Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are you playing with future entrepreneurs?

Interesting article on Forbes yesterday about how playing video games have shaped or helped entrepreneurs. In the article an entrepreneur named John Hagel, who is currently co-chairman of a tech-oriented strategy center for Deloitte, starts out by talking about having hired a young employee right out of college. This employee, Stephen Gillett, ended up becoming the CIO for Starbucks and at the time was the youngest CIO in the Fortune 500.

"And Hagel thinks he knows a primary reason for his one-time employee's meteoric rise. Everything that Gillett needed to know, Hagel said, he learned while becoming a guild leader in the popular online game World of Warcraft."

Wow, that is a lot to say that Gillett's guild leading skills was the primary reason for becoming the youngest CIO in the Fortune 500. So Hagel talked about this at a conference for Wharton, one of the country's top business schools. At the Wharton Leadership Conference Hagel said:

"... that Gillett - just like other top players on the massive online multi-player game, with an estimated 8 million participants - reached out independently to build a large team of allies that solved complex problems and developed winning strategies. Guild leaders in World of Warcraft "require a high degree of influence". You have to be able to influence and persuade people - not order them to do things. Ordering people in most of these guilds doesn't get you far."

Again, just incredible to me that he is at a Wharton conference and talking about skills picked up in WoW having this kind of business impact. Now Hagel addressed World of Warcraft and its relevance for today's complicated business environment in a research project and book called The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, where they addressed "how companies re-invent and revive themselves by moving away from secretive, proprietary shops and toward a more open, collaborative business model".

Hagel's point seems to be that American companies need "the edge," where "passionate, change-driven employees collaborate with others on innovations" to succeed in this global business environment. US companies need to get away from simply developing a proprietary product and then trying to defending that advantage and move towards creating broad networks and finding innovation at "the edge" of their businesses with improved teamwork and communication skills.

Hagel, along with his research and book colleague John Seely Brown, also addressed how WoW can promote innovation in an older January 2009 Businessweek article. They address how business executives can improve organizational performance by using WoW approaches.

I wasn't surprised to read that Hagel does have a background in gaming, having worked at Atari in his past. Back to the Forbes article, Hagel talks about the success of software company SAP:

"Hagel thinks the teamwork and communication skills that SAP software designers have been gaining are quite similar to the talents that leaders among the millions of online gamers playing World of Warcraft--people like Starbucks CIO Gillett--have also been acquiring. In addition to the leadership qualities involved with becoming the head of a guild and assembling a problem-solving team from previously independent players, World of Warcraft enthusiasts, conduct extensive after-action reviews of their performances as well as that of the leader. In addition, he said that game players typically customize their own dashboards to offer statistics and rate performance in areas they consider critical to their strategy."

I don't know if I completely agree that the skills picked up from guild leading would be a primary reason for entrepreneurial success. I definitely think you do learn about managing and leading people, resolving conflict, etc etc. But I am more inclined to think that the core of these skills were more innate in these individuals prior to playing the game, thus making it more likely that they would end up becoming guild leaders.

But regardless, I think its pretty incredible that an article like this is on Forbes with a WoW picture and tagline like "Worried that India and China will eat your lunch? Check out World Of Warcraft" as well as the fact that Hagel talked about this at Wharton.

Is our little game becoming more accepted and mainstream in society and in the business world?


  1. As gaming, in general, becomes more and more "mainstream" as a viable entertainment diversion, the products at the top of the heap in the world of gaming will get more attention.

    Hagel was right...successful guild leaders - those that have stable, long-lasting guilds with low turnover - appear, in my experience, to have the same core skills that successful leaders have. Take someone like Jess (and you) who helm a small and stable guild that focuses on individual members and success as delineated against a number of metrics (not just raid progression, but fun, social interaction, overall feelings of comfort in the gaming environment) versus other guilds whose focus is solely on raid progression.

    I think if you begin to look at aspects of a guild that mirror aspects of a company, it shouldn't be much of a stretch at all to see how the core skills of leadership apply to both roles - regardless of how vastly different they may appear to be.

  2. So, do Hagel favor Garrosh Hellscream or Basic Campfire fer the next generation of Horde leadership?