April 2007

A Visit with A WoW Warrior

April 26, 2007

Recently, I was trying to get in touch with a Senator in Chile and tried calling him multiple times, but without success. A couple of hours after my last call, he called me back and explained, saying that he had been in the middle of a battle and could not leave. Was it a political battle? No. It was a battle engagement on the MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game), World of Warcraft.

The former Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur and current Senator is exploring how to use games as opportunities for training and developing people in a variety of what he calls "core human skills" such as management, leadership, and learning to learn. He is setting up a wide variety of experiments: promoting WiFi in small towns, educating across social organizations, and promoting his approach among corporate executives and entrepreneurs in many industries.

After our conversations, I felt that I was out of touch with something important. I went with a colleague to the math department at UC Berkeley where we met a graduate student who was studying Algebraic Geometry and Combinatorics, and who was also a competent WoW player. She had played for three years, had multiple characters she played, but was most advanced in her warrior character, who she had played for about 70 hours and was on the verge of being a 70 (the highest level).

We watched her play and asked questions for a couple of hours. The entire game, she collaborated with other members of her guild, once at the request of a member with less experience to help him complete a task, and once as the way to get through an "instance" that five members of her guild needed to complete to advance.

The screen contained a lot of information that she constantly was assessing. She was able to do things very fast, at the same time as talking to us about what she was doing. She and her teams quickly and efficiently assessed the styles of the different players, the dynamic constraints of the technological environment, the efficiences of various strategies, and how her team was able to understand and work with each other's strengths and weaknesses.

She told us about the practice some people have of buying characters that are at a higher skill level without having worked up to that level. Often, the gamers knew who hadn't spent time in the game and instead who had purchased their skill; they were unable to collaborate with other members of their teams in an efficient and seamless way and were liabilities.

There are many modalities to play this game that basically evolve with the tastes and creativity of the players. There are more than 8.5 million people playing this game in the world, organized around multiple servers that allow player against environment or player against player, role-playing (playing as if you were the character in the movements, in the instances, and also in the coordination of the game with the other players), or playing the game as if you were a person at a computer who is playing the game with multiple characters.

Our interviewee said that she had more than a dozen characters in multiple servers to try different ways of engaging with the game. However, one of the main reasons for this diversity was to be in touch with multiple friends. So the game is a very social experience. The team members coordinate their time zones and they meet each other to hang out with their horde peers or alliance peers. They share tools, devices, and financial resources. They criticize each other, make recommendations, learn together. She plays her main character the majority of the time with a guild that consists of 400 people, 20-30 who she knows pretty well, including their character styles, resources, and the personality of the gamer.

And so we left the meeting seeing that these MMOGs are becoming an increasingly rich space in which to develop identities in worlds that we share with others. And that is what being human is all about.

William McDonough on Cradle to Cradle

April 20, 2007

Here is a very thought-provoking video on design from the widely-known architect, William McDonough.

Jeff Bezos on the Next Web Innovation

Jeff Bezos talks about the 1849 Gold Rush, the early days of the electric industry, and the Internet.

Evelyn Glennie Shows Us How to Listen

I found an interesting video about how listening shows up in the world of musicians. Evelyn Glennie shows her experiences and reflections.

On Linguistic Games

In the late 80s, while I was visiting Logonet Inc. in Emeryville, CA, Flores' Ontological Design Community team was working on the notion of "linguistic games" in order to produce an economic framework to make practices intelligible and designable. What they invented was a reconstruction of games as declarative systems. Basically, they claimed that every single game – from chess to businesses – can be reconstructed as four kinds of declarations:

  1. The Point of the Game Declaration -- under what conditions, even in a collaborative game, can you win the game.

  2. The Existential Declarations -- which are the entities that frame the space of the game and the role identities that are part of the game. So for instance, in chess, the entities are the queen, the rooks, the pawns, the king, the board, the players, etc. In business, you have the market, customers, producers, investors, regulators, and so on.

  3. The Declaration of Actions --constitute what is and what is not going to be considered an action in this particular game. What is going to be considered a valid action, a criminal action, or a fault.

  4. These three dimensions of declarations were the declarations that allowed us to constitute any game.

  5. The team added a fourth dimension of declarations called the strategy declarations which are basically an embodiment of a historical know-how about how to play the game in a strategic way. That know-how is influenced by historical, cultural values and tastes.

One of the most interesting things that happened to me after listening to this discussion for the first time was the blurring of what I had thought were entertainment games and “real-life” games. I discovered there was no grounding for fundamental distinctions between different games, except for our commitment to our role identities in that game.

A few weeks ago, I was walking the streets of Amsterdam with Minne, talking about digital games, which he is very competent in. And he was fascinated by the possibilities that the digital world is opening for inventing games as spaces for which human beings develop social practices and meaningful identities. And I said to him that what he said looked interesting but that I was not too familiar with cybergames. And he said, but you are familiar with life as a game. So you are familiar with cybergames. And he blurred the difference between digital and physical games. So playing games is a lot more fundamental and serious than we think.

Let's end with this final reflection. One of the interesting things the Logonet team was experiencing was that most of the inefficiences in the business world came from ill-defined games -- from people playing games with no clear way to win, being blind to the games they are playing, and being unaware of the systems of declarations out of which the game is being played. The game players are unable to change the rules of the game or the stress and inefficiencies of the ill-defined game.

