Gamification and Business?

I have to admit that I was skeptical when I saw the guest keynote at SAPTechEd was going to be Jane McGonigal from AvantGame speaking about gamification. Yes Ms. McGonigal certainly has credentials that command respect: best-selling author, Oprah’s top 20 list of most inspiring women, #16 all-time most engaging TED talk… the list goes on. But to say I am not a “gamer” is a gross understatement. I come from a different generation, one that views playing games at work or viewing the YesGamers.com store as just that – playing and not working. But Ms. McGonigal tells us that the opposite of play is not work, it is depression. Hmmm, I don’t play at work but I never realized I was depressed. In fact I can say quite definitively that I am not depressed.

So what’s the connection between gamification and business? The bottom line is this: Games are a means of getting employees more engaged, more committed and more productive. On the surface this is counterintuitive. But the reason this works is because games are fun. The corollary is – make work fun and people will be engaged, committed and productive.

Walking into the session Monday night, I was equating gamification to video games (don’t own one), games people (not me) download to their smart phones, games like Angry Birds (never played it.) Walking out I realized gamification could be almost anything.  And in that context, gamification is nothing new. I remember in grammar school playing games, competing to be the student that looked a word up in the dictionary first. In junior high school math class we had races to the board to solve algebra problems. In my first job out of college we had a BAD program – come up with an idea that would save a Buck a Day and you got a coffee mug and a chance to win a bigger prize. The goal…make “work” fun and people will be engaged, committed and productive.

In principle gamification is the same. And even though this is “TechEd” (with a strong emphasis on the “tech”), gamification doesn’t necessarily require any technology. After all, during the keynote the audience participation was in a game of Massive Multiplayer Thumb Wrestling. It brought back memories of management team outings I attended in the 1980’s when we climbed a ladder and fell off in hopes that team members would catch us. Definitely no technology required. Yet while there might be benefits to the business in games like this (they build trust and camaraderie), the benefits are definitely indirect.

Yet technology-based games can have a more direct impact on the business. Crowd-sourcing comes immediately to mind. Crowd-sourcing can be useful in design as well as process improvements. And collecting input and feedback can certainly be turned into a game-like experience where employees earn points that can be used to purchase anything from an iPad to tickets to a show.  Apply some real-time analytics that measure performance of groups and individuals and you can let the entire company watch as competition evolves. The real power and future of gaming is in its collaborative and motivational aspects. And the value seems to transcend company size. It is equally applicable to small companies (even startups) as large multi-nationals.

SAP InnoJam and Demo Jam at SAPTechEd are good examples of this. Innojam was a pre-conference event  this year where participants got 30 hours of hands-on experience with the newest SAP technologies with on-site SAP domain experts to collaborate and learn while taking an idea from concept to prototype. The winning teams got the chance to participate in Demo Jam, a regular highlight of SAP TechEd.  In a game/competitive atmosphere people learned and code got developed.

Now you will always have the naysayers that say you shouldn’t have to provide added incentives for people to do their jobs. There is certainly a part of me that agrees. But if a little incentive can move the needle from acceptable to outstanding, then I would say, let the games begin.

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A Dad’s Poem on the Day America Remembers

 Today a dear friend of mine sent me this poem. He is a friend made even more dear in that we recovered from 9/11 together. At the time we both worked for a company headquartered on Long Island, NY, but our mutual employer also had an office very near the World Trade Center. While neither of us was directly impacted in losing someone from our immediate family that day, we didn’t have to look far to find someone who had.

Remembering all those that gave their lives that day and in the conflict abroad since. Please take a moment to read and reflect.

