How World of Warcraft Could Save Your Business and The Economy

Learning guru John Seely Brown is not being even slightly ironic when he says that he’d hire an expert player of World of Warcraft (the massive multiplayer online fantasy videogame) over an MBA from Harvard. 


What’s the Big Idea?

The rapid growth of technology has created a yawning culture chasm between the Millenial Generation and its elders (Generation X and the Baby Boomers), and possibly even between the Millenials and the digital natives to come, those born with an iPhone in one hand and an iPod in the other.  

Certainly the grownups are aware that they can’t afford to ignore social media. And the startups springing up daily in Silicon Valley and Alley have “social” and “interactivity” written into their very DNA. Yet for the most part, ignorance, a sense of alienation, and slow-moving bureaucratic protocols result in businesses adapting to these changes slowly and halfheartedly, and getting outpaced by younger, leaner rivals.  

John Seely Brown is the rare Baby Boomer who is completely at home in the age of digital flux. The author of A New Culture of Learning, which has become the unrivaled manifesto of lifelong, online learning, JSB (as he’s often called) is known by many names, including, most fittingly, Chief of Confusion – given his total embrace of uncertainty as a creative force. 

[VIDEO] John Seely Brown on World of Warcraft’s highly advanced culture of learning

JSB is not being even slightly ironic when he says that he’d hire an expert player of World of Warcraft (the massive multiplayer online fantasy videogame) over an MBA from Harvard. Why? Because World of Warcraft represents the new culture of learning at its best. Its players organize themselves into massive guilds, choose specialties according to their own interests, set their own goals and create “dashboards” – or tools to measure their own performance.  

What’s the Significance? 

The result is a distributed, organic, highly adaptive learning community that functions much more efficiently and effectively than does the old, top-down corporate model of management, in which employee benchmarks are set and their progress measured from above via performance reports. 

The “why” is obvious: self-directed workers are driven by curiosity and passion rather than by fear of failure. They are willing to take greater risks and make bolder creative choices in pursuit of their goals. This is true in education as well, yet in America at least, the failing public school system seems to be moving in the opposite direction – away from project-based, self-directed learning and toward increased testing, measurement, and top-down incentives (in the form of state and federal funding) for performance. 

Whether or not corporations and schools are able to adapt quickly enough, the change is happening. People are learning collaboratively online – sharing information and information sources, processing  knowledge and sharing their conclusions. Those companies that fail to embrace the new culture wholeheartedly – not because the business media says it’s important, but because it’s demonstrably better than business as usual – will simply disappear. 

JSB’s observation about World of Warcraft points to a more fundamental principle of the new culture of learning – that valuable knowledge can come from the most unlikely quarters, and that the wise are those who know how to listen, whether or not the speaker has Harvard on her resume. 

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter

Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment

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