Boredom is a widely recognised ‘organisational symptom’ as result of a badly structured system. Consequently, we become disengaged and dissatisfied in our daily lives within an organisation. We spend more than half of our lifetime working in conditions that do not promote our well-being. This begs the question: Are we actually happy?  Why then, do most organisations provide merely exhaustive work systems often driven by extrinsic motivations such as money, promotions and bonuses?

There is a pressing need for leaders of organisations to find alternative ways to reinvent our work environments and activities in a way that could provide enjoyable, non-exhaustive motivations. Leaders can adapt theories of game design and play into daily work processes as an innovation strategy to nurture a culture of innovation. Organisations must understand that they must first tackle innovation internally before they are able to deliver innovation externally.



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Day-to-day operations of an organisation are dependent on its internal climate. The status of the organisational climate influences organisational process such as communication, problem-solving, decision-making and psychological processes of self-development and motivation. New paradigms and increasing complexity in the business environment are raising the need to nurture a culture of innovation. A supportive environment which encourages innovation from its employees will most likely yield an organisational climate which in turn affects organisational creativity, motivation and emotional engagement levels, and therefore has a positive effect on organisational performance. The main focus of this study is to highlight how organisations can adapt theories in game design and play as an innovation strategy to help leaders understand the importance of nurturing a culture of innovation. 


A common phenomenon has been spotted across many work places that the majority of us have experienced—boredom. Many of us have experienced a phase of high excitement at the start of their new jobs, but gradually fall into a long term phase of boredom. Although this does not happen for everyone, however we do see boredom everywhere, and it is "a by-product of poorly structured systems" (Dignan, 2011). Very often we sink into a state of boredom, and surprisingly, we grow quite fond of this state fairly quickly and easily—before we know it, it becomes the norm. So how much time does an average person spend in a lifetime working in a typical corporation. Considering an average working week is 40 hours in the classic nine-five formula, an average person's career spans across 44 years (starting at age 21 and retires at 65), average human life expectancy in developed countries is 78 years—according to these facts, we spend about 56.4% of our lifetime in 'working' mode. This begs the question: Are we actually happy? A published study conducted by University of Rochester in 2009 concluded that extrinsically motivated activities do not contribute to happiness at all (McGonigal, 2011), and in fact, has adverse effects on one's well-being. According to this, that means we spend more than half of our lifetime working in conditions that do not promote our well-being. Positive psychologist, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi argued that the failure of our current "systems"—schools, offices, factories and other everyday environments—to provide flow has become a serious moral issue. Flow, by definition is the state in which people are fully engaged in an activity that provides most pleasurable, satisfying and meaningful emotional state we can experience. Flow inducing activities are what psychologists describe as ‘autotelic work’—self-motivated, self-rewarding with a primary function to provide enjoyable experiences and lead us to a state of optimal experience. Can we reinvent our working environments and activities in a way that could be enjoyable and hard working at the same time?


Current work places lack the fundamental elements of autotelic work which is required in today’s organisations in order to tackle the increased intensity and stress as a result of globalisation and technological advancements. When we are intrinsically motivated through autotelic activities, we create conditions for a structured learning environment, combined with intrinsically motivated challenges and a sense of autonomy. According to Czikszentmihalyi concept of flow, “human beings achieve a state of optimal experience when our skills are continually in balance with the challenges we face” (Dignan, 2011). It is when challenges are aligned with clear realistic goals, supported with resources and the people you work with, the workforce can then unleash its potential to increase organisational performance, without suppressing creativity and positive organisational energy. This outlines the basis of my proposed solution: a new way of working through building collaborative synergies. 



The Alternative

One highly promising alternative to tackle common ‘organisational symptoms’ such as boredom, disengagement and dissatisfaction is to adapt theories in game design and play into daily work processes to provide flow-inducing activities to nurture an innovation culture. However, this alone, is not enough to sustain the well-being of workers in prolong periods of time. It requires the interplay of myriad of factors to create a collaborative synergies within relationships. Some key factors include adaptive management style, collaborative organisational structure and supportive climate, leadership that promotes trust, while harnessing the power of collective ambition. It is in these collaborative synergies that result in non-exhaustive work systems leading to innovative practice. To deliver innovation externally, an organisation must first innovate internally.

 

A new area of research already exists in the landscape to prove that organisations can successfully employ methods rooted in the act of play and game mechanics to non-game activities (such as organisational processes) to change employees’ behaviour with the aim to increase engagement and motivation, both on an individual and collective level. Analyst, Brian Burke, from at Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory company based in United States explains this concept that is now widely known as ‘gamification’ — it is “the broad trend of employing game mechanics to non-game environments such as innovation, marketing, training, employee performance, health and social change” (2011). Organisations have began to understand the value of game mechanics and it has now become an “important and powerful new strategy for influencing and motivating groups of people” (Bunchball Inc., 2011) leading to innovative practice. Positive psychologists, game developers and designers, as well as business management and leadership researchers have been unpacking the emerging relationships between existing theories already developed within their domains. 


I have explored in depth new ways to build collaborative synergies through adapting theories in game design and play to rebuild traditional organisational structures and cultures into applicable ‘organisational systems’ that addresses the common ‘organisational symptoms’ to increase performance and nurture a culture of innovation. Figure 1 illustrates the overview of my research outcomes, which highlights the practical implications of the proposed solution. The synthesis of these findings can be applied to three different levels in organisations:  

  1. organisational climate; 
  2. psychological climate of employees
  3. human resources development. The figure below shows an overview of the sources of data used conducted throughout this study. This includes a case study on my prior involvement in business process innovation as I have co-designed  transformational game, Change Play Business, with an organisation called The Thinking Hotel. 
The ultimate aim was to generate new theory from selected concepts of interest (Gamestorming, Design Thinking, Creativity and Flow) and identify patterns to further understand how organisations can foster both creative environments and innovative potential as an effective strategy for businesses to remain relevant in this current business climate—an era of risk, instability and complexity. Most importantly, how can we translate this into businesses with conventional organisational structures and processes? How do we communicate to traditional management executives why this is important and how can we demonstrate its impact? Through this, we can convey the importance of nurturing a culture of innovation as a strategy to regain competitive advantage in today’s complex climate.