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Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients.
Using serious games for learning
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By Stephen Balzac
Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients with his 7 Steps Ahead philosophy. Whether you're trying to hire the right people or get your team on track, this is the place for accurate, useful ...
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Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients with his 7 Steps Ahead philosophy. Whether you're trying to hire the right people or get your team on track, this is the place for accurate, useful information. Stephen is an expert on leadership and organizational development, a consultant and professional speaker, and author of \x34The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development,\x34 published by McGraw-Hill, and a contributing author to volume one of \x34Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.\x34 Contact Steve at steve@7stepsahead.com.
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By steve
Oct. 18, 2013 6:16 p.m.



This is an excerpt from my new book, Organizational Psychology for Managers

Gamification, or the art of using games in a business setting, is becoming extremely popular. Turning things into games promises to revolutionize productivity, training, and also wash dishes. Okay, maybe the dish washing is wishful thinking. Unfortunately, so is much of the promise of gamification. Fortunately, however, there are also some aspects of using games that are very promising. The key is to use games correctly: highly competitive games are far more likely to do harm than good in organizational settings. Internal competition, within a team or within a business, creates a short-term boost. Over the medium and long-term, however, competition leads to lower productivity, factions, and silos. Schein observes that the damage caused by internal competition can take years to reverse.

The good news, though, is that certain types of games do lend themselves extremely well to training and improving organizational performance. At the most basic level, the “video game” model of points, badges, and leaderboards can create some excitement and increased interest. Without the glitz and action of video games, though, I have serious doubts how long this approach can maintain interest. On the other hand, certain types of serious games can prove extremely beneficial. It should be recognized at this point that the term ďserious gamesĒ is not synonymous with computer games; the original concept of serious games had, in fact, nothing to do with computers. We will be looking at a variant of that type of interactive, face-to-face game here: while computers might be used to supplement the game, the objective of the game is to maximize human contact and interaction. Particularly in areas such as leadership and team development, person to person interaction is what itís all about.

How do we apply serious games to business training or organizational development and organizational psychology? We need look no farther than the legend of King Arthur.

What do King Arthur and a modern CEO have in common? Oddly enough, a great deal. Leaving aside the obvious point that King Arthur had Merlin the court wizard, and the modern CEO has his technical wizards, the two are actually facing similar problems. Granted, the modern CEO is somewhat less likely to be hit over the head with a sword or be eaten by fire-breathing dragons. On the other hand, King Arthur didnít have to worry about lawsuits or crashing computers, so advantage Arthur. When you strip away the scenery, the problems, methods, and solutions arenít that different. When you put the scenery back in, you have an opportunity to learn a great deal through the experience of being King Arthur. Not only does the story of King Arthur contain numerous lessons for CEOs, how Arthur trained his workforce has lessons for training leaders and team members today. Through appropriately designed serious games, we can learn those lessons without facing the unfortunate consequences that Arthur faced.



The first connection between King Arthur and a CEO is that both of them require a highly skilled workforce in order to accomplish their goals. King Arthur needed to recruit the top knights to sit at the Round Table. The CEO needs to recruit top people to sit around the table and develop the products and services that the company needs to be successful. How does he know what to do? How does he hone his skills? Weíve already discussed what needs to be done to hire effectively; appropriate training games are how people can learn to do it.

As fans of the story will recall, even when Arthur drew the sword from the stone, he still had to fight for his kingdom. As an untested 15 year old, he needed to inspire his troops to go up against some of the toughest, most famous kings in the land. The CEO needs to inspire his company with the full knowledge that the competition ranges from tiny startups to behemoths like IBM or GE. King Arthur couldnít win through brute force or simply by fencing just a little bit better: his troops were outnumbered. He needed to employ superior battle strategies and tactics. Similarly, most companies are competing against numerous opponents, more than a few of whom have far more resources than they do. Even when you are a behemoth, you canít take on everyone. Quite simply, you canít win by doing the same thing only maybe a little cheaper. You need to develop innovative products and services that create both markets and loyalty, possibly displacing an existing competitor along the way. Building an innovative environment doesnít just happen. It too takes training and practice.

As we all know, King Arthurís court was not without its share of interpersonal problems and politics, Lancelotís affair with Guinevere and Mordredís betrayal being the most famous. Arthur himself handled these situations poorly by not confronting the various parties early and dealing with the situation when it was small and easily managed. That inaction cost Arthur his kingdom and his life. John Gutfreund, CEO of one-time investment bank Salomon Brothers, ignored the actions of a rogue trader and lost his kingdom: he was forced to resign his position at Salomon and the company was nearly destroyed. Unfortunately, itís not easy dealing with such problems and the natural instinct for many people is to hope the problem will go away. It takes facing such problems regularly to develop the skill and confidence to recognize and deal with them early. Appropriately designed games allow that to happen without creating an unpleasant working environment.

King Arthur also had the problem of training the next generation of leaders. The knight business is a tough one. Getting onto a horse in full armor isnít easy, and when dismounting involves another knight with a spear, well, thereís going to be some workforce attrition. Even worse, during peacetime, there was the problem of making sure the knights kept their swords, and skills, sharp. King Arthur solved that problem through holding tournaments. The tournaments of the King Arthur stories were the pseudo-battlegrounds in which knights honed their skills and kept themselves ready for war. The skills they practiced, horsemanship, swordplay, archery, gymnastics, were the much in demand skills of the day. Given that the tournaments were often bloody, and people were often injured or even killed during them, one could describe them quite fairly as serious games. Modern sports are the present day incarnation of the serious games of the past: fencing, kendo, judo, gymnastics, and pentathlon, to name but a few. Each of these sports once represented the battlefield skills of the elite warrior. Masters of these sports learn early that success comes from being fully involved and from testing their skills under pressure. In the days of King Arthur, if you werenít fully involved, you would likely end up fully dead.

Fortunately, in todayís business environment, sword fighting is strongly discouraged and paper cuts are rarely fatal. In the constantly changing environment of todayís competitive landscape, itís hard to know which skills will be needed when. The serious games of today need to focus on a different set of skills from King Arthurís time, but skills that are no less critical: leadership, negotiation, teamwork, confronting problems, public speaking, improvisation, persuasion, decision making with incomplete information, and remaining calm under pressure.

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