LWD 2010WK36 – Your_Company Has Died, Restart From Last Save?


About ‘Leadership Weekly Digest’ (LWD): The goal of this weekly newsletter is to highlight quality articles from the past week –in a condensed format– that discuss leadership, with a focus on employee engagement. Much of the content comes from those we follow on Twitter, and members of the Employee Engagement Network.

You can also subscribe to the RSS Feed for LWD.

What if you could take risks, receive instant rewards when you succeed, and get a chance to start over without blame or penalty when you fail? This is one of the compelling reasons why people are so drawn to video games and virtual worlds. Organizations have embraced simulators to train pilots and soldiers for high-risk environments, and even to help in their recruiting efforts. Individuals play many hours of immersive video games, which takes them into virtual worlds that provide an escape from their real lives; some to the point of severe addiction. The new generation entering the workforce has never known a world without games or the internet (20 year olds were 5 when Netscape went public). What lessons can leaders learn from this important dynamic?

5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted by David Wong

As you would expect, this article is primarily about the psychological methods that video game developers use to attract people to their games, and maintain their attention. So what does this addiction have to do with the workplace? Here is a clue:

It’s not that these games can’t be fun. But they’re designed to keep gamers subscribing during the periods when it’s not fun, locking them into a repetitive slog using Skinner’s manipulative system of carefully scheduled rewards… The terrible truth is that a whole lot of us begged for a Skinner Box we could crawl into, because the real world’s system of rewards is so much more slow and cruel than we expected it to be.

So, there is a lot of research and development going on to keep people locked into things when they ‘aren’t fun’. That sounds an awful lot like work for most people, doesn’t it?

Why do video games succeed in holding our attention where work often fails? After all, the rewards in games are virtual, while your job is paying you real money! Mr. Wong suggests that developers intentionally create effort-reward environments that include elements known to create job satisfaction. He points to Malcolm Gladwell, who describes the 3 things you need to be satisfied in your job (and sounds remarkably similar to the models described by Dan Pink‘s and Marylene Gagne summarized in  LWD2010WK25):

  1. Autonomy (that is, you have some say in what you do day to day) [Pink: Autonomy] - Example: “You pick your quests, or which Farmville crops to plant. Hell, you even pick your own body, species and talents.”
  2. Complexity (so it’s not mind-numbing repetition) [Pink: Mastery] - Example: Come on… it’s complex… no pithy summary in this digest! Just play World of Warcraft for an hour, and you’ll see.
  3. Connection Between Effort and Reward (you actually see the… results of your hard work) [Pink: Purpose] – Example: “When you level up in WoW a goddamned plume of golden light shoots out of your body.”

Game (& social media!) developers spend much of their time considering the motivations of their target audience, because it is directly tied to the success of their product. Shouldn’t a leader be doing the same thing with the same motives? Right now, it seems the developers are winning.

Gaming Can Make a Better World by Jane McGonigal

When I shared the article above with my Triiibe, I got the following video as a rebuttal, and it was a good one! It seems that not all people focussed on the addictive nature of video games are purely motivated by personal profit; Jane McGonigal suggests that video games can in fact save the world. She knows how outlandish this sounds, and deals with that directly in her TED talk:

If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.

To stay true to the ‘digest’ nature of LWD, I’ll summarize what I took away from this video:

First, was that the time people spend online gaming is already measured in timeframes comparable to human EVOLUTION. World of Warcraft has long since surpassed 5.93 million YEARs of game play; to put this in perspective, this is approximately how long ago our ancestors decided to try and walk upright! To go along with this, the average 21 year old will have spent over 10,000 hours gaming (sound familiar?), which is the equivalent of perfect attendance from grade 5 to graduation from high school; a completely parallel educational track.

Another observation, was that we clearly need more ‘Epic Wins‘ in the workplace. Online worlds make this possible because: people are willing to trust you to help them save the world, the level of the challenge is closely matched to your capabilities with a bit of stretch, they include an inspiring story with a sense of purpose, and they give us constant feedback. How close can the workplace come?

