Business Agility Means Distributed, Fast-Paced and Fiercely Competitive

Winning companies in the real-time global economy will be organized and run like online games

"Open your eyes, Pilot. A new world is here."

So goes the intro to EVE-Online, one of a new generation of what are known as massively multiplayer online games (also called MMOGs). In these online games, players from all over the globe log into virtual worlds via the Internet; they learn different roles and skill sets, and come together in self-selecting teams to carry out missions in pursuit of common goals. Popular MMOGs such as EVE-Online, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft bring together hundreds of thousands of simultaneous online players from countries around the globe to interact in complex, three dimensional worlds based on themes from science-fiction and dungeons and dragons fantasy.

Question: How is this any different than the challenges that await companies in the real-time global economy we now inhabit? Can we learn something about business agility here?

MMOGs are not to be confused with single person shooter games where individual players blast aliens and tough guys, steal cars, and get into street fights. And neither are we talking about virtual social worlds such as Second Life. What we are talking about is online games where there are rules and politics and opportunities to collaborate with others and build your reputation and your fortune.

To play these games, players have to interact with each other and build relationships and put together plans and go on missions. They join guilds or corporations that exist in these games; they develop specific skills related to the roles they play (roles like pilot, trader, wizard, warrior, hunter and priest); and they develop reputations and rating levels based on their successes and failures.

The potential for using MMOGs to develop skills people need to succeed in the global economy is starting to get serious attention. Recently a study titled “Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders” was done by IBM and some professors from Stanford University and MIT (who work together at a company named Seriosity). They focused their study in particular on the MMOG named World of Warcraft and came up with some interesting insights.

To begin with, here are a few quick facts: there are presently about 73 million online gamers worldwide with a compound annual growth rate of 36.5%; average age of online gamers is 27 years; 56% are male and 44% are female. Other findings revolve around the concepts of leadership and its relationship to agility, and the differences in how those concepts are practiced in MMOGs and in the traditional corporate world.

Leadership in the Old World and the New

Leadership in the corporate world is restricted to a relatively small group of people who are identified, mentored and promoted by company senior management. Leadership in the MMOG world is distributed over a wide group of people who work to increase their own skill levels and who are promoted by consensus in the groups they are a part of.

In the corporate world (as the saying goes) it’s often not what you know but who you know. In other words, people get a chance for leadership only if they are noticed by senior management. How many subordinates can a senior manager really notice (and how much dysfunctional brownnosing is motivated by the urgent desire of subordinates to be noticed?)? And since senior management is just a small number of people, the total number of people in a company who can be noticed and get a chance to lead is also small. Lots of qualified people are never noticed.

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