They’re called massively multiplayer online games (“MMOG”). Hundreds (if not thousands) of users connect and “collaborate” in a game that’s held not just on the individual’s device, but online – where that individual is connected to all other players simultaneously. World of Warcraft (aka WoW) is one of the more notable MMOGs out there. In a BusinessWeek article titled “How World of Warcraft Promotes Innovation“, authors John Hagel and John Seely Brown discuss design features of the popular MMOG and apply those features towards business opportunities around innovation. The authors list the “bottom-line lessons for executives”:
- Reduce barriers to entry and to early advancement
- Provide clear and rich metrics to assess performance
- Keep raising the bar
- Don’t neglect intrinsic motivations
- Provide opportunities to develop tacit knowledge, but do not neglect broader knowledge exchange
- Create opportunities for teams to self-organize around challenging performance targets
- Encourage frequent and rigorous performance feedback
- Create an environment that rewards new dispositions
For each “lesson” (above), the authors describe how it is applied in WoW – and, how the lesson can be applied to business innovation. Now, let’s move from the world of MMOGs to virtual worlds and virtual events. I’m a believer that if these same principles are applied to business-oriented virtual “communities”, that we can significantly empower (and generate) untold amounts of business innovation.
On the web, we already have communities of individuals who coalesce around any number of topics and interests – everything from iPhone enthusiasts in a Facebook group to a discussion forum about Tandy’s TRS-80 desktop microcomputer. Members of these communities are quite engaged in their area of interest and tend to spend a lot of time online. If provided with a platform that’s also engaging and online, it’s safe to say that they wouldn’t need much convincing to participate.
As such, it seems to me that the bulletin boards, discussion forms, chat areas (and even Facebook or Yahoo groups) of today may migrate (in the near future) to a hybrid virtual world/event, with more real-time interaction and engagement. Let’s consider a business example. Take any large corporation that sells its products and services via a “partner ecosystem”. Much of this company’s revenue is generated from sales that are directly sourced by its partners. But, how well are partners connected – and how often do they partner up (on their own) to create unique and compelling solutions? If the answer is “not too often”, then an online medium, using principles drawn from WoW, may be a big win.
As seen in WoW, if a venue allows individuals to assemble, collaborate and generate actions (with a built-in reward and recognition system to motivate the participants), you find that progress, development and innovation fall out naturally. Create the foundation and a house gets built. Companies can leverage these online communities (aka virtual worlds) to tap into the Wisdom of Crowds and be able to crowdsource the next great product. The crowd may give your next product the true WoW factor.