Archives For collaboration

by David Mastronardi & Tom Cummings , originally posted here.

In our previous post, my colleague Tom and I recapped Seth Priebatsch’s SXSWi keynote address and introduced the concept of enterprise gamification.

That's engagement

Taking tacit game mechanics already at play and providing deliberate structure and reward schedules gives companies a potentially powerful social business design tool. Enterprise gamification’s power lies in its ability to influence individual behavior and create hivemind, an often elusive enterprise dynamic. While the right game makes this dynamic more achievable, the complexity of influencing human behavior necessitates planning and design. Taking time to understand game mechanics and the psychology of rewards will lead to more effective games, engaged employees and better business results.

The Email Game

To explore these concepts let’s outline a simple game that helps Company X promote its low cost provider strategy. The goal of the game is to lower network storage costs by reducing the amount of email employees store in their inbox. Company X decides to reward employees with one point whenever they delete an email.


A well designed game aligns individual rewards with the strategic objectives of the business. Properly incentivized employees will then repeat behavior beneficial to company goals. Two types of rewards exist:

Intrinsic Rewards

Intrinsic rewards come from the enjoyment of the activity itself, reducing email storage in Company X’s case. The best games, often the most addicting, create enjoyment by fulfilling basic human needs:

Autonomy is the feeling that your activities are self-chosen. Company X can incorporate this feeling into their game by giving employees additional ways to earn points.  Besides deleting emails, archiving emails locally can also result in a point. Now employees have choice.

Competence is the feeling of confidence and effectiveness in one’s activities. The accumulation of points gives employees direct and frequent feedback.  The Email Game can provide additional feedback by creating dashboards that track saved space and individual contribution to company cost savings.

Connectedness comes from a sense of closeness to others. The Email Game can create connectedness by allowing org-chart based groups to compete. Individuals will be rewarded for working together to reduce their organization’s email footprint.

Extrinsic Rewards

These rewards come from outside the individual: the Email Game’s points. While not as personally meaningful as intrinsic rewards, extrinsic rewards set the basis for competition, standard measures by which players compare performance. To increase their value Company X can tie their extrinsic rewards (points) achievement to real world benefits, e.g. paid-time-off, gift certificates to the company store, a meeting with the CIO.

Game Mechanics

Rewards explain why people participate, Game Mechanics dictate the who, what, when and where. A well designed game’s incentives harmonize with its mechanics.  SCVNGR, Priebatsch’s company, defines 47 game mechanics. Let’s review four in the context of the Email Game:

Appointment is a mechanic that involves returning at a predefined time to perform a predetermined action. Company X might make the lunch hour more productive by offering a double-point bonus.

Influence & Status uses social pressure to modify behavior. By implementing leader-boards across geographical, organizational and individual levels Company X can create a sense of status and competition.  This mechanic also feeds an employee’s sense of Competence.

Progression is a mechanic by which progress is displayed and measured through the process of completing itemized tasks. A simple daily progression in the Email Game could include two steps:  clicking through all mailbox folders to check for deletion candidates and archiving your entire inbox to a local directory. Successful completion of these activities results in a point.

Communal Discovery is when a community must come together to complete a challenge. The previously suggested idea of group based incentives is an example of Communal Discovery.  This mechanic also directly ties in to an individual sense of Connectedness.

By no means an exhaustive guide, this post introduces fundamental concepts to Game Layer creation. Turning work into a game involves more than bribing employees with points. Developing effective games for your company will be an evolutionary process.  Even the simplest games engage complex behavioral dynamics. Be sure to plan, measure your progress and iterate as new behaviors emerge.

Game on. (Game on)

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Over the next ten years, we’ll see (and help build) an interactive layer built on an amalgam of our personal motives.

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In my last post I wrote about communication being an important aspect of knowledge work and decision making.  I can sometimes get a little too academic with how things are supposed to work and so I thought I’d write a follow-up post that uses a concrete example (IRL for some) of how communication helped me and my colleague, Tom Cummings, just the other night.

The setup here isn’t that important other than to to say we were at the beginning stages of a new project and decided a brainstorming session was in order.  We found an empty conference room, a whiteboard and started to get our ideas down.

Social Business Design aside:  This conference room is what we commonly refer to as a silo.  A silo is anything (an organization, software…a conference room) that keeps information within its walls, making it hard for an outsider to discover what is going on behind them.  Tom and I were working alone, the rest of the company had no visibility into what we were doing.

Five minutes in to our brainstorm we were interrupted by a much more responsible group of colleagues who actually reserved the conference room for a meeting.  We packed up our stuff, white board included, and as there were no other conference rooms available, made camp in the hallway.  It’s important to note that this is really the only hallway that exists in our open floor plan office, so by default it is the highest trafficked hallway we have.

