Game Thinking spielerisch die Welt retten

Save the world through play

When we talk to people about Game Thinking for the first time, we often cause astonishment: “People pay you to play? And there are follow-up projects?” Even my wife – a lawyer – asks me, “Are you going to work today, or is it a play day again?” We’re not hard-boiled con men who cheat shareholders out of dividends. Play in a professional context creates value for “the players,” their organizations, and society. Game Thinking sounds like a luxurious funtivity, but it has tangible benefits. But why do we need Playful Organizations, Economies, and Societies, especially during digital transformation? Based on four theses on digital transformation and play, I conclude that only playful organizations are innovative enough in the long term.

Thesis 1: Everything that can be automated or digitized will be automated or digitized.

Through artificial intelligence, machines are increasingly able to perform complex analytical tasks better than humans. Humans can still perform these activities, but not more efficiently than robots. Only profoundly human activities that require a maximum of empathy and creativity will be carried out more economically by humans in the future.

Thesis 2: Playing is deeply human behavior.

There is no individual development or human culture without play. Individual play is essential for the learning of almost all human abilities and the development of emotionally healthy people.

Archaeological excavations underline the importance of play throughout human development. Cultural historians hold the view that social systems have developed from playful behaviors of self-organization. Only over time, the playfully designed mechanisms became sanctionable rules and seemingly unchangeable.

Thesis 3: Play increases creativity and has the power to change social systems.

Creative solutions are required when people encounter challenges where existing processes and routines do not help. Many games practice adapting to changes flexibly. Players later apply their new skills in situations outside of the game context. This behavior has not only been observed for humans but the entire class of mammals.

Some statistics indicate that brainstorming in teams generates up to 50% more output than the separate development of ideas. But other studies suggest that introverted employees do not fully exploit their creative potential when brainstorming in groups. This is because they release stress hormones in these situations, which reduces their creativity on a neurological level. Playful elements in creative processes can significantly reduce the participants’ stress levels and make groups more creative.

Playing can change systems in different ways. For example, in playful situations, existing hierarchies are consciously dissolved. For the time of the game, the rules outside the game no longer apply. Players experience a feeling of self-empowerment and gain a new power of action. In many situations, rules are constantly being renegotiated between players. Especially in free play, the development of new rules is an elementary part of the game. This can lead, for example, to colleagues playing together questioning rules and roles in operational situations. Playing together promotes the often-attempted “lateral thinking.”

Thesis 4: Playing as an end in itself has been banned from the economy.

The one-dimensional industrial societies do not leave enough room for wholeness and autonomous self-development. Playing is only accepted if it follows an economic maxim. Above all, it is a tool to learn more efficiently.

There are counter-examples in the digital economy that indicate a trend towards a gamification of work. Visible artifacts are the notorious slides and foosball tables in the office. However, first of all, these are new practices that are still far from mainstream. Second, toys in the office do not necessarily mean that work is first understood in a playful way. Third, there is a logic of “more play = more profit.” Playing is not an activity that has its value in itself.

Conclusion: we need to play more.

In the digital transformation, changes are happening faster than ever before and will turn large parts of our economy upside down. The change will become the new normal.

From the perspective of evolutionary theory, playing is a successful way to increase individuals’ and groups’ adaptability – free from pressure, defined goals, and constraints.

Organizations that make games an integral part of their culture can respond to change faster and more intuitively than conventional organizations.

If you either want to maintain our economy as a leading technology nation or the market position of an individual innovative company in the long term, during the digital transformation, organizations must change playfully or turn them into a playful system.

On the one hand, because this improves the ability to solve problems creatively as a basis for innovation.  On the other hand, because playing enables meaningful employment even in phases when no economically sound work is available. Here too, one could argue economically: In these phases, employees playfully acquire new knowledge and learn cognitive and social skills.

However, play allows people to make the additional free time fulfilling through playful activities if there is less work for everyone. Playful Organizations and Playful Societies are the counter-design to the dystopia of a digitalized society. In this dystopia society will consist of three classes: A precarious lower class that is trapped in an endless loop of digital media, a creative middle class and an upper class that is already financing the digital transformation with its capital and will live even better from it in the future than today.ö

About the author

Daniel Herrmann

I am a Game Thinker, Consultant, and fanatic believer of theory Y.  My wife says I am unintentionally amusing. On average only 2 out of 100 people become more stupid by talking to me.

Co-Founder of Monokel Consulting, Serious PlayScape and RokaEnergy.