This is particularly important for the next generation of workers, and it is important to understand what these 21 year olds have been spending 10,000 hours getting so good at, as McGonigal illustrates:

  1. Urgent Optimism - She defines as extreme self-motivation or “the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success”; this is the idea that an ‘epic win’ is always possible.
  2. Social Fabric - “Gamers are virtuosos at weaving a tight social fabric”. This comes from research that shows that we like people better, even if they have pwned us; gaming with others is built on a level of trust (same goals, same rules, time commitment, etc.) that is necessary to foster collaborate online.
  3. Blissful Productivity – We are actually happier working hard, because it makes us feel optimized as human beings, but it has to be the right work for each of us.
  4. Epic Meaning - A desire to be connected to planetary scale problems, of great significance to mankind [Elven-kind anyway -ed.].

These four elements comprise a new workforce of (what McGonigal) calls ‘Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals’, who are looking for something significant to be a part of. So now you know that they are there, how are you going to use them?

Watch the full video for some concrete ideas that Jane McGonigal is working on, including how to reduce our dependence on oil. If you want some insight into how these 21-year old ‘SEHI”s think, check out this post on HBR Blogs from 21-year-old Seth Priebatsch: “Welcome to the Decade of Games“.

Permission to Make Mistakes Usually Means Fewer of Them by Heidi Grant Halvorson

It just wouldn’t be fair to leave you without some kind of practical advice on how to produce part of the engaging environment that video games create (so far, we have introduced mostly big concepts to make you go ‘hmmmm…’). At the start of this post, we talked about how great it would be to “get a chance to start over without blame or penalty when you fail”, and this post provides the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to replicate this in your work environment.

Many leaders understand that if they want creative and competitive solutions, their people need the ability to make some mistakes. This is counter-balanced by the anxiety felt by business leaders to protect the resources they are responsible for. If a leader suggests that they want their employees to take risks, won’t this increase the number of costly mistakes?

It turns out there is evidence to the contrary:

So how can we motivate employees to approach new responsibilities with confidence and energy? The answer is simple, though perhaps a little surprising: Give them permission to screw-up.

This counter-intuitive outcome stems from the emotion that accompanies taking risks, and causes us to screw up: anxiety. In fact, “Countless studies have shown that nothing interferes with performance quite like anxiety does–it is the productivity-killer.

The author provides 3 steps to improve performance, reduce anxiety, and actually reduce mistakes in new challenging activities:

  1. Acknowledge that the project is difficult and unfamiliar, and that you expect your employee will need some time to really get a handle on it. They may make some mistakes, and that’s okay.
  2. Remind your employee that you are there as a resource, to help them when they run into trouble.
  3. Let them know that you are confident they have what it takes to eventually master this new responsibility.

P.S. (Grant?)

A selection of our recent posts:

LWD 2010WK34 – Improve Productivity, Cut Out Politics


About ‘Leadership Weekly Digest’ (LWD): The goal of this weekly newsletter is to highlight quality articles from the past week –in a condensed format– that discuss leadership, with a focus on employee engagement. Much of the content comes from those we follow on Twitter, and members of the Employee Engagement Network.

You can also subscribe to the RSS Feed for LWD.

How to Minimize Politics in Your Company by Ben Horowitz

Is there really a systematic approach to reducing politics in the office? I always associated the amount of politics in an organization as being a function of its size, but this statement stopped me in my tracks: “It’s often the least political CEOs who run the most ferociously political organizations”, huh? Apparently, apolitical top executives actually have a stronger tendency to accidentally foster intense political behaviour (maybe because they spend less time thinking about it?).

