Skills From the Virtual World for Business Leaders

by CXOtoday Staff    Jun 19, 2007

According to two new research studies from IBM - produced in conjunction with MIT, Stanford University, and a software start-up called Seriosity - success as a business leader may depend on the skills developed as an online gamer.

Initially, seasoned executives might scoff at the notion of learning leadership lessons from the world of computer games. Yet, online games, which bring together thousands of simultaneous players in a fast-paced online environment, can provide important insights into the development of new leadership capabilities for global enterprises.

The research team captured online game play, surveyed gamers, and conducted interviews of gaming leaders. The objective of the study was twofold: to better understand how successful leaders behave in online games, and to learn what aspects of game environments leaders leverage to be more effective.

Researchers found that the transparent environment created in online games made leadership easier to assume. Online games give leaders the freedom to fail, and experiment with different approaches and techniques, something that any Fortune 500 company, hoping to innovate, needs to understand.

Dr. Daniel Dias, director of IBM India Research Laboratory said, “True innovation requires flexible, tolerant, and iterative approaches to solving big problems.”

Nearly half of gamers that were studied believe that game-playing has improved their real-world leadership capabilities. Three-quarters believe that the tools used in games to collaborate and connect can be applied to enhance leadership effectiveness for the globally integrated enterprise.

“If you want to see what business leadership will look like in 3-5 years, look at what’s happening in online games,” said Dr. Byron Reeves, the Paul C. Edwards Professor of Communication at Stanford University.

Players make rapid-fire decisions based on multiple and constantly shifting inputs. What’s more, leadership is often temporal, quickly shifting from one person to another as the course of action dictates. The studies are significant as the days of closely knit teams working on long-term strategy in close quarters are gone, replaced by virtual teams that constantly reinvent the business in multiple time zones the world over. Besides, the business world is in desperate need of a new model for leadership befitting the Internet Age.