I had the pleasure to speak at GovCamp Singapore, on 18 November 2011, at the Rock Auditorium, at Suntec City Mall. The title of my talk was The Game of Collaboration: Why Collaboration Fails and How Gamification Can Help. Here are the video of my talk and the slides.
The Game of Collaboration from Roan Yong on Vimeo.
And here is the minutes of my talk (I change some of the words and cut some points for easy reading).
Collaboration is the most spoken word in private and public sector. But it is also the most misunderstood word. A lot of people take collaboration for granted. They assume that collaboration works like magic. And that open data, shared purpose, and similar ideas work like magical ingredients for collaboration.
In my talk, I intend to share my thoughts on why collaboration fails and what we can do to make collaboration works. I propose gamification as potential solution to the issues of collaboration. But first, let’s see how “self-interest” drives collaboration.
Why People Collaborate
The reason for collaboration seems simple enough. We need 10,000 hours (8 – 10 years) to master one topic. And we innovate by merging our ideas with other ideas. So we need to collaborate, in order to improve our productivity and to innovate.
Therein lies our self-interest in collaboration. We collaborate because we want to achieve something great that we can’t achieve though individual effort, i.e. greater productivity and innovation.
Why Collaboration Fails
Collaboration fails because of three main reasons:
1. Distorted sense of Altruism and Socialism
When working in team, we are often told that we need to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others and that everyone should receive equal reward regardless of contributions.
Well, the truth is we can’t turn everyone into mother Teresa. People who are motivated by altruism alone, are extremely rare. And believe it or not, most people will kick-out liabilities from the team – just like what we have seen in the European Union (EU). The EU bickers on saving Greece – their own European brother. I believe Greece will be kicked out of the EU soon.
So collaboration is never about altruism / socialism. It is not about helping the weak, or the incompetent. It is about achieving something great that people can’t achieve through individual effort.
2. A false belief that shared purpose can overcome self-interest
Shared purpose is a good starting point for collaboration, but it is not enough to make collaboration happens.
As we have seen in the failure of world leaders to collaborate on tackling climate change, the hardest part in collaboration is managing self-interest / conflicts and getting people to agree on a set of collective actions to collaborate. Self-interest will not magically “disappear” – just because people have shared purpose.
3. A false belief that collaboration needs to be leaderless
We are fascinated by being leaderless. We believe that being leaderless is all good and is superior to having leaders. But as we can see from two “leaderless” movements, namely Occupy Wall Street and Slutwalk, being leaderless has two issues: you send mixed message and you can’t think strategically to solve the problem.
Not everyone is born equal in collaboration. In collaboration community, we can find “tribal leaders” – people who are very passionate in and committed to the collaboration. They form about 1% of the community. We can also find “active members” – people who actively contribute to the collaboration. They form about 9% of the community. Last but not least, we can find “the lurkers” – people who give minor contribution to the collaboration. They are the majority and form about 90% of the community.
To transform collective action into collaboration, we need to connect the tribal leaders – the 1%. We need to get them to think and set direction to the collaborative effort.
How Gamification Can Help
Gamification is the use of game-design techniques and game mechanics to solve problem and engage audiences. Applied correctly, gamification can bring the fun, engaging, and additive elements of gaming, to non-game environment, i.e. the business world.
What makes gaming so addictive? Gaming is addictive because it injects capitalism. That means, you have the autonomy to master the skills that you want, and you have the rights to earn incentives that you deserve. In addition, gaming is addictive because progress towards goal and character development, is visible. Progress visibility motivates us.
Gamified collaboration appeals to self-interest, so that people with the right motivation would participate in the collaboration. And incentives would motivate tribal leaders to connect, and would reward contributions so that no one left out (the ones who are being left out, are people who don’t give any contribution, i.e. the incompetent).
To gamify collaboration, we need to make collaborative task visible so that people can have the freedom to choose the task that suits their ability, time, or interest. We need to make collaborators’ strengths and weaknesses visible so that people can form collaboration team with complimentary skill set. And we need to give fair incentives based on contributions.
Gamifying collaboration makes sense because playing games is about collaboration. In games:
- quests’ characteristics are visible. This enables us to gauge whether we are ready to take on a certain quest.
- each character’s strengths and weaknesses are shown. This enables us to form collaboration team with complimentary skill set.
- each action is recorded and rewarded. This enables us to build reputation and allows leaders to emerge from the collaboration community. This also ensures each action, big or small, is rewarded accordingly.
Web 2.0 will make collaboration gamification a reality. To create lively discussions among their community members and to build collaboration community, TED has incorporated some gaming elements in their discussion forum (TED Conversations), namely task autonomy, social validation tools, reputation system, and expertise search.
TED is not alone in the effort to gamify collaboration. I give you another example: Salesforce. Salesforce makes personal development visible, so that people are motivated to collaborate, and to achieve goals in workplace setting.
The future belongs to organisations who gamify collaboration.
How do you find my talk above? What do you think of using gamification to make collaboration works? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
If you like my talk above and would like to book me to speak at your event / conference, then email me at roan_yong [at] yahoo [dot] com. (I give free talk for non-profit organisations and for public agencies.)
If you would like to find out more about how to gamify collaboration and how to design incentives for gamification, then read my free e-book: bit.ly/sociacol, or skype me at roan.yong, or email me at roan_yong [at] yahoo [dot] com. (I’m always open to meet people for lunch / dinner).
Here is a list of recommended readings that you may find useful:
Amabile, T, and Kramer, S. (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Harvard Business School Press.
Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The Suprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Trade.
Hansen, M. (2009). Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. Harvard Business School Press.
McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin Press HC.
P/S: I also captured my talk in MP3 format Podcast_TheGameofCollaboration. You can download it to your iPod, iPad, or iPhone. Feel free to distribute the materials in this blog post (please acknowledge roanyong)