I've written several times on the topic of "serious games" that some companies use to teach and reinforce workplace concepts, so I was quite interested to see an interview with David Gray, one of the co-authors of "Gamestorming," on O'Reilly Radar. It wasn't exactly what I expected. Rather than a specific game or games, the book is about a set of collaboration practices.
While Gray says these practices originated in the Silicon Valley in the 1970s, they seem to be coming into their own now as they better suit today's rapidly changing work environments. Gray describes gamestorming as "an approach that emphasizes quick, ad-hoc organization of teams so they can rapidly co-design and co-develop ideas." He and his co-authors agreed upon the term "gamestorming" because these practices "seemed to look more like games than any other form of work we were familiar with."
Gamestorming encourages a quicker and more democratic way of working than most of us are used to. Visualization, improvisation, good listening and language skills become more important than they have been in the past, which may be a challenge for many folks. One key is not forcing it. Says Gray:
It's an approach to work that's about engaging people in collaboratory activities. It's not a game if people are forced to play, so you need to have people and projects that stir people's curiosity and emotion.
Gamestorming won't work in every work environment. It's a good way to try out different scenarios and test the results. While the approach is great for fostering creative energy and innovation, it isn't useful for work that demands a predictable, consistent approach. Says Gray:
You don't want people playing too many games in the accounting department.
Unlike factories or other workplaces where folks are engaged in highly visible tasks, many knowledge workers have trouble envisioning how their work fits into a bigger strategic picture. Gamestorming offers a way to help overcome this lack of transparency and the cubicle layouts common in many offices, which aren't exactly conducive to collaborating with coworkers.
Gray's interview points to a bigger issue: Though some companies are experiencing great results using collaboration software, organizations will have to make some fundamental changes to the way they approach work if they want to derive lasting benefits from social technologies.