He suggests the following approach to mitigate political behaviour – which he defines as ‘people advancing their careers or agendas by means other than merit and contribution’– based on his experience as a top executive:

  1. Hire people with the right kind of ambition –  “The right kind of ambition is ambition for the company’s success with the executive’s own success only coming as a by-product of the company’s victory. The wrong kind of ambition is ambition for the executive’s personal success regardless of the company’s outcome.”
  2. Build strict processes for potentially political issues and do not deviate–Certain activities attract political behavior. These activities include: performance evaluation and compensation, organizational design and territory, and promotions; these activities need that strict process to be defined.
  3. Be careful with “he said, she said” – The first caution is to “be very careful about how you listen and the message that it sends. Simply by hearing them out without defending the employee in question, you will send the message that you agree.” Depending on whether a complaint is about an executives behaviour or their capability (and whether the latter is news or not), Mr. Horowitz suggests 3 paths:
    • For behaviour-related complaints, the accuser, and the target of the accusation, have to be brought together to resolve the conflict. Attempting to resolve the conflict without both people in the room will just lead to opportunities for politicking.
    • For performance-based complaints that are old news to the leader, others have started to lose faith in that leader, and the leader in question has to go. “While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization then regain it.”
    • For performance-based complaints that are a surprise, the first step is damage control. Make sure that you vehemently disagree with the assessment (otherwise it will trigger a self fulfilling prophesy), and then you have to get busy assessing the employee for yourself. [Boy, this sounds like a tricky situation. -ed.]

If these suggestions piqued your interest, I highly recommend reading the full article, as there is a lot of great depth and breadth that this format didn’t allow.

Sources of Creativity by John Cleese

I wonder if it was this talk that caused John Cleese to ring up a £3800 taxi bill? Well, one thing is sure, Cleese’s comedy is often lost on the Belgians, or perhaps they are still sore about this.

I have to give a tip to the hat to 37 Signals for putting me on to this video, thanks!

In this video John Cleese discusses his personal experiences with the non-linear relationship between work, creativity, the role of the subconscious, and why he needs his ‘me time’.

Chip Conley’s Employee Pyramid by Kermit Pattison

Inevitably when the topic of employee (or customer) engagement is discussed, Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs will appear. In Mr. Pattison’s interview, Mr. Conley discusses how business & personal success can be found by focusing more time on climbing the Maslow pyramid, than the corporate ladder.

With his hotel chain in crisis, Conley discovered the work of Abraham Maslow, and adapted it into a 3 tier pyramid with security at the bottom, ‘succeed’ in the middle, and ‘transform’ at the top. Housekeeping –employees not typically accustomed to participating in such activities– were given group off sites and asked to participate in a thought experiment: explaining their jobs to visiting aliens. This helped them define their role in terms of the top levels of the Maslow hierarchy (‘esteem’ and ‘self-actualization’). For example, housecleaning could see that their role was not just cleaning rooms, but taking care of people.

He also helped institute a culture of recognition by ending every meeting with his senior managers on a high note, with each participant contributing examples of people that should be recognized. As this practice continued, Conley could see it spreading throughout the organization, reinforced by focused hiring and evaluation of managers:

If you hire the right people, it’s a lot easier. We actually evaluate our managers on a combination of both results and relationships. Relationships are an intangible that sometimes get lost in the process of evaluating the effectiveness of a manager. You look at manager say, “Hey great P&L or great cash flow statement,” but if the way they got that was to fire half their staff, piss off customers, or charge them so much, that’s not a sustainable business strategy. Generally speaking, sometimes being able to measure relationships with customers, employees, or vendors is better way to get a sense of the long term sustainability of the effectiveness of a manager or leader.

Worry Isn’t Work by Dan Pallotta

I spend a lot of time worrying, and I wish I didn’t. I found Dan Pallotta’s Jedi Mind Trick a helpful way to look at this wasted energy (in brief):

Worry isn’t work. Being stressed out isn’t work. Anxiety isn’t work. Entertaining a sense of impending doom isn’t work. Incessant internal verbal punishment isn’t work. Indulging the great unknown fear in your own mind isn’t work. Hating yourself isn’t work.

Work is the manifestation of value, and anyone who tells you that a person whose mind is 50% occupied with anxiety is more likely to manifest value is a person who isn’t manifesting much.

Start thinking of being hard on yourself as being irresponsible. Start thinking of wasting half of your brain power on fantasies about your own destruction as self-indulgent. Conflate self-negativity with laziness. Start thinking of time for yourself as being responsible. Start thinking of a healthy mid-day meal as essential to your productivity, time away from your desk as productive.

A selection of our recent posts: