The new landscape of work is alien territory for most of today’s business leaders and business schools, but things are already moving towards a new world.

The new landscape consists of the network as the architecture of work and work as coordinated action between non-co-located but interdependent people. The astonishing thing is that we can find an existing, efficient, working model for this kind of digital work. It is games.

The game environment may be the next productivity suite available for digital work. Adopting the best qualities of games could help firms to meet the pressing challenge of highly mobile and distributed work.

What, then, can be learned from these games?

The pace of games is normally very fast and requires fast decision-making. Decisions are typically based on incomplete information and are always iterated as more data become available later. You can’t take a lengthy pause to strategize and to weigh up the options. The culture needs to embrace changing decisions, learning and adopting constant corrections to the course that was initially chosen.

TaivasActing is always based on uncertainty. You can’t succeed in an uncertain environment without trial and error, without taking risks. You can’t embrace risk taking without accepting failures. Here the game environment is fundamentally different from most corporate cultures. Frequent risk taking and confronting risks routinely help players to learn to keep paradoxes alive calmly and to live efficiently with continuous change.

Management in games is often temporary. People switch roles. They direct others one minute and take orders the next. Management is a task. It is not a position, or part of the identity of an individual. Companies often identify people as leaders because of the high level of potential they show early in their careers. That model may not work in the future. The growing complexity of business means that no single leader can handle all the different challenges any more. Treating management as a temporary state and a task can be the new model of the future. The whole assumption that leadership resides within an individual may not be correct at all.

Getting the network environment right for cooperation is imperative. Efficient digital environments make information open to all of the players, all of the time. This information includes quantified-self type statistics and trend information for reflexive work. Real-time status updates on operations make planning the next move easy.

The mainstream corporate approach to knowledge management has assumed that thinking and doing are separated. In the game environment a player is expected to act on information, without waiting for instructions from a boss. The most interesting thing in the game environment is that it allows people to take responsibility, to assume leadership as and when needed.

The widespread adoption of game mechanics for coordination and taking responsibility would require a dramatic change in mainstream organizational culture. However, the games are here today and the generation that has grown up playing the games is growing up and joining corporations.

They are going to be the drivers of the change towards a more creative, productive and more fun work environment.

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The future of ICT?

January 19, 2013

Industrial work clearly determined the tasks that had to be done. The machine and the ways to work with the machine were given. People served the machine. Workers did not need to be concerned and feel responsible for the results. They just did what they were told.

Knowledge work is very different. The first thing for a knowledge worker is to try to answer these questions:  What am I here for? What is my responsibility? What should I achieve? What should I do next? Key questions for a knowledge worker have to do with how to do things and what tools to use. This time, the machines, the tools, need to serve the worker. It is, in fact, a change from only following instructions to also writing the instructions.

Historians claim that the invention of the printing press led to a society of readers, not a society of writers despite the huge potential of the new technology. Access to printing presses was a much, much harder and more expensive thing than access to books. Broadcasting systems such as radio and television continued the same pattern. People were not active producers, but passive receivers.

Computer literacy or the idea of being a digital native still often follow the same model. In practice it means the capability to use the given tools of a modern workplace – or a modern home. But literacy to just use, to be the consumer of, the technologies and the programs is not what we need. The perspective of the consumer/user was the perspective of the industrial age. Success meant learning how to behave in the way the machine needed you to behave.

That should not be the goal today.

As a result of Internet-based ICT we have learned how to speak and how to listen; we have learned how to write and how to read. But in the digital world, it is not enough if we know how to use the programs, if we don’t know how to make them.

ICTWe are typically always one step behind what technology can offer. We can now participate actively through tweets, status updates and profile pages, but the thing to remember is that somebody else has made the programs that make it possible. And often the real goal of that somebody is to create a new advertising model. Nothing wrong with that.

The underlying capability of the knowledge era is programming, not reading or writing. It is a change from using things to making things. Creating things for yourself and sharing them.

I have met many people who think that programming is a kind of a modern version of a working-class skill. It can well be outsourced to some far-away, poor nation while we here do higher value things. Nothing could be further from the truth, more wrong, and more dangerous for us. Today the code is the main domain of creativity and innovations. It is a new language. Writing code is the number one high leverage activity in a creative, digital society.

The primary capability of the knowledge era is not using computers, but programming computers. It is not using software, but writing software.

Mitch Resnick talks about the new challenge: “After people have learned to read they can read to learn. And after people have learned to code, they can code to learn.”

It is time for a human response to technology.

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Thank you Mika Okkola

More on the subject: On software productivity. The Finnish ICT 2015 report. How to start learning programming. Codecademy. Linda Liukas. The Estonian approach. On GitHub. On data democracy.

Winning games

December 20, 2011

In most games who wins and who loses is the whole point of playing. It would be hard to imagine a more unpopular outcome in a reality TV series, than an announcement that all the players ended up as winners! It is, of course, beneficial that better-motivated and more enterprising players take the place of the lazy, the incompetent, and the unmotivated.

But zero-sum thinking and the winner-takes-all philosophy do not serve us any more. As there are more losers than winners in our games losers multiply as winning behaviours are replicated in the smaller winners’ circles and losing behaviours are replicated in the bigger losers’ circles.