Social Business Design aside: A hallway is very much like a dynamic signal, a ‘dynamic information flow produced by constituents.’ As Tom and I were working in the hallway we were being passed by other employees with different experiences, expertise, points-of-view and tacit knowledge. Our activities were now visible to the rest of the company.

In the hallway we were being passed by colleagues.  They could see what we were working on and chose to either keep walking or stop and engage us.  We experienced both.  Within ten minutes, Tom and I found oursleves in a conversation with two colleagues each knowledgeable and experienced on the work we were doing.  Over the next 30 minutes we discussed our current situation, the vision and goals for the project, recent trends and developments and lessons learned from having ‘been there and done that.’  Afterwards, Tom and I literally went back to the drawing board to incorporate what we had just learned.

Social Business Design aside:  I mentioned that colleagues in the hallway would either keep on walking or stop to talk to us.  This is an example of a metafilter, ‘what’s important to one person may be meaningless to another.’   Those who wanted to participate could, those who had other interests could keep on going.  By being in the hallway (the dynamic signal) we were making ourselves visible to the rest of the company so they could decide to participate or not.

It’s impossible to compare the Dave & Tom-only project to the Dave & Tom + Colleague Feedback project (because the former will never happen) but everyone involved felt much better about latter: more input, more experience, more tacit knowledge.  We had engaged in communication and collaboration that resulted in a much more holistic approach to our work.  Our path forward became more clear, informed and actionable.

You might not have the collaboration luxury of working in the same office as the rest of your company, so this might not be your everyday experience.  The good thing is you don’t have to be in the same office to collaborate with colleagues.  There are fantastic tools available that will give your company all the virtual hallways, metafilters and whiteboards it needs.  But, tools are the easy part these days.  Your company is filled with smart people, gathering knowledge and insights every day…are you prepared to use them?

Communication as Work

July 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

A knowledge worker spends a good portion of the day communicating – meetings, status reports, emails, phone calls, water cooler talks.  Much of this activity is considered unproductive overhead; when you look at a calendar full of meetings you wonder when you’re going to get any REAL work done.  And while many popular forms of communication may be inefficient and ineffective, communication is work; perhaps the most important work knowledge workers do.

Knowledge work is aimed at turning information into something decisionable and actionable; too often reports, presentations, survey results are mistaken for such.  While they are a key part of the decision equation, they are not enough.  They don’t provide insight.  The only thing they’re good for on their own is filling repositories.

Knowledge, unlike the data and information contained in reports, is a living & breathing thing.  It can’t be put in your enterprise content management system.  It exists in the heads of employees (often referred to as ‘tacit’ knowledge), constantly being shaped by different stimuli: articles, blog posts, pictures, models, books, conversations with colleagues, etc…  Communication is the process by which this constantly evolving knowledge is applied on data and information to a decisionable end.  This process will generate insights on how to take advantage of the information you have gathered.  Unless the reports, presentations and survey results are subjected to scrutiny and analysis through communication, no insights are created and decisions are delayed or malinformed.

Communication is more than just a block of time on your calendar.  It’s an opportunity to  share knowledge, gain insight, make better decisions and create for your company a competitive advantage.

What does communication look like where you work?  Is it enabling the application of knowledge to data and information?  Where do your company’s insights come from?

Apologies and Grex

April 15, 2009 — Leave a comment

First let me apologize for the random status updates and pictures that have appeared in the main content column of the blog here. I’ve been testing out my new account and I’m still working out the kinks.

Second, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been head’s down at work eating, drinking and breathing our social software implementation.  It hasn’t left me much time or energy to come for air and put my thoughts down.  I will say this: it is going extremely well.  I’m lucky enough to be doing what I’m passionate about.  As an added bonus, I’m surrounded by extremely smart & talented individuals who share the same passion.  Our small little company has received high praise for the homework we’ve done in terms of understanding our problem space.  Because of the work we’ve put into our effort we are better equipped to select the right tool for the job and, more importantly, address the required culture shift.  As someone at work told me today, ‘Dave, you’re changing the world.’  It’s not just me, it’s the entire team.

So, as I am  promoting , socializing and espousing the benefits of social media on a daily basis, I’m always looking to put new twists on how being more social at work is a good thing and show the doubters yet another reason we need these capabilities.  To that end, I’m constantly adding links to this blog that provide examples of business cases & ROI.  Lately, I have been studying the psychology behind being social and understanding WHY we spend so much time engaging in ‘social’ activities (on-line and off).

To that end, I recently came across a new facet in looking at the benefits of being social .  Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan is at least a confounding read for fans of the the normal distribution (in fact, Chapter 15 is titled, The Bell Curve, That Great Intellectual Fraud).  The premise of the book is that little, predictable events don’t matter that much; history is shaped by BIG events that are unforeseen.  Think WWII or 9/11 (another way to think of a Black Swan is to imagine the life of a Thanksgiving turkey).

