Friday, December 12, 2008

Cultivating Leaders in Virtual Worlds

The abstract for a report, Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders, by IBM:
Management fads and business leadership books come and go. But the Internet, and the changes it is forcing upon business managers of all stripes, is here to stay. The days of closely knit teams working on long-term strategy in close quarters are gone, replaced by virtual teams that constantly reinvent the business in multiple time zones the world over. And the business world is in desperate need of a new model for leadership befitting the Internet Age.

Fortunately there is already a window into this rapidly changing world. In the realm of online games, specifically massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), leaders emerge that deftly navigate the motivational, emotional and social needs of their direct reports in a highly competitive, distributed, virtual environment. And there are many lessons to be learned.

That's why IBM partnered with Seriosity Inc., a software company that develops enterprise products and services inspired by online games, to study how leaders operate in these increasingly popular games. Together with experts from Stanford University and MIT, the team captured 50 hours of online game play, surveyed hundreds of gamers, and conducted several interviews of gaming leaders. The objective of the study was twofold: 1.) to better understand how successful leaders behave in online games and 2.) to learn what aspects of game environments leaders leverage to be more effective.

The results are fascinating. Among other things, we learned that the transparent environments created in online games made leadership easier to assume. And that leadership in online games is more temporary and flexible than it is in the business world. And finally, online games give leaders the freedom to fail, and experiment with different approaches and techniques, something that any Fortune 500 company that hopes to innovate needs to understand.

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