With A Little Help From My Friends

[Note: This is a follow-up to a post I wrote yesterday, which you can find here. Based on the comments, tweets and messages I’ve received, I felt it was worth adding this little coda. And I wanted an excuse to link to one of Joe Cocker’s fabulous versions of the Beatles song.]


There are many gratifying things about my job: one of the most enjoyable aspects is that I get to meet a lot of people and to listen to what they have to say, to learn from those conversations, to distil and refine that learning.

When people have come and engaged me in conversation about gamification, there’s been a lot of passion about the whys and wherefores and why nots.

And a little wistfulness.

Yes, wistfulness.

You see, the hype made it sound as if gamification was a knight in shining armour come to rescue the damsel in distress, the drudgery of work. And while they knew this was somewhat unlikely, they hankered after it. They wanted work to be fun.

This is what prompted me to speak about “not putting the lipstick of gamification on the pig of work.”

If work sucked, we needed to fix that. It wouldn’t happen through superficial tools and techniques. It needed something far more drastic.

I’ve always enjoyed work, even when I’ve fouled up, even when things haven’t gone the way I’d have like them to go. Because I see everything as a learning experience, and, quite often, I learn more from my mistakes than I do from my successes. Esther Dyson used to sign off her emails with “Always Make New Mistakes”, a principle I love.

So for the wistful among you, here’s one way to make work fun by borrowing techniques from gamers and the gaming industry, a “gamification” that requires radical changes to be made to the workplace.

Like getting rid of the blame culture. What if we could move to a world where Edison’s “I have not failed, I have found 10,000 ways that do not work” is implemented as a work principle?

Some games give you the facility to pause and resume later, some give you the facility to record and replay. [Now this tends to be more common in single- and dual-player games than in MMORPG, for obvious reasons. But the principle remains valid].

What if we could pause, resume, record, replay work? What if someone else (peer, mentor, leader) could sit with you and say “You see this? You see where you went wrong? Here’s how to do it next time round” ?

You know something? We’re not far from such a time and place. Activity streams have their supporters and their detractors, but one thing is sure: they’re here to stay. And, if we learn to use them properly at work, then we’re going to start seeing early versions of activities that can be frozen and resumed, started and stopped, saved and replayed.

If we do it right, that’s the end of the blame culture.

With a little help from my friends.



4 thoughts on “With A Little Help From My Friends”

  1. Blame culture emanates from short termism. When you have a culture which seeks instant gratification, you are bound to see the blame culture. I follow Arsenal football club, one of the most successful teams in England. However, if you read the papers, it suggests that Arsenal are on a terminal decline, the manager is ineffective, the board is clueless, the supporters are ready to ditch the club etc. All because of a summer of discontent and a series of bad results. Yet, the club stands tall in it’s sporting and non-sporting achievements, a superb new stadium, a brilliant training facility, the most successful premiership manager after Sir Alex Ferguson, a self sustaining business model etc.

    The point being even though internally the organisation might not have the short term outlook, there is external pressure over which we have no control and that often starts creeping into everyone’s psyche. People need to be constantly reminded of what’s good because they tend to over focus on what’s bad and recent. Until we find better mechanism to deflect these pressures, we would end up falling in the same trap.

  2. Some people are coming at gamification from the point of view of having (more) fun at work. Well, I couldn’t put it any better than this extract
    “”When a man grumbles about the drudgery of his lot, then I am entitled to conclude that he has not learned the discipline of work, and that it is native indolence rather than suppressed genius which chafes against the limitations of his environment. Browning, in his poem of The Statue and the Bust, has laid down the doctrine that it is a man’s wisdom to contend to the uttermost even for the meanest prize that may be within his reach, because by such strenuous contention manhood grows, and by the lack of it manhood decays.”
    from http://artofmanliness.com/2011/09/24/manvotional-the-gains-of-drudgery/

    I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s taken over 50 years of wrong turns (deliberate or otherwise), learning, and work, to become the overnight success that I am :)

  3. I love the idea of not being afraid to fail. However, I think it’s important to recognise it’s not an easy practice to pull off, particularly in a large corporation. It’s all to easy for someone to be labelled the guy who constantly fails, or a maverick, rather than an admirable derring-doer! Personally, I think ideas about how to balance failure with success and not becoming too preoccupied with binary definitions is helpful. I’d be very interested in your own and other people’s thoughts about this.

Let me know what you think