Culture, Lenses, Systems, Uncategorized

Game Design for Culture Design

The average age of a “gamer” is rising. Current research puts it around 34 years old. That means there is an increasing chance that any team you are part of is made up of self-identifying gamers. They’ve trekked across Skyrim. They’ve launched a blue shell in Mario Kart. They’ve flung an Angry Bird or two.

If this engages them, gets them in the flow state, and keeps them coming back… why would we not look towards game design when designing our team culture? Cody Royle, in his book Where Others Won’t, posits that we can borrow talent acquisition strategies from sports.

“A well-designed game is a guided missle to the motivational heart of the human psyche.” – Kevin Werbach

MDA Framework

We’re going to keep this simple for our analogy. For deep details on the MDA Framework, there are loads of articles on it. But here’s the basics:

90823As you can see, the game designer and the game player approach the game differently.

The designer can only control the mechanics so they build their game by creating mechanics, which impacts the dynamics, which influences the aesthetics.

The player comes at the game in the reverse order. The game is chosen because of the aesthetics they want (looking for “fun”), which they get from the dynamics, which is created by the rules. You never pick up a game because of a rule. You buy, play, and keep playing because of the feeling.

“Many of the traits, habits, beliefs and actions that teenagers and young adults pick up playing electronic games and working with handheld gadgets will help them as they enter the ever-changing global workforce.” – Karl Kapp

As a Lens for Culture

Like the game designer, we can really only control the mechanics of our culture. Mechanics are not your mission statement or your vision, but they are part of it. It’s more the rituals and operationalized mission. But instead of establishing rules we like and force the aesthetics we want, why not start with an end in mind?

We can think of culture design as game design, with a design thinking twist. Backwards by design. We’re going to start in the endzone, and figure out how to get there.

Granted, there are organizations that try to establish culture at the aesthetic level first. But they are trying to control the aesthetics as designers, which can’t be done. This will run in opposition with the established mechanics or clash with the personal narratives of the staff.

We can’t control the end, but we need to start there. If we work backwards, we can increase the likelihood of the aesthetic we want in our culture.

  • What feelings do we want our team to have?
    • Not only when they are “playing the game”, but also when they are at home or in their community.
  • What interactions can our team have to promote these feelings?
    • Interactions within the team, with the work, with the clients. All the interactions.
  • What rules of play can we establish to encourage those interactions?
    • These mechanics need to have boundaries that allow a little wiggle room but includes the interactions.

 

 

 

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Culture, Going Forth, Uncategorized

Culture Exploration: The Maps

Culture is hard

The culture of a group can be a tricky thing to architect. Behind every dysfunctional company culture lay the shreds of good intentions. Sometimes a good culture comes together with heavy doses of luck and serendipity. That’s when you get too scared to make any changes because you don’t know how it came together. One false move will unravel it all. Think Indiana Jones and the stepping stones in the Temple of Doom. At least there aren’t any snakes.

Maybe there is a way forward

Mental models seem like they can be a good tool for building a company or team culture. They serve as your map for an explored territory. You have some squiggles and loose direction, but you have to constantly make interpretations of what you’re seeing in the real-world, and if it is getting you where you want to go on the map.

“Begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility” -Rolf Potts

But what if we start falling off the path

As with any rough map, the real-world changes. There are just too many factors, too many variables in the real… and a map’s legend is limited. I once learned that your map for life can be misleading. Say for example that you grow up near a river. Your map’s legend indicates that squiggles are river water. But what happens when you encounter the ocean? You interpret those on your map as a river, and you’re wrong. You need a more refined legend. Or what about these slightly different squiggles? Are they a different type of water? Nope, those are trees.

The point is, like a map, a mental model is a great starting point but it’s your leadership, your interpretation of life and interpersonal signals, that evolve it and make successful navigation possible.

Establish guardrails as triggers to re-evaluate

Even if our map, our mental model, has a couple items in the legend, we can set up guardrails to bounce us back on the path. Without any guardrails, we go careening off the side of the path and into danger. So we can set up guardrails on the edges of our mental models by doing a pre-mortem.

A pre-mortem would be evaluating our mental model and looking for what failure will look like. How can it all fall apart? There are some hilarious and extreme answers here, but the closer to likely or probable signs of failure we can stick, the tighter our guardrail sits to the path. And that means we can correct our direction sooner.