In one of his earlier chapters, Taleb sets out to describe how Black Swans exist in different types of occupations and that they’re not just ‘events.’  A scientist or researcher is basically living out the life of a Black Swan event, he is a Black Swan hunter, if you will.  He may spend years and years going into a lab and getting no significant results.  It’s the same thing, day after day, month after month, year after year.  His friends mock him, there is no financial reward, he only goes on because of hope.  But then, one day, he cures cancer.  Bam – Black Swan.

Taleb then goes on to describe the benefit such a Black-Swan hunter may receive due to being part of a group (the quoted passage below).   In many ways, what he is describing in this passage is the process of innovation and how it can be helped by social elements.   I think it has sometihng to say about what I’m trying to do at work:

It may be a banality that we need others for many things, but we need them far more than we realize, particularly for dignity and respect.  Indeed, we have very few historical records of people who have achieved anything extraordinary without such peer validation – but we have the freedom to choose our peers.  If we look at the history of ideas, we see schools of thought occasionally forming, producing unusual work unpopular outside the school.  You hear about the Stoics, the Academic Skeptics, the Cynics, the Pyrrhonian Skeptics, the Essenes, the Surrealists, the Dadaists, the anarchists, the hippies, the fundamentalists.  A school allows someone with unusual ideas with the remote possibility of a payoff to find company and create a microcosm insulated from others.  The members of the group can be ostracized together – which is better than being ostracized alone.  If you engage in Black Swan-dependent activity, it is better to be part of a group.

I recently had a chat with Gary Koelling & Steve Bendt of Best Buy. They seem to be at the cornerstone of success when it comes to creating an edge organization. In doing research for our talk I came across this video.  In the first minute of the video they begin to outline how, with the success of Blue Shirt Nation, their organization has become less hierarchical.  This is a perfect example of a developing edge organization.

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Some of the key takeaways from the video:

  • They are not VPs or C-level, yet they are giving a significant presentation as representatives of Best Buy.  This is a transformation sign away from hierarcy and toward the edge.
  • The initial version of BSN was disliked by the user community.  Iteration was key.
  • They developed the application first.  They shopped a .ppt deck around, but all it received was talk.  They took action and put something together.
  • A top-down approach in developing an edge organization won’t work.  It has to be user driven.
  • Now that BSN has a critical mass, it has become a place of vetting for key strategies.
  • Trust is the key to building the community & the conversation.

In the enterprise, software development is an area that can take years to be brought up to speed.  You’ve got to identify skill sets and core competencies of your developers, define standards and develop your architecture. But there is another movement taking place where IT departments (and really, the entire enterprise) has the opportunity to be on the bleeding edge: social media & the development of a social media manager (SMM).

Here’s a link to an excellent post by Paul Chaney making the case for such a position.   

This post, as many do, proposes creating the SMM as an externally facing position.  It’s a very good idea, but one many others cover and doesn’t need me to copy cat.  What I see an opportunity for is a slight twist on the position: create a SMM that’s internally facing.  Depending on the size of your company you might have multiple SMMs; perhaps one for each major function at your company – BizDev, Supply Chain, Finance, HR, Comms, Engineering, IT, Product…

‘What will the social media manager do ?’, you ask.  Ultimately, the SMM would act as a combination of two roles, maven and connector, made popular in Malcolm Gladwell’s, The Tipping Point.  At a very high level, they will listen in on and participate in the online conversation that is happening inside your company.  This assumes, of course, that your company has the means (tool) to have a conversation and that said conversation is happening.  (This position would be especially useful if your company has invested in a tool but can’t make it ‘go’) 

The chosen SMM will need to be a SME not only in social media, but also in the functional area of the company to which they are assigned to participate.   The idea here is that the SMM will be able to navigate the tool as well as the funcational landscape, putting people and ideas together to enhance knowledge management, reuse and collaboration; that’s your business case.  Until the semantic web hits enterprise internally, the SMM can act as a human proxy.  Most companies have ‘graybeards’, this would be a great way for them to participate.  

I see the SMM going to conventions, sitting in on key meetings, being an embedded journalist of sorts disseminating the information to those that can use it but can’t get it first hand.  

While the sound of the position is new, as Chaney points out, there is a good chance there is someone in your company already doing it, aka the Accidental SMM.  As we move to a work environment that supports telecommuting and virtual teams, the conversation is shifting from the water cooler to…to…to whatever the virtual equivalent of the water cooler is.  It will be important to have tools AND people to bring it all together.  Such a position might even help us with Knowledge Management, an initiative we generally lay at the altar of enterprise apps.  Maybe what we need is less machine and more human.