, we are beginning to ask "What can I lose?" rather than "What can I gain?" The sweet spot, says Stone, is moving from connection to protection, trust, and authenticity.

Stone said that there is usually a seven-year bleed between trends and that we never give up entirely our old behavior. Instead, we shift focus to release and find that which was suppressed and for which we had yearned when our attention was elsewhere.

What Next for Marketing?

Stone said that people would increasingly be drawn to marketing messages that offer authenticity and protection. Simple and clean ads will be the antidote to feeling overwhelmed. Above the noise, we will be looking for signals that resonate with our values. We will go from "What have I got to gain" by being connected to "What have I got to lose?"

Is the Tide Turning?

Stone says that when she talks to young people, they ask for strategies for better quality of life. She added that one CEO asks people to disarm at the door of a meeting -- to "drop all weapons of mass communication."

Knowing whom to believe is essential. Queer Eye and many of the contests shows feature hosts who are considered experts and become trusted sources by viewers. Infomercials, she adds, have become a 2 billion dollar business. Kevin Trudeau, despite being a convicted felon, has sold untold numbers of his book 'Remedies They Don't Want You to Know About." In other words, he's become a trustworthy source, both by showing up in one's living room in the middle of the night and peddling ideas that can protect.

Then there's gaming. Stone pointed out that multi-player games feature meaningful relationships on a new level. For example, a professor wrote an article called "It Takes a Guild" when she was surprised by the beneficial effects of these games on her son's development (more on gaming in future posts).

And So?

Linda ended by saying we have gone from Information Workers to Knowledge Workers, and now we have the opportunity to become Wisdom Workers.

Imagine what would happen if we all put our attention there.

More places to find out about Stone ideas: Ross Mayfield, CTC website, and Nancy White (who offers almost an entire transcript).

More on Linda and CTC in the next posts.

Transcripts of CTC Talks Available

Nancy White

An aside here for those of you who would like more data along with my interpretation of events at CTC.

Nancy White reported on almost every session. Worth checking out not only because the notes are great but because she such a talented online facilitator. Always worthwhile to get her point of view about collaboration, however little commentary she might add.

Nancy White and Me at CTC

Improving Everyday Business Practice: Collaborative Technololgies Conference

This week, I attended the Collaborative Technologies Conference (CTC) in Boston sponsored by CMP.

The focus was emergent practices, tools, and ideas about collaborating across enterprises and elsewhere. In other words, everyone was talking about how to connect more effectively, particularly in teams and meetings.

Some Provocative Talks

Among the speakers, Linda Stone, Ken Thompson, Jessica Lipnack, and John Seely Brown were in excellent form. The strongest panel included John Beck and Jim Ware who talked about "General Shifts: Brain Drain and Youth Culture."

In Need of a Redesign?

CTC participants seemed to be talking more about redesigning the conference than they were about the content -- the split between discussions about ideas and sale of product. This left participants without experience of new possibilities. Instead of demonstrating how things worked, most speakers just talked about data and analysis. In other words, rather than allowing participants to see how principles and applications apply (and if they do), there was more about what has, hasn't, should, shouldn't, might, or could happen in more abstract.

While some of this is useful, like theater, software needs to be experienced. Proof of concept -- in the room, in the moment -- is necessary for a satisfying experience.

Ideas for Next Year

Collaboration online is an emerging field -- and the value of emergent processes was a big focus for many of the sessions. In this context, you can't talk about collaborative technology without also talking about change management both in the abstract and in the room at the moment of conversation. And again, this discussion can't be carried out to its full potential without a play among these experiences and the technologies that make them possible.

What if a presenter were paired up with a vendor and told to make the presenters' ideas work with the tool? What kinds of new ideas might emerge, and what could be learned by those presenting and the sessions' participants?

Or what if vendors worked with presenters or read up on their ideas, and their demonstrations in the "vendor room" were geared around the sessions?

Either way, these practices would eliminate the sense that vendors are only there to sell -- and a hard separation between technologies on display and the processes they are supposed to enhance.

No Matter What . . .

CTC should make play more of the focus of the conference -- not just of ideas but among ideas and technologies and the technologies themselves as well. Otherwise, the essential elements of change management necessary for any of these tools are too deeply hidden to allow them to be applied in most business environment. Furthermore, how do you know which tool to apply unless you try it in context?

More on a notable exception and on particular speakers in future posts.

