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Do the Best Web Workers Think Like Gamers?

Ask the typical manager of a dispersed team what sort of mindset he hopes to encourage in his employees and the last answer you’d expect to get is that of a gamer. Think “online gamer,” and most people conjure images of young men devoting endless hours to slaying orcs inWorld of Warcraft — probably not your dream employee.



But there are some very serious suit-and-tie types suggesting that in the networked, geographically dispersed workplace of the future, the mental traits of World of Warcraft enthusiasts may be hugely beneficial. Primary among these advocates is FedEx CIO Rob Carter who famously told a conference back in 2007 that the best training for those who want to succeed in the future is the massive multi-player game. In a Time article from 2009, Carter explained his thinking:

WoW, as its 10 million devotees worldwide call it, offers a peek into the workplace of the future. Each team faces a fast-paced, complicated series of obstacles called quests, and each player, via his online avatar, must contribute to resolving them or else lose his place on the team. The player who contributes most gets to lead the team — until someone else contributes more. The game… is intensely collaborative, constantly demanding and often surprising. “It takes exactly the same skill set people will need more of in the future to collaborate on work projects,” says Carter.

If you think Carter is just a closet level-80 guild master, then consider the company he’s keeping in promoting the gamer mindset. USC professors John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas have publicly promoted the advantages of thinking like a gamer on the Harvard Business Review blog, noting game enthusiasts are bottom-line oriented, tolerant of diversity, comfortable with constant change, happy to learn, and intensely interested in innovation.

“We believe that gamers who embody this disposition are better able than their nongamer counterparts to thrive in the twenty-first-century workplace,” the scholars conclude.

If you’re unsure how you might actually put gaming techniques to use in the workplace, check out Aliza’s post about the gamification of work. Another source of practical tips is author and speaker Tom Chatfield. In a recent TED talk, he explains the techniques game designers use to engage the brain — from rapid, clear, frequent feedback to multiple long- and short-term aims — and suggests these can be adopted by management to make your team nearly as obsessed with work as the stereotypical WoW fanatic is with conquering a dungeon:


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