What Is Playful Inquiry?

Inquiry is the science, art and spirit of imagination. We naturally associate Inquiry with the logical mind’s intent to satisfy curiosity, solve problems, and explore ideas. Inquiry helps us connect our prior understanding to new experiences, modify and accommodate our previously held beliefs and conceptual models, and construct new knowledge.

Antonyms found in the dictionary: Answer, reply


Playful describes a state of surrender. It involves being open, letting go, and embracing unexpected direction or results. Being playful has positive effects on the body and the brain. Problem solving ability increases after a person has spent some time laughing. This works because laughter turns off the posterior hypothalamus and allows the cerebral cortex to focus on a given task.

Antonyms found in the dictionary: Earnest, serious-minded, sober, humorless, serious, working


An Interview with Ross Smith

Taking Play Seriously with Truly Amazing People:
An Interview with Ross Smith

This week Ross will be presenting at the Serious Play Conference near Seattle, Washington, with a talk titled "The Future of Work is Play"

Interview Team: Lori Sortino and Emily Swift
This is one in a series of interviews being conducted on the topic of Serious Play, Serious Gaming -- using games, simulation and virtual worlds to help stimulate learning in innovative new ways and find real world solutions.

Ross Smith really enjoys getting a paycheck to "play" with software for over 25 years now, over 20 at Microsoft. Most of his career has been in testing and QA roles - including Test Architect. He has contributed to almost every version of Windows and Office since 1992. He is one of the authors of "The Practical Guide to Defect Prevention" and holds five patents. 42projects has aspired to promote cultural change; "bring buzz and laughter to the hallways". 

Q:  How can gaming or simulations transform the workplace?
A:  Games and simulations – and I’ll extend a bit to include play and fun – can transform the workplace across several different dimensions. First, our world of work has evolved - from an Industrial Society to a Knowledge Society. Knowledge work can benefit from the mental break that games and play provide. Second, the “gamer generation” is entering the workforce. In 2008, Pew Research did a study that showed 97% of 12-17 year olds play computer, web, portable, or console games – 99% of boys, 94% of girls. These folks are entering the workforce, and the workplace needs to adapt to better engage this new type of worker. Third, games to get real work done – productivity games as we call them – can help better motivate crowdsourcing efforts.

Q: Where do you see the most potential in gaming as part of the future of work?
A:  Games designed and built around knowledge work. For us in software testing, there’s a huge benefit if we can get feedback from a marketing manager on how he or she might use our software. However, they don’t have time to do work for us, so a well-designed game can help motivate and encourage them to take some extra time and help us.

Q: What are “Productivity Games” and how are they used?
A:  Productivity games are games or game mechanics that get “real work” done. We have learned that adding a game on to someone’s “day job” backfires. It simply doesn’t work when points, leaderboards, levels, or prizes are competing with the human resource systems and paycheck that are already in place. Games work great to attract core skills (those that most people have – ie: ability to type, make a phone call, speak a language, etc.) to work on “organizational citizenship behaviors” – those things that make the organization, the company, and/or the product better – but are not necessarily the sole responsibility of anyone in the organization. The “clean out the coffee pot at the end of the day” game works much better than the “do Ross’s job” game.

Q: Do you have any experience using productivity games for collaborative purposes?
A:  We’ve been experimenting for almost 10 years.  Just as with games for entertainment, players can be motivated by different techniques. Some respond to the glory and shame of the leaderboard, some to beating their own high score, and some by puzzles. Some play for the camaraderie of team play.  One of the best examples in using games to collaborate was in the Windows Security team with an Olympic themed game, where we had “runners” and “coaches” together on a team. For one week, the coaches maintained a level of performance in their own day job, as well as in that of the runners. The runners went off and did something brand new - sometimes wild and crazy – to innovate in an area that would help the organization. Each Olympic team was judged only as a team – both on how well they maintained the regular work, and how much they could innovate. In the Language Quality Game, we also saw native language speakers collaborate and work together to “compete” against other languages.

Q: Can you give some examples?
A:  The Netflix prize, Re-Captcha, Google Image Labeler, Top Coder, and our Language Quality Game are great examples. Tongal.com has done a great job building contests for both aspiring and professional videographers and producers to compete for video business from real companies.

Q: Where do you see pockets of expertise, and in what aspect of serious games, worldwide?
A:  I think there are some interesting cultural shifts in the explosion of mobile and social games. As a new generation of business leaders starts to take their seat at the head of the table, I think we’ll see a shift. More than 70% of the worlds’ population plays games. There are well over 300 million online gamers in China. As workforce demographics shift, and with the rise in emerging economies, globalization of our world economy benefits tremendously when workers from disparate cultures build trust and teamwork skills through game play.  I think mobile gaming expertise in China, Japan, Korea, and other eastern countries will be a huge factor in shaping our future world. Gamers and game development expertise continues to flourish in India. There are great game studios in the UK and Europe. In South America, Brazil gaming industry is growing at ~30% a year.  The Russian video game market is projected to double over the next 3 years. My belief is that growth in gaming opportunities is correlated to population trends.

Q: What are the challenges to the industry right now?
A:  I’ll narrow my answer to productivity games – games in the workplace – as I’m more familiar there than the gaming industry as a whole. In the workplace, there’s still a bit of a negative connotation to the word “game”. Some (generally old school) folks think “games are gimmicky” – or “we don’t play around here, we work hard” - and that play and fun are indicative of lower productivity. My belief is that as our world of work shifts to knowledge work, that play, games, mirth, and fun actually improve productivity by making people more creative, more innovative, and more relaxed as they apply their minds to their tasks.

TrulyAmazingPeople.com is an organization devoted to helping individuals, families and communities seeking meaningful work, whole system change, and talent integration ecosystems. TrulyAmazingPeople.com would like to thank the Serious Games Association, The Bohle Company, and the Future Working Together community for their assistance with our research.

Lori Sortino, Lyn Wiltse, and Emily Swift are Truly Amazing People. Lori and Lyn are Creative Solutions Consultants who host Playful Inquiry events. Emily Swift is a technical writer with a BS in Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies.

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