Gameplay was a research project that explored new methods for fostering business innovation through the application of game design concepts. It was developed within Telefónica R + D, in the framework of Disonancias.
We worked on cultural change from a value system based on competitiveness, productivity and short-term achievements to one based on cooperation and bold exploration.
Disonancias was a platform working with businesses, research institutes or public entities interested in collaborating with artists to encourage innovation. It is based on the premise that artists are researchers by definition. Within the framework of collaborating with organisations, they are able to propose new and different innovation paths, introducing detours and dissonance into the usual processes of thought and action, providing creativity and work methodologies and serving as a catalyst for team members.
The starting point for Telefónica R & D (TID) had to do with the changes that the company was undergoing at the moment (early 2009):
We're seeing a fundamental shift in the orientation of the work of researchers and research staff, who work now in a new environment with new challenges and difficulties to be competitive and innovative.
Competitors are no longer the same that the company had a few years ago. It has entered a market, the Internet, dominated by firms operating in an environment with a completely different and very innovative way of working. The research will seek proposals for improvement in the way of working, structures and spaces, incentives and forms of communication, in order to create the conditions necessary to improve motivation.
The Internet and Multimedia unit of TID is located in Barcelona. It focuses on the market of Internet services, including end-users services. Its staff is composed of engineers and scientists (PhD), which are about 200 people.
My colleagues in the project were Oriol Lloret (innovation processes specialist, political science), Sergi Artero (technologist and resource management specialist), Orestes Sanchez (technologist and member of the works council), Maria Palou (psychologist, human resources) and Ventura Caamaño (R & D Platform Program Manager at Hewlett-Packard).
The experiment consisted in taking the license to talk about cultural change processes in terms of game design. This gave us a new perspective from which to think about the situation. It was also characterized by:
- Practical approach. Game design involves a set of techniques.
- Positive and constructive approach, which was important in order to go beyond pessimism, beyond the perspective that focus in problems at the expense of possibilities.
- Hack position within the company. As a very small project within a large company, we tried to implement small sized infiltration operations with a wide resonance.
- Bottom-up approach. We were interested in changing the current system so that a broader base of staff members had access to decision making regarding the organization.
- Commitment to the people, valuing their professionalism and creativity.
This was reflected in a series of diagnosis measures, actions and proposals for future action.
When the project began there was a vague feeling in the company that the problem was that their people were not suited for what was asked of them.
Through our actions, we better understood:
- What were the explicit rules of the company, what the implied rules, and what gap there was between them, as well as what narrative was working behind the actions. There were big contradictions, due mainly to previous and unfinished change processes. The 'old' culture tended to survive these processes of change, due to a lack of consistency of the new rules and narratives.
- The structure of the value system of the company: within the company, which functions and actions are given value and why. This was inferred from a massive survey which questioned staff members not about the 'problems' they saw, but about what they enjoyed of their experience in the company. The results showed that the system was soaring with 'achiever' values- using Bartle's taxonomy. Achiever values are related to productivity, 'climbing the ladder' and competing with peers, establishing territories and defending them in an environment of scarce resources and limited opportunities for personal growth.
- The proposed changes had not taken into account the current culture and value system. So, there was an important gap that make difficult the communication of changes and the motivation of staff members.
All this helped us to understand that the problem were not the people ("our workers are not innovative enough"), but the system in which they were immersed (the system was an 'achievers' factory).
- We modelled the new values system, the one where the company wanted to go, that had not hitherto been modelled explicitly. The new set of values was based on the abundance of opportunities for personal development in the company, not on its scarcity; on the cooperation and sharing of resources and, most of all, on an environment which is risk-taking and exploration friendly. All of this gave managers tools to better understand which mechanisms for change would help them get to the objectives sought, and which would play against them.
- The 'gamified' survey had a participation rate of about 90% of the employees. That taught us that a constructive, practical approach as well as transparency and real time feedback in communication has a large impact on participation.
- We promoted self-organized community activities at the expense of those that are organized from top to bottom. This was implemented, by way of example, when we contributed to and facilitated the organization of a gaming session to which all workers were invited, organized by themselves. Board and video games took the working space for one day. There was laughter, pizza, beer and the atmosphere changed dramatically. It was a glimpse of how the company could be a place of possibilities, more than a controlled, restricted space.
- As a proposal for future action, we designed a system-hack to change the current system. The idea was to build from the current values, to modify them as people became more and more involved on organizational and cultural aspects of the company.