Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Multiplayer games lessons #2 - embrace of failure and iterative learning

I posted yesterday on the recent HBR article "Leadership's Online Labs," in which the authors discuss the results of a study of high-performing users of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), like World of Warcraft. In these games, participants worldwide take on roles and participate in quests and adventures--requiring the players to act in concert to achieve their objectives, planning together and using their varied capabilities to, for example, storm and take control of a castle against determined adversaries.

The article focuses on how the lessons learned by the MMORPG standouts could be applied to business. One passage in the article was very relevant to the Mistake Bank concept:

Trial and error play a big role in accomplishing game tasks. Failure, instead of being viewed as a career killer, is accepted as a frequent and necessary antecedent to success.

In one incident that we recorded from EverQuest, seven guild members prepared for a brand-new quest that required them to get their team across a large lake protected by a gruesome and hostile creature. Although they had formulated a strategy based on information gathered in advance, everyone seemed comfortable with the high likelihood of failure, at least initially. After a first attempt, in which the whole team nearly drowned and was forced to retreat, members quickly began plotting a new strategy in the spirit of a fundamental gamer maxim (one not heard very often in business): “Let’s try that again.”...

Frequent risk taking allows players to practice the art of weighing odds calmly in uncertain environments. Confronting risk routinely and with a level head will be an important leadership skill as the real-world business environment becomes more uncertain and as success comes to depend more on innovation than on execution. Organizations can help prepare leaders by fostering a culture in which failure is tolerated. They can expose leaders to risk by mimicking the structure of games, breaking down big challenges into small projects. Failure, after all, is clearly more palatable for the individual and more affordable for the organization when it happens at the project level rather than on a larger scale.

"Failure is a frequent and necessary antecedent to success." These few words illustrate one of the major systemic failings of companies today: instead of encouraging and learning from failures and mistakes at the project and small-group level, and adjusting course or changing behavior as necessary, they repress failure, refuse to acknowledge it, and don't learn. Resulting, of course, in a larger-scale catastrophic failure that everyone could see coming yet no one could acknowledge or do anything about.

Related Posts:
Choreographer Twyla Tharp on the usefulness of failure
Announcing The Mistake Bank
Mistake Bank #12 - Don't Forget About Support!
Great Innovation Requires...Acceptance of Mistakes
Learning From Mistakes, Part 72

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