I am so overwhelmed with data on a daily basis that I find it extremely difficult to pull back and see the forest from all the trees, branches, limbs, and stumps. Trend watchers help me to pull back, to knit together what seem to be disparate events and to see a bit better what is coming.
One of my favorite trend lists is the Forbes Top 10 Business Trends list. I’ve written about the Forbes Best list back at the end of 2014. This year’s list, authored by Ian Altman has some surprising predictions. Altman’s trend #8, Creative Businesses Will Introduce Fun and Games to Engage Customers and Employees, is my favorite trend to pursue in 2016. Read below why this seemingly unbusiness-like trend makes sense.
THE CASE FOR FUN AND GAMES AT WORK
By Dr. Alice Waagen
Fun and games? I never thought that I would see these words in an article on business trends. Altman bases this trend on research that shows our attention span is currently pegged at 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. The blame for our lack of focus resides on smartphones, mobile devices and our increased dependence on digital technology to acquire information and communicate with others. Once we become conditioned to process 140 character data sets and terse texts, lengthy communications are not read or absorbed. The implications of this trend for business leaders are immense. If I cannot engage customers, my business will suffer. If my employees disengage, I cease to achieve business results.
Games and simulations have the ability to increase attention spans and focus. The noted game designer, Thiagi (aka Sivasailem Thiagarajan, PhD) tell us that GAMES are Genuine Alternatives to Mindless Explanation. Incorporating games and simulations into critical communication and training affords leaders the ability to better engage and enlighten key stakeholders and staff.
The challenge, as I see it, is two-fold: first, business leaders need to embrace the concept of games and interactive activities as serious contributors to the business line. Second, once embraced, games need to be created and implemented that support critical work activities for both employees and customers.
Academic institutions and business think tanks are producing some compelling research supporting games and fun at work. A recent Harvard Business Review article by Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neil, entitled Manage your Emotional Culture, presents the premise that an organization’s emotional culture influences employee satisfaction and collaboration. The authors’ cite empirical studies that demonstrate the impact of emotions on employee performance, engagement, creativity and commitment. Put simply, companies that exhibit and promote a positive emotional climate attract, retain and engage employees while negative emotional environments demotivate and drive away top performers.
Which brings us to the challenge of how to implement a climate of fun and excitement? I believe that games, simulations and interactive experiences are key to promoting fun at work. Games, properly designed and played allow people to experience skills such as decision-making, persuasion, effective communication and team building in a safe and low-risk way. They allow for behavioral experimentation and build relationships. The sheer novelty of interacting in a simulated environment frees people from the constrictions of past assumptions and can be leveraged to produce new and innovative insights into current problems and challenges. And yes, people have fun.
We need more research and real-world application on the use of games to promote learning and engagement. I do believe that Alman has indeed identified a powerful trend for business leaders to watch: games and fun are not to be relegated to the playgrounds of youth but need to enter the workplace as powerful tools to promote engagement, learning and fun.