More and more, there’s a movement happening. People are talking about making the systems for how people interact into “games”.
To paraphrase Seth Priebatsch’s TED talk and some other speakers, when you ask, “Why do so many kids not graduate high school?” you can answer by looking at whether “high school” is an “interesting game to play.” A common suggestion is that instead of having grades (A, B, C, F) where you pass or fail, you can have levels (1, 2, 3, 4…) where you get to play and “level up” at your own speed, like playing a video game.
Other suggestions are that people should get “badges” like military rankings: visual identifiers of skill and success. The idea is that being recognized is a motivator.
There are a variety of “rules for making games”.
I look at constitutions in companies the same way that I look at making games. Having a background in theater, classical piano, and having participated in some organizational democracies as I grew up helped:
In theater, there are scripts which can be revised or improvised. They are rehearsed scene by scene. You are mindful of being the character and being the actor at the same time. Director Phil Soltanoff made an impression on me when I was at Williamstown Theater Festival by saying, “A play is a game.” Seeing theater plays as mirrors to life, and being involved in their creation, with so many elements! gets you used to making games, asking questions like, “What do I do when she does this?” “When he’s not here, what am I thinking about him?” “What’s my motivation?” “What do I (and the other characters) want in this scene?” “What’s the theme throughout the play?” You can view work relationships as plays too… there are scripts in the form of culture, operating manuals, and sometimes contracts or even charters or constitutions. They can be revised, rehearsed, and improvised.
In classical piano, there are layers, voices, themes, patterns. Wilma Machover was my piano teacher for many years, and learning to play piano from her had a huge influence on me. I never thought of it this way, and I still don’t when I play, but you definitely do “level up”. Start with one hand playing the notes in the melody, then add rhythm, then add the other voices played by the right hand, then practice the left hand the same way, then combine them, then add emotion, then speed… not necessarily in that order, but that would be a fine way to practice. Each skill is a “level”. And just like with some video games, you can combine skills from the get-go: start on level 3, or skip to level 6, playing all the notes while sight-reading for the first time.
In classical piano, as I learned in Craft and Structure of Dramatic Writing taught by Paul Selig at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where one of Paul’s many quotes I remember is that “revising is re-envisioning“, in classical piano, there is structure and theory, and knowing the music theory, the chords, and how to get from one chord to the other harmonically in an interesting way, is pretty cool: you practice making games, in addition to playing them.
In the organizational democracies that I happened to be in as I grew up, the most influential on me might have been the Tisch Talent Guild and the group it was part of, the Tisch Student Council. We got together as friends with similar interests and started clubs. The Tisch Talent Guild grew to 1,000 members within a year. We had a leader, Paul Surdi, with a strong vision, and outside support from the administration. And the way the club was run, each of us who wanted to (within limits) could contribute and grow what the group did, and how. We could bring our vision too. We improvised the play together.
We could even go off and rehearse in different rooms, and make scenes in different plays, and come back together now and then. That’s the idea of “unity”, or “localism”, or a “federal system”, or a “hybrid organization”. Some shared resources and rules of the games, and mostly unique resources and rules of each individual game. In the Tisch Talent Guild, the theater division I started was mostly different from the film division, but there was some core overlap: both divisions were “children” of the central group, the Tisch Talent Guild. Both divisions were based out of the same coworking office space, shared the same computer database, email list, etc. As the divisions grew, they each had children, which shared some inherited rules of play but quickly grew up to be mostly independent: theater producing was pretty unique compared to theater headshots. Sometimes cousin groups would hang out together: the headshot-making service started for either film or theater, but ended up being for both. The headshot-gathering service, stored in a big file cabinet, started out for film, but ended up also being for theater. It had rules in its culture: how headshots were gathered, how long you could look through the file cabinet when someone was waiting their turn… these are things that make communities.
Different leaders were elected each year for President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary. That rule of play was inherited from the Tisch Student Council.