Maybe it’s worth a shot

So over the next few posts, I’m going to explore mental models for crafting a company and team culture. I’m going to look for other lenses and frameworks to bring into to some tried and true culture models and see if we can’t reinvent a new map to explore.

Authenticity, Culture, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Uncategorized

Growing a Culture of Innovation

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. -Gertrude Jekyll

My dad was a football coach and told me that what you see your team do in the game is either a product of your coaching, or bad habits you let go uncorrected in practice. It’s just as true in gardening. What you see in your flower bed, you either planted or you let it grow.

A company or team culture is just like a football team and a garden. If what you see in your team’s culture is not what you want it to be, then you either have mechanics that reinforce it, or it has taken root and you haven’t weeded it out. It takes a growing a culture of innovation. You must nurture mindsets that are confident in creativity, not afraid to fail, and realize that disruptive innovation is a team sport (not a solo one).

Weeding

I think the trickiest part to understand about creating a culture of innovation is that what you weed out is just as important as what you plant and water. Don’t just decide what to be, also decide what you won’t be. Weeds make an astounding amount of seeds once the start flowering. For example, crabgrass produces around 50,000 seeds per plant. You have to weed your culture early, often, and consistently. Great cultures don’t happen with negligence. It takes effort and intention.

Planting

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade. -Rudyard Kipling

While each garden can be personalized based on what you want to harvest, they all have some systems in common. In a culture of innovation, how you accomplish these systems should be tailored to make them authentic to your needs, pain points, and products.

A freedom to fail

Innovation and gardening both require you to get your hands dirty. But it needs to go deeper than saying your team has the freedom to fail. This one requires you to go deeper and create a micro-culture within your culture.

  • Candor
    • Innovation demands that people are able to call problems out as they see them. There is no room for false pretense here. Everyone has ideas and everyone needs to have a voice. Friends don’t let friends ship mediocre products.
  • Performance not tied to success
    • Everyone needs goals for the year. But what goals are set as key performance indicators, that’s the type of work they will do. If the KPI’s are around sales and profit, then you won’t get innovation. You get sales optimization. Think about setting a required number of prototypes or a base number of user interviews. Start with the end goal in mind and then set metrics that help people focus on and achieve those goals.
    • Keep in mind that the key by-product of an innovative culture is learning. Learning new things that work, and learning new ways it won’t work. Both can be equally valuable.
  • Little bets
    • Innovative staff have to be able to take those wild chances and chase those crazy ideas. Set up a structure that allows people to pursue those passionate projects, but doesn’t create a big draw on resources. If a prototype is deemed “cheap” to produce, then it minimizes the bottom line impact when it fails. People will be willing to take more chances if they don’t feel like they will negatively impact the organization.
  • Reflection time / resources
    • If you want to grow watermelons, then you have to plant watermelons. If you want to grow innovation, then you have to give your team time and resources to do it. Like… officially. If your team’s week is already packed full with normal tasks, they won’t get to the innovation. Set an organizational expectation that X hours are devoted to passion projects and Y resources are set aside to build them.

A flat conversation hierarchy

  • Anyone can talk to anyone. In an innovative culture, there isn’t time for a corporate version of the telephone game. The more people ideas have to pass through, the more diluted they become.
  • Work to reduce barriers to the sharing of ideas, to the building of camaraderie across job functions. You don’t hire cheers players and then use them as chess pieces. Let them play the game together.

No products or processes are sacred

  • Everything is up for disruption and if it’s good enough for your products, it’s good enough for your internal process.
  • It is possible to create a list of “untouchables”, but for every item on that list, you are leaving the door open in the market for someone to upend you.

Plenty of conversations with clients

  • Everyone should be involved in empathy field trips. Experience the product with clients. Understand what they say and think.
  • The longer your team’s boots are off the ground, you exponentially lose the vision of the user. It’s similar to how strong a light is. The further from the source you are, the more diffused the brightness of the light becomes.

As you build your culture of innovation, remember that is is a combination of two activities: planting what you want to grow and weeding out what you don’t want. And it’s not a passive process. It takes effort and intention. It’s also ok to not get it right the first time because you’re innovating too. You’re innovating with culture. Just keep an eye on where you want to be, establish mechanics that allow that to happen, and keep tweaking the formula. Because when it comes down to a culture of innovation, it’s weed ’em and reap.


Check out more of Go Forth and Be Awesome‘s Authentic Innovation series

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