If you don't want to wait for commentary, you can find the presentations right now on the CTC website.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark? This Fall, Not So Much

My reporting (and that of others) on GEL have generated a lot of email. Even brief summaries of talks by Ji Lee (The Bubble Project), Katy Börner (information mapping), Jane McGonigal (perspective-changing game design), Leni Shwendinger (lighting and urban legibility) Linda Stone (consumer trends), Doug Rushkoff (customer experience), and Craign Newmark (Craigslist) seem to have created interest in the next conference.

EuroGEL in Copenhagen: Coming Up in September

For those who have just tuned in, please feel free to peruse the posts through the links provided above. And please continue to send feedback -- as demonstrated repeatedly, markets are conversations and the most effective way to develop and distribute insight.

For Example . . .

Good news for those who asked: there is an equally exciting event in September called EuroGEL -- the first one of its kind held in Europe.

There are group rates on hotels and flights, but tickets are going fast. It's also a good idea to sign up before June 13 when the price of the conference goes up.

Too bad there was no GEL in Hamlet's Denmark. Nothing like a new perspectives to cheer one up and drive positive change.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Online Collaboration: (How) Does It Work?

I've been editing the curriculum for and shadowing an online collaboration course presented by Nancy White for an international organization. I wanted to see how online communication works in groups through means other than chat and without telephony.

If You Build It and They Come, Will They Talk?

In my experience, it's hard enough facilitating conversation off-line -- even in seminars with very bright, motivated people. If you can't see anyone's face or hear voices in the group, it's exponentially more difficult to create interaction.

Rule One: Take Advantage of the Medium

One problem that often occurs in online group conversations without telephony is that the facilitator tries to reproduce the conventions of offline interactions. Nancy, however, is tremendously creative and leverages the value of the tools she's using. Because everyone's proclivities for interaction are different and unpredictable, the facilitator's challenge is to remain in the moment, give specific feedback, and think on her feet.

New challenges arise with each conversation, but unlike solutions in the offline world, those that work online remain largely unexplored.

The First Week

Nancy chose Moodle as the course's tool. It's flexible, relatively easy to use, and she had wanted to see how it works.

During the first week, there were reading assignments about the basics of facilitation and writing assignments to get people comfortable and introduce themselves. Forums were introduced -- a Learner's Log for daily or more frequent reflections, project areas, the week's activities, tools, virtual tour area -- and Nancy set questions to be answered as exercises to get people started. Some of these included the differences between online interaction and offline and expectations for the course. As the course went on and the questions were reiterated, the answers grew in depth, color, and complexity.

There was a sense both of disconnection and of coming together, sometimes in different ways at the same moment. Class members drifted from the reading to participation, from one topic to another, and from answering others to contributing their own ideas. The discussion was imbued with more of an expectation of a traditional class (eg information flows downward from the teacher) than of community.

During the week, however, Nancy had added a podcast, and by Friday there was a live chat with brainstorming about how chat can compliment a tool like Moodle for an NGO. The effect of hearing Nancy's voice and the synchronous communication seemed to galvanize the group in a way different from their asynchronous replies and participation throughout the previous period.

The Second Active Week

Nancy organizes her courses so that there is one active week followed by an inactive one. The organization allows those who have other responsibilities to catch up and for the class to complete assignments.

By the second active week, the course's tone had changed considerably. However, it is not just the chat and synchronous communication that caused it.

Looking for Cues: A Desire to Connect

The dynamic was fascinating. In person, an instructor has and access to individuals' facial cues and body language. She can also use her own body language and literal presence in different ways to compel conversation with a kind of energy only possible when everyone shares the same (offline) space.

It works differently online. First, the first week's asynchronous communication created a palpable sense of the unknown, unfamiliar, and hit-or-miss sort of discussion among people who had never met -- some who were not entirely comfortable in English.

At the beginning, people felt uncomfortable with the unfamiliar challenges. Little by little, though, the darkness was almost imperceptibly penetrated by a sense of coming together. Classmates searched for patterns and clues about each other, about their relationship with Nancy, and about their own place within the group. It felt as though people were searching for clues in unfamiliar territory and found them. These connections -- both around topics and between personalities -- were confirmed and developed in the synchronous chat at the week's end.

The course's design connected people in a way entirely unfamiliar offline -- particularly because of the way in which they are forced to search for connective tissue among asynchronous posts, replies, and reading material.

It works.

By the end of the second active week the group's members seemed to feel connected to each other's ideas, had developed project plans, and were familiar enough both with the course and Moodle to welcome and orient late-comers.

How Far Does This Go?

Can it be possible to go so far as to create an Open Space meeting online? The question was discussed in our course and other data can be found on the Open Space website where software is available as well.

More conclusions and discussion after the course has finished. . . .