IT Career Development:‘Gameization’ Creates IT Opportunities

Considering the metaphor of gaming with respect to IT career development can help you maximize your opportunities.

Romi Mahajan

Around every major economic opportunity, there’s always a core theme or mantra around which people can rally. These themes generate a vernacular that takes on a life of its own and fires the engines of inspiration in entrepreneurs, investors and practitioners. Recent examples of these types of themes include Web 2.0, cloud computing, location-based services, marketing services, Software as a Service, e-commerce—and scores of others.

There’s a new theme now that might eclipse all of these: “Gameization.” This has the potential to become a fundamental trend because it cuts across different types of business. It’s as much about process as it is about products. Ignore it at your own peril.

So what is this concept and why is it so big? How do you apply it to your job as an IT professional? To understand this, think about the concept and construct of games at their most basic level—and read on.

Games are ubiquitous and universally enjoyed. For some, the competitive aspect is the most exciting. For others, the challenge to excel is the heady part. For a good number of people, games embody a sense of accomplishment as you “move the ball forward” and achieve results. When aggregated, these results generate big outcomes. For others, games provide a real sense of meaning and identity. In short, games are fun, heady, challenging, interesting and evoke strong emotions.

The “Gaming Metaphor” therefore is an oft-overlooked and oft-undervalued approach to business and technology. What exactly is a game? In her riveting book, “Reality Is Broken” (The Penguin Press HC, 2011), Jane McGonigal outlines four defining characteristics of games in general. In her view, every game has:

  • A goal
  • Rules
  • A feedback system
  • Voluntary participation

It’s the combination of these factors that motivates, enthralls and makes meaning for billions of people. Surely, there must be some important lessons in there for the business of technology as well.

Businesses worldwide are looking to engage current and future customers in ways they’ve never even considered before. The rise of “marketing by Facebook” is proof of this trend. Companies are looking for ways to tap into the creative energies of employees and partners. Governments are increasingly looking to involve the citizenry in certain decisions. Even educational institutions are revising curricula to account for the notion of engagement. Organizations now understand that at the core of “getting to great” is engagement and meaningful conversation with all participants.

And the best way to engage is to “Gameize” everything. Channeling McGonigal, we find that people of all sorts engage and find meaning in games. They revel in pursuing a goal, in getting feedback along the way, and in finding ways to solve problems in a manner that’s interesting and stimulating. Those factors keep the participants engaged.

Opportunities Await

IT organizations have several opportunities to elevate their places in the hierarchy of the corporate world, and in each case, Gameization could be the “secret sauce” that gets us where we need to go.

Opportunity 1: Effectively communicate the value of IT to the rest of the organization.

In more than 90 percent of companies I’ve worked with, the IT department is misunderstood. Most consider IT either a cost-center or an uncooperative den of geeks. IT is often only called out when things go wrong. IT is thus lambasted and its practitioners sullied.

This stems more from ignorance and lack of engagement than from active dissatisfaction. IT needs to engage internal customers and thus “educate” them while simultaneously endearing them. How? Make a game out of communications and engagement and banish the naysayers.

Opportunity 2: Develop processes and “products” that engage internal customers.

In many cases, when IT proactively communicates with internal customers, it’s to govern, enforce and mandate behavior. This adds to the negative feelings about the IT department and leads folks to think of IT as “command and control.”

This part of the process could be much easier if IT made its “mandates” more enticing. Lead internal customers to the right place by engaging and embracing them. Instead of the usual volley of e-mails suggesting that “You’ll be shut down unless you do X, Y and Z,” start the process earlier and make it fun, cool and “voluntary.” You may find more complete compliance with this route.

Opportunity 3: Help others help themselves.

When an internal customer actually “calls” IT, two things are almost inevitably true: First, the caller is irate, and second, the company has lost a lot of money. At times, calling feels like it borders on abusing the privilege of calling IT when you know you could find a way to solve the problem yourself.

Dynamic self-help is a boon to the company and to both IT and its customers. However, unless self-help is actually easier and more engaging than picking up the phone, people will do just that. Overuse of staff help creates cost over-runs and contributes to IT being reactive instead of proactive. Every IT organization should Gameize self-help.

Opportunity 4: Spend more time innovating and less time reacting.

In a 2006 research study conducted by Microsoft, IT pros indicated that while skill-development and innovation were the most important things for them, they spent the least time in these areas because they were in a mode of constant reaction and problem-fixing.

These suggestions presented here can help rebalance the priorities and work mode of IT, and those in the profession can spend more time learning, growing and developing than they can now. The concept of Gameization has spread like wildfire in many areas, from communications to product design to commerce. IT has an opportunity to be first to the punch. Let’s not squander it.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.