“Her hair was up in a pony tail, her favorite dress tied with a bow. Today was Daddy’s Day at school, and she couldn’t wait to go. But her mommy tried to tell her, that she probably should stay home Why the kids might not understand, if she went to school alone. But she was not afraid; she knew just what to say. What to tell her classmates of why he wasn’t there today. But still her mother worried, for her to face this day alone. And that was why once again, she tried to keep her daughter home. But the little girl went to school eager to tell them all. About a dad she never sees a dad who never calls. There were daddies along the wall in back, for everyone to meet. Children squirming impatiently, anxious in their seats. One by one the teacher called a student from the class. To introduce their daddy, as seconds slowly passed. At last the teacher called her name, every child turned to stare. Each of them was searching, a man who wasn’t there. “Where’s her daddy at?” She heard a boy call out. “She probably doesn’t have one,” another student dared to shout. And from somewhere near the back, she heard a daddy say, “Looks like another deadbeat dad, too busy to waste his day.” The words did not offend her, as she smiled up at her Mom. And looked back at her teacher, who told her to go on. And with hands behind her back, slowly she began to speak. And out from the mouth of a child, came words incredibly unique. “My Daddy couldn’t be here, because he lives so far away. But I know he wishes he could be, since this is such a special day. And though you cannot meet him, I wanted you to know. All about my daddy, and how much he loves me so. He loved to tell me stories he taught me to ride my bike. He surprised me with pink roses, and taught me to fly a kite. We used to share fudge sundaes, and ice cream in a cone. And though you cannot see him. I’m not standing here alone. “Cause my daddy’s always with me, even though we are apart I know because he told me, he’ll forever be in my heart” With that, her little hand reached up, and lay across her chest. Feeling her own heartbeat, beneath her favorite dress. And from somewhere there in the crowd of dads, her mother stood in tears. Proudly watching her daughter, who was wise beyond her years. For she stood up for the love of a man not in her life. Doing what was best for her, doing what was a right. And when she dropped her hand back down, staring straight into the crowd. She finished with a voice so soft, but its message clear and loud. “I love my daddy very much, he’s my shining star. And if he could, he’d be here, but heaven’s just too far. You see he is an American Soldier and died just this past year When a roadside bomb hit his convoy and taught Americans to fear. But sometimes when I close my eyes, it’s like he never went away.” And then she closed her eyes, and saw him there that day. And to her mother’s amazement, she witnessed with surprise. A room full of daddies and children, all starting to close their eyes. Who knows what they saw before them, who knows what they felt inside. Perhaps for merely a second, they saw him at her side. “I know you’re with me Daddy,” to the silence she called out. And what happened next made believers, of those once filled with doubt. Not one in that room could explain it, for each of their eyes had been closed. But there on the desk beside her, was a fragrant long-stemmed pink rose. And a child was blessed, if only for a moment, by the love of her shining star. And given the gift of believing, that heaven is never too far. They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but then an entire life to forget them.

Take the time…to live and love. Until eternity.. God Bless There must be many children in the same boat as this little girl, thanks to our servicemen and their families for the sacrifice they are making to keep our country Free. The ULTIMATE sacrifice is being left behind.”

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When Women are in Charge

…things get done faster.

I was reminded of this twice yesterday. I have been struggling to keep up the last few days since hurricane Irene knocked power out of my home, and therefore my office. I was “powerless”, from Sunday morning until 2:30 AM this (Wednesday) morning. Being the well-prepared New Englanders that we are, of course we have a generator. Here in New Hampshire it is really a “must.” Without power, we have no (well) water and during the winter (when most power outages occur) we have no heat. But you simply can’t run the generator all day, and even a generator doesn’t give you Internet access. So I have been charging (and re-charging) batteries and visiting a friend who never lost power. I would log on through her network and somehow manage to keep her cats from playing with my “mouse” and walking across my keyboard.

It was while I was herding the cats that these reminders came of how women typically “manage” differently.

First of all, I got a request from Judith Rothrock of JRocketMarketing to review slides and promotional material for a webcast that she and I will be teaming up on for one of our joint clients, Syspro US. This webcast isn’t until October, but here was Judith finalizing the slides and setting up a rehearsal. When I got the message I opened it up and responded within a few minutes. After all, it only took that long to review it and my approach to time management is to (whenever possible) “touch” a document only once. Judith (who, by the way, runs a very successful marketing services firm) was appreciative of the fast turnaround, saying she often found the difference between men and women was in responsiveness.

Secondly, because of the power outage, it was just yesterday that I saw the announcements that Sandra Kurtzig was back on the manufacturing scene with her new company Kenandy (www.kenandy.com). Her “coming out” announcement hit on August 29th, coinciding with the Dreamforce conference. That makes sense since Kenandy’s vision for manufacturing management in the cloud is built on Salesforce.com’s enterprise cloud computing platform, Force.com.

Being an ASK alumni, I have fond memories and a very high regard for Sandy as a software pioneer and also as a role model for women executives and entrepreneurs. She founded ASK Computer Systems in 1972 and was the first woman to take a technology company public. Therefore I sent Sandy a congratulatory note, letting her know that in 2006 I had left the software world and had joined the ranks of industry analysts and would be very interested in setting up a briefing. Within a couple hours, Sandy replied and introduced me to her CMO, Rod Butters.

So you see, it’s all about a simple approach to getting things done, and getting them done quickly. If it is so simple, why is it so rare? As Judith would say, “…no need to cogitate for days on end.” In a world where executives are inundated with communication, where everyone is beyond “busy” today, three entrepreneurial  women (yes, I proudly include myself) set an example for just getting things done.

P.S. In the spirit of full disclosure, Rod Butters was equally responsive (is it Sandy’s influence, I wonder?) and I look forward to bringing you more news of Kenandy’s vision in the near future.

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