We self-organized. We created our own roles too: PR, Theater Coordinator, and many others, with various specific responsibilities and various openness.
And of course sometimes child groups grow up and go off on their own fully independent, and that is celebrated. They make their own way. I was happy that a dedicated intern on my first theater production quickly became a successful film producer. I grew out of the Tisch Talent Guild and eventually produced events on my own. There were growing pains, sure, but it was part of what could be, and I think we all liked exploring that.
I started writing this, planning to write a few things I’ve learned about Twitter as a game. And before I do, I’ll just say that I’d like to see more parent-child-cousin-growing-up rules of play in groups, in companies, in online websites. It’s one of the best things about organizational democracy, and it’s smart business too. In corporate, it’s called “spin-off companies.” I’d rather think of it less as a frisbee and more like growing up to make one’s own decisions.
It is more profitable, too. Bill Gross, a founder and chairman, writes in Harvard Business Review: “My earlier reluctance suddenly seemed laughable; instead of owning 80% of a $5 million business, I now owned 19.9% of a $77 million business…That’s because we gave employees near total ownership…and unleashed a new level of performance, building economic value that more than made up for the fact that I had kept only a fraction of the equity.”
Again, instead of “giving” a frisbee a spin-off, I’d rather think of self-organizing as an inherited right. But both are pretty great.
With Twitter, I want to mention a few specific “game” elements, specifically for people who care about “how to play to win.” If you’ve gotten this far, likely that’s not your priority… rather than “finite” games, you prefer “infinite” games, and might even like the game 1000 Blank White Cards.
But to play Twitter to win:
1. Get many people to “follow” you.
2. Get your tweets “retweeted”: “RT @”
3. Get people to write to you and/or “mention” you to their networks: “@”
4. Get people to click your links. You can measure links with bit.ly: it’s satisfying to me that a good number of people clicked a link I tweeted to Steve Denning’s excellent website and blog post.
5. Get people to click to your website, sign up on your newsletter, buy your products & services.
I’m new to Twitter, and I’m sure there are other ways to “play to win,” but I think those are interesting. And they do somewhat motivate me. I’d rather post a link I’d like people to see that gets lots of clicks than a link that doesn’t. Being mentioned and retweeted to gives me feedback: it lets me know what I’ve written that people are reading and interested in.
And then there are websites that do interesting and important things with the data posted on Twitter, whether it’s the TwitterVoteReport (@votereport) aggregating feedback from locations across the country, or Hashable, which is new to me so I’m not sure what to write about it, but it looks interesting.
And lastly, Twitter, along with LinkedIn, Facebook, and new sites like Quora, are part of establishing online reputations which are fairly permanent, which makes them more trustworthy. And I think that’s great: trust comes from reputation, and reciprocity from feedback (“working together in the same space”) grows empathy.
Not all of this is for everyone. But I’d rather focus on those of us who do like the world as a playful place for rehearsal, re-envisioning, and improvisation, with rules of play that reward trust and empathy.
And, whether it’s requiring a 2/3rds gate-keeping majority, or individual players delegated with specific gate-keeping responsibilities for limited amounts of time, or kicking some players out if they break the rules too much, some of the rules of play are balancing rules that make it harder for that 10% or 1% or 0.3% of people who’d try to break up the game.
And these balancing rules are maybe the most important. They are set up by the play, and they make the play beautiful. To play 12-tone music is one kind of play, and to play in the key of C is another. To shift from the key of C to the key of D requires some skill in composing and also in playing. The rules set up expectations, rewarding the patterns that repeat, like the chords in a Beatles song. The rules provide a baseline for the melody or melodies.
Our ear checks the sound of the chords; if someone comes along and plays out of tune, we notice.
We have expectations / we are demanding in a great way: “What would you think if I sang out of tune, Would you stand up and walk out on me.”
And we are responsive, being present for open communication, responding to requests… so that the asking of great things from each other is reciprocal… we are each open to asking and open to being asked of.
“Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song…”