John Seely Brown discusses the knowledge economy within the MMO game the World of Warcraft in a 2010 presentation. While many people in the conventional “World of Work” see these community spaces around video games as “just a game”, John helps us see that what’s actually occurring here is people are experimenting with a whole new way of working (and even being). In effect, if you’re an active participant in similar video game communities and contributing to their knowledge sharing and building, you’re probably already ready for The Future of Work compared to most other people.
The Edge is Where It’s At
What’s going on here? Well, if you look at the game itself, you don’t see what’s so exciting about the game. I want to say don’t pay much attention to the center of the game. Look at the edge of the game. Look at the knowledge economy on the edge of this game and you’re going to find ideas of how to get back to increasing returns in this term of the collaboration curve.
This is something I realized about these games back near the same time. What awoke me to this realization was reading Hugh MacLeod’s posts on Social Objects back in 2007 and realizing that these games were just the social objects that people were creating communities around which is something I had been doing myself since 1996.
In effect, the game “at the center” is just a social object. In this case, it’s a completely imaginary online world that’s not real. You hear people saying this all the time. “Chill out. It’s just a game. It’s not real.” What is very real though is the social relationships and communities that are cultivated and built up “around the edge” of these games.
And what’s happening within these innovative social spaces is very, very exciting indeed, as John puts it. Why? Because these large social communities are effectively the same thing as a T-group within organization development, whereby people come together and “use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others, and groups.” To put it another way, these spaces of play are giving people the autonomy, that most conventional organizations can’t, to explore new ways of being on an individual and collective level.
Communities of Inquiry
And one of the reasons why these guilds are so important is there’s so much knowledge being produced every single day that without the guild structure to help you process this kind of knowledge, you would simply be overwhelmed.
If you’re going to do successful, high-end raiding, you got to figure out how to take your guild and get your guild to know— something that the scientific community quite hasn’t yet figured out—how to process tens of thousands of new ideas every week and then try to figure out how to distil them down to new ways to move.
This is why I’ve said before that these guilds go beyond just being communities of belonging and even go beyond just being communities of practice to being communities of inquiry. In effect, you’re not just learning something that’s known (i.e. best practices), you’re playing in a larger context beyond the existing (existential) game itself and learning a new way of being (i.e. emergent practices).
Now take the quotes above and replace the word “guild” with “organization” and replace “raiding” with “projects”. You’ve just described what an organization should be focusing on within The Future of Work. Again though, realize that most conventional organizations could never achieve this because they don’t give their people the autonomy to truly step out and play beyond the boundaries of themselves and the organization. In a conventional organization, knowledge is controlled by gate keepers and thus isn’t shared with everyone openly.
Always Learning Reflectively
By the way, in terms of extreme performance, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. World of Warcraft for the high-end guilds do after-action reviews on every high-end raid.
This is something I noticed myself when I used to play World of Warcraft back around 2006. Our guild always did after-action reviews after every boss attempt in both regular and raid dungeons, thus asking and learning from the question of “what just happened?” In comparison, whenever we played a regular dungeon and needed an extra “pickup” player from outside our guild, we were always shocked at how easily these people gave up on challenging bosses, wanting to just go around them instead. In comparison, we loved the challenge and constantly walked around the problem (sometimes literally), looking at it from different perspectives, to try to figure it out.
Clarification: Upon reflection of this post at a later time, it has become apparent to me that I’m implying a specific meaning to a Community of Practice that isn’t correct. Specifically, I’m implying that a Community of Practice focuses on just best practices which isn’t always the case. A Community of Practice can focus on emergent practices and thus be just as innovative as a Community of Inquiry. See Margaret Wheatley’s and Deborah Frieze’s Using Emergence to Take Social Innovations to Scale to understand how Communities of Practice utilize emergent practices.
No Place To Hide
Totally meritocracies that basically in a high-end raid, everyone is measured, everyone is critique by everyone else in the high-end raid because it’s obviously computer mediated. We can capture everything that’s going on. We have extensive dashboards to actually measure your own performances of how well you’re doing.
This is the amazing thing about these environments and why the autonomy within them isn’t given freely because there is a corresponding responsibility to yourself and the collective group in turn. Since everyone can see everyone else’s performance in real time, there really is no place to hide. It’s not like a conventional organization where you only have to worry about how your work looks from a select few people’s perspective. Your performance is seen and measured by everyone.
This relates to what I said some years back after a Global Peter Drucker Forum, where I said the future is one in which “Everyone is a leader. Everyone is a manager. Everyone is a customer.” You can’t hide anymore, sit on your butt, and be a peon, waiting for someone to tell you what to do. You have to decide for yourself what you want to do—learning to know thyself in the process—and go out and do it heroically.
Creating a Sense-Making Dashboard
And so, a very interesting sense is in this game, in this kind of world, you have after-action reviews and you have a form of play that says you need to craft your own dashboards to measure your own performance. In fact, right now, in Washington, the Obama Administration were actually trying to lift ideas from the World of Warcraft in terms of how do you help people craft their own dashboards.
And these dashboards are, by and large, are not pre-made. They’re mashups. You do it as you want. Therefore, you as individuals, what would it mean for you to craft your own dashboards that actually give you a good sense of how you’re spending every moment of the day, what you could do better, and so on and so forth.
When I heard these words, I immediately thought of a blog but one which is structured and functions in a certain, specific way. So one in which your whole life is being funnelled through it, yet the different streams of it have their own access permissions based upon the relationship the viewer has to you. So if you’re working on a project with someone, your work on it is in one stream which only that person can see. Other streams of yours life though may be completely open and viewable to everyone.
In fact, another way of looking at this would be envisioning everyone building a Second Brain for themselves but with you being able to give different access permissions to different areas of it for those you’re working with. Again this mirrors my idea of Connected Communities in the past, whereby multiple knowledge flows, starting at the individual level (with a person’s different idea streams), come together to not just aggregate knowledge better but to also better distill it into its essence as well.
Just a side thought on this though. As I indicated in my original Connected Communities post, the openness of your work is really what makes it possible for others to cooperatively work off of your work and ideas. If you’re only really sharing your work with people you’re just collaborating with though, this really limits the potentiality and synchronicity that can occur with your work.
A Bigger Context of Play
But I will show you innovation networks in China that are using very much the same ideas and that have figured out how to generate exponential learning within and across their networks.
And finally John describes how in the same way that guild communities are generating exponential learning both within themselves and with others guilds, this same process of exponential learning is already occurring within the real world as well. This isn’t just fun and games. This is a new way of being within a new world, whereby playing, learning, and working are occurring on a constant, creative, daily basis (thus happening cyclically in our lives versus just sequentially, as is the conventional norm).