For example, if you are a Chief Information Officer of a company, you might suffer because there is no well-defined declaration for how to win the game your role plays. If a CIO is asked how he wins the game, he could say, "I stay on budget, I have a 98% "up-and-running" rate, and the average speed of the network is at 2 Mbps" The reaction of the business people can often be to this, "Yeah. But still technology is awful." There are no criteria that bridge IT and business people. The business people have "one point of the game" and IT has another. So there is no way to win. The founder of newScale is proposing that the language in which CIOs and business managers can play the same game is by building service catalogs in the language of the customer. By doing this, the IT guy can say, "These are the services that are relevant for you as well as the costs." So they begin playing the same game. You can find out more by reading, "Defining IT Success through the Service Catalog." Another example of an ill-defined game is you have a well-defined declaration about what will help you to lose or win the game but your existential rules are such that it makes winning the game impossible, such as not having the resources.

So bad moods in life comes in great proportion from ill-defined games. So reconstructing and designing games is a fundamental practice for creating value and evolving wasteful and valuable social spaces.

I suggest that you take some time, and find some part of your life that you want to produce some change. Use the distinctions I am giving you to reconstruct some practices: the point of the game, the existential rules, and the declarations of action and strategy. Talk with some people and reinvent those distinctions to make changes in the game. If you have any questions, let me know. You can either have the discussion here in a public space on my blog or e-mail me.

"Wittgensteins, Heideggers, and Gadamers, Oh My!"

I just came across this site which has interesting reflections about the relations between social practices, language, and linguistic games.

Keynote Addresses from UC Berkeley's Health Care Conference

April 13, 2007

Streaming videos of a couple of the keynotes are now available from the HAAS Health Care Conference I went to in February.

Mary Ann ThodeMary Ann Thode, President of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals (KFHP/KFH) for the Northern California Region, assesses there are three major challenges of the health care industry: affordability, access, and quality of care. She thinks those problems can be addressed by three essential elements: integration of all of the different parts of the health care industry, the information technology systems that would support that integration, and an increased role of non-profits.

J. Carl CraftJ Carl Craft, Chief Scientific Officer of Medicines for Malaria Venture, speaks on the impact of malaria in the world and how they are developing several low-cost drugs to combat it.

Services for Multividuals vs Services for Individuals (or Part of Them)

April 12, 2007

In working for various service and manufacturing organizations, I noticed a pattern in marketing approaches. Often, the marketing strategy was narrowly focused on conquering some part of the "customer's" nervous system: the bank focused on "wallet share", the cold meat food manufacturing in "fridge space share", and obviously the colas on "the fluid intake share". This style of marketing saw the customer through a very narrow and instrumental lense.

That perspective didn't seem interesting for me. And I saw a big opportunity in better understanding the world of the person and building a communication strategy, a service strategy, and a product strategy that was able to recognize and be sensitive to the dynamic of the self of the customer. The original proposal that I was working with was for the marketing department of AstraZeneca in Mexico City that was willing to launch a new cancer drug.

They were dealing with a physician as if the physician were a homogenous individual with needs. What they didn't realize was that just being a physician was being a conflicting network of role identities that even the physicians were unaware of. Physicians play, at the same time, the roles of: the healer, the hospital employee, a self-employed entrepreneur, an experimental scientist, a political activist, among others. Each of these roles have a different structure of concerns, ethical values, moral norms, and instrumental goals that produce interesting tensions and possibilities for change and innovation when you are able to map them, make them explicit, and recognize interesting "user-generated" bridging practices already invented by spontaneous collaboration. While the healer wants more time to listen to a person in pain, the employee wants to perform out of the hospital's standards of efficiency -- "bed usage" or referral rates. And the entrepreneur wants to maximize economic value. All these conversations do not fit together easily. Of course, the set of role identities that I just mentioned is very narrow; but it is a lot bigger than thinking about physicians as those that prescribe your drugs.

A marketing that supports the exhausting task of focalizing people's identities is very valuable. Making sense of the vast number of role identities in the modern world is an enormous task, and is not a task we are trained for dealing with. And, basically, we are quite oblivious to the amount of stress and waste that comes out of not being sensitive to this.

I made a flash presentation for illustrating the approach. I plan to have it up on my site soon and will update you when it is available.


April 10, 2007

In June 2006, Jeff Howe from Wired Magazine coined the term crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is when an organization takes a role traditionally performed within a company and outsources it to an open group of people via the Internet. It is the growth of taking structure of work in Open Source software projects and applying it to other domains of human collaboration.

There are several interesting sites dealing with Crowdsourcing, including:

  1. Assignment Zero: NewAssignment.net's first experiment. Collaborating with Wired Magazine, they are organizing combination of professional and amateur (or crowd-sourced) journalists to report on crowdsourcing. You can check out the various domains they are looking at here.

  2. Jeff Howe's Blog: Jeff Howe and Wired are tracking the rise of crowdsourcing.

  3. Or check out James Surowiecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds.

Descartes and the Cartesian Style

A decade ago Maria Flores-Letelier and I wrote this reflection on the modern way of being and its philosophical roots. Take a look and let us know what do you think.