The biggest problem is that as losers are excluded from the game, they are not allowed to learn. The divide between winners and losers grows constantly. This is why, in the end, the winners have to pay the price of winning in one way or another. The bigger the divide is, the bigger the price that has to be paid. The winners end up having to take care of the losers, or two totally different cultures start to form, as is happening today in many developed countries and cities.

Psychologically, competitive games create shadow games of losers competing at losing.

The games we play have been played under the assumption that the unit of survival is the individual, a team of people or a company. However, the reality is that the unit of survival is the players in the game being played. Following Darwinian rhetoric, the unit of survival is the species in its environment. Who wins and who loses is of minor importance compared to the decay of the (game) environment as a result of the competition.

We need a new concept of games in the creative economy. The players and their contributions in the real world are, and should be, too qualitatively different to be compared quantitatively. Unless all the players are comparable and want the very same thing, there cannot be a genuine contest.

Zero-sum games were the offspring of scarcity. In the era of creativity and abundance, new approaches are desperately needed.

As there simply cannot be pre-existing rules for every conceivable situation that might arise, we have to move beyond seeing the players and the rule-makers as separate parties. Real-life games are too complex to be governed totally from outside. We need participation based on values- and strong ethics  as a prerequisite for taking part.

The players have the responsibility not only for adhering to the existing rules, but also for developing the rules further – specifically when the game (environment) decays as a result of the actions of the players.

In creative games the winners would be all those whose participation, comments and contributions were incorporated into the development of the game.

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When coordinated behaviour takes place without the intervention of a regulating authority, we often attribute the coherent action to the existence of values and ethics. We tend to think that the existence of a strong value base means that less or even no regulation is needed. A decay of values conversely means that rules and regulation are needed.

A game theory approach to values assumes that people choose the kind of behaviour that gives them the highest expected benefit over time, given their expectations about what the other players will do and the rewarding or punishing feedback they get as a result of their own actions. Players learn by trial and error, keeping strategies that work and altering the ones that turn out badly. Players always observe each other. Those with a poor performance often tend to imitate those who are doing better. What has worked is likely to be used again.

In most games who wins and who loses is the whole point of playing. It would be hard to imagine a more unpopular outcome in the reality TV-series that today are watched by millions, than an announcement that all the players ended up as winners! It is, of course, beneficial that the place of the lazy, the incompetent, and the unmotivated is taken by better-motivated and more enterprising players.

Competitive games require rules to prevent players from cheating. Competition should be as fierce as the existing laws allow, we think. Any ambiguity in the regulations is immediately exploited. This is where our thinking does not serve us any more. Innovations by the players often make existing rules obsolete and call for new ones, as we have recently experienced in the financial markets. The present relationship between regulators and financial institutions is a competitive game in itself. Instead of a home audience watching, here we have the markets watching. The principle is the same.

There are also other growing problems with the games we play. In competitive games, there is always a lack of appreciation for the need of complementarities. You are supposed to manage without help from others. As a result of competition which excludes, diversity is reduced in the system that the game is played in. There are also more losers than winners in our games. Losers multiply as winning behaviours are replicated in the smaller winners’ circles and losing behaviours are replicated in the bigger losers’ circles.

As losers are excluded from the game, they are not allowed to learn. The divide between winners and losers grows constantly. This is why, in the end, the winners have to pay the price of winning in one way or another. The bigger the divide, the bigger the price that has to be paid. The winners end up having to take care of the losers, or two totally different cultures are formed, as is happening in the big US cities today. Psychologically, competitive games create shadow games of losers competing at losing.

The games we play have been played under the assumption that the unit of survival is the player, meaning the individual or a company. However, today the reality is that the unit of survival is the player in the game being played. Following Darwinian rhetoric, the unit of survival is the species in its environment. Who wins and who loses is of minor importance compared to the decay of the (game) environment as a result of the competition.

We need a new concept of the game

In games that were paradoxically competitive and collaborative at the same time, losers would not not be eliminated from the game, but would be invited to learn from the winners. What prevents losers learning from winners at the moment is our outdated zero-sum thinking and the winner-takes-all philosophy. In competitive/collaborative games the winners would be all those whose participation, comments and contributions were incorporated in the development of the game.

The most important reason why we need a new concept of games is because the players and their contributions in the real world are, at best, too diverse to rank. They are, and should be, too qualitatively different to compare quantitatively. In competitive games the players need to have the identical aim of winning the same thing. Unless all the players want the same thing, there cannot be a genuine contest. Zero-sum games were the offspring of scarcity. In the era of creativity and abundance, new approaches are needed.

In competitive/collaborative games the approach to rules is very different from before. The rules should be created, agreed upon and changed by the players themselves as the game continues. As there absolutely cannot be pre-existing rules for every conceivable situation that might arise, we have to move beyond seeing the players and the rule-makers as separate parties. The games are too complex to be governed totally from outside. We desperately need values-based participation as a prerequisite for taking part.

The players have the responsibility not only for adhering to the existing rules, but also for developing the rules further – specifically when the game (environment) decays as a result of the actions of the players.

The criteria for success in competitive games do not lie solely in winning but in the development and continuation of the game itself through collaboration.

Thank you Fons Trompenaars and Robert Axelrod

Background

Situational values or sustainable values.

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