Posted by Tom Grant on June 23, 2010
As readers of this blog know, I see a lot of benefits in using serious gaming to make better product and development decisions. Consulting firms like Enthiosys and Booz Allen Hamilton use different serious gaming approaches, but they ultimately have the same aim: Avoid the traps that we mere humans frequently make, even when confronted with a wealth of facts and reasonable arguments. The bigger the decision – for example, What will make us more competitive in the next five years? How do we make sense of all these enhancement requests? Should we pursue a new market? – the greater the need to guard against groupthink, the loudest voice in the room, information overload, and other common decision-making pitfalls.
While I could (and have) provided examples from business, an equally compelling example comes from politics. One of the offshoots of Enthiosys' work with businesses is Games For Democracy, a charitable foundation that, as the name implies, applies serious gaming techniques to political decision-making. A good example is healthcare, the topic of a Games For Democracy exercise using the "Buy A Feature" game. Each participant had a limited amount of faux money to invest in different healthcare options, such as the public option, a mandate for personal health insurance, and cost containment measures. No one had enough money to buy any option outright, so horse-trading among participants was mandatory.
The negotiations became the starting point for a more reasonable discussion of healthcare policy than the unfortunate shouting matches of the last year or two of policy debates in the real world. In fact, the negotiations would not have been possible without a certain level of willingness to listen, identification of where options might complement or contradict each other, and a clear sense of how the world would look after selecting a particular set of options. I'll be the first to admit that I did not see some of the connections among these options until participating in this game.
The moral of the story is, Outcomes matter, even if they're fictional. The game did not reward the person with the loudest voice, the sharpest FUD statements, or the biggest stubborn streak. None of those traits would have helped us select a set of options to fund, and they definitely would not have helped us understand these options, either singly or in combination, better than we did before the exercise.
What applies to politics, where the reptile parts of our brains can really take over, certainly applies to business. Moving the discussion to a different medium, serious gaming, is a way to take the participants out of the organizational setting that may allow or encourage bad decision-making. In the last decade, the technology industry has made impressive improvements to the process of building new technology. Now may be the time to fix the decision-making that starts development projects.