Leadership's Online Labs

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Every company worries about who will lead the organization in the future.  And most companies have some mechanism in place for identifying and bringing promising candidates up from the ranks to groom them for top jobs. 

But a new development in the world of virtual reality holds out promise for super-charging this process at low cost by employing multiplayer online role-playing gaming environments to tackle challenges and thereby expose leadership quality in previously unsuspected participants.  This strategy is turning into a big business. 

For example, BusinessWeek1 reports that IBM has designed a program called Innov8 that incorporates features of online gaming environments to help tech managers and businesspeople learn to communicate better with one another.  The players enter a virtual business world and engage in useful tasks, such as redesigning a call center, opening a brokerage account, or processing an insurance claim. 

IBM is plunging headfirst into this new strategy, offering Innov8 free of charge to universities and offering a version that will run on a PC.  It has yet to set prices for corporate customers, but has just launched a competition within the company in which employees will start virtual businesses and meet with clients through the use of game environments.  IBM is using this competition to sort out which virtual worlds work best for various types of business activities.  This demonstrates IBM's belief that the skills developed in playing these games can translate into leadership qualities that every company should have.

IBM is not alone, by any means.  McKinsey & Company is also using online gaming.  A system is in place to test recruits for their potential to be leaders and to assess the way they build teams.  Royal Philips Electronics and Johnson & Johnson are using online games to improve the way various geographically separated divisions collaborate.

IBM recently commissioned a company called Seriosity to study the way leadership can emerge from online games.  Seriosity is a privately-held company in Palo Alto, California, that is designing virtual business environments to change the way people work together.  Its software helps to improve collaboration, innovation, and leadership using gaming principles. The founder of Seriosity outlined the results of the study in a recent Harvard Business Review article.2

That study concluded that the challenges facing corporate leaders are much like the ones facing the game players...

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