Today's Reading


A while back, I was having some trouble with my team. Not my work team, but my teammates in the competitive online shooter game Overwatch. "This isn't working," I said, stating the obvious about our repeated failures to assault our enemy's position in the machine shop of Volskaya Industries. There were only a couple of minutes left in the match, so I was feeling some urgency. "Their sniper is really good, and they have a turret in the corner," I said.

"Then change classes," said one of my teammates. It was good advice, so I immediately swapped from Roadhog—a corpulent biker with an asthmatic pig motif—to the hyperintelligent gorilla, Winston. His jump jets would let me bound behind enemy lines and disrupt defenses, but I waited for the rest of the team just outside of the map's choke point before doing so. Charging in alone would be folly.

"Graviton is up!" said another teammate as he joined me, referring to his character's ultimate ability (or in gamer speak, an ult) that creates a snarling black hole capable of pulling enemies together into a tight, convenient target. "Winston, take out the sniper and try to get the turret. I'll follow up and pop my ult. Then everybody charge in!"

The plan was a success. I rocketed over the enemy's front lines, chased away the troublesome sniper, and dismantled their turret. My teammate unleashed his Graviton Surge as promised, setting up another player to use D.Va's Self-Destruct ability and obliterate the rest of the enemy team while they were trapped. We won the match with about ten seconds to spare.

My team prevailed in that round of Overwatch because of our willingness to communicate, adapt our tactics, stay fixated on a goal, and work as a team. We were all focused on the goal and wanted the rewards and character progressions that we knew would come with the win. These are all important behaviors for succeeding in the world of work, which isn't that surprising if you think about it. Both video games and work involve taking in information, adapting to it, sharing it, getting along with people, and persisting toward goals in the service of a shared vision.

Any workplace that was as well-crafted as Overwatch would be a wonderful place to work and a marvel of productivity. In fact, all workplaces should be more like video games.

Like in any modern workplace, cooperation, continuous learning, hard work, engagement, and a balanced slate of skills are all keys to victory. A lot of this is up to the players to make happen, but the game's designers lay the groundwork, because a lot of thought and science went into engineering the players' experiences. Accurate feedback about player performance is given 'exactly' when it is needed so that the player can get better and understand how the game works. Roles are clearly delineated, and jobs are designed so that they fit together neatly to encourage teamwork and adaptation to the demands of a given situation. Building a team with a suboptimal set of skills will result in warnings and recommendations about what to try instead, and the players often want reasons to keep playing day after day.

This is more important than most people realize, because effective workplaces and popular video games have a lot in common. They both rely on the same underlying psychology of people, teams, and organizations, but sometimes the lessons for work are easier to see when presented in the context of play. The things that make employees happier, more motivated, and more productive leverage the same underlying psychology that makes video games engaging.

This book will show you how to do this by blending industrial and organizational psychology (that is, psychological science to improve the workplace) with insights on good video game design. This will help you become a better leader, manager, coach, and coworker given what you know (and are willing to learn) about video games. You don't have to be a hardcore gamer to benefit from this book. It is for anyone looking to create a positive work experience for their team.

Each chapter will apply lessons from the psychology of good game design to topics critically important to managing and leading people in the workplace, such as:

* How games lay out their tasks, goals, and challenges so that they motivate people to do amazing things

* The ways in which games encourage problem solving and a growth mindset

* Why expanding skills, building self-confidence, and finding opportunities to innovate feel so natural to those who play a lot of games

* How social information is framed in games so as to engender fruitful competition and cooperation

* What multiplayer games can tell us about building cohesive, high- performing teams

* How to create shared experiences and values that can craft a great organizational culture and shared expectations for the right kinds of behaviors

* Which is all to say that you could learn a lot from video games about how to be an effective leader and manager. Let's find out how.

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