Tag Archives: social networks

First, you gotta believe

snake1Gung hay fat choy!  Welcome to the Year of the Serpent, a.k.a. the Snake, a.k.a. the “little dragon.”  If you didn’t know, it’s quite an auspicious year in the Chinese lunar calendar, and for Nuvana, it’s been especially busy.  Which is my sly way of apologizing for not keeping up with the Nuvana blog posts.  [note:  I first wrote this back in February, but have been too swamped with Nuvana builds to edit and post.  Apologies!]  We’ve just been so busy with a number of projects, builds, launches and exciting new products.  But never fear.  We’ve been keeping lots of notes of our experiences and you’ll start to see them splattered across these virtual pages in the weeks and months to come.

With the beginning of any new year — whether you celebrate this as Gregorian year 2013 or lunar year 4711 — there’s always unbounded optimism that colors the festivities.  That goes for new relationships, certainly with business partners.  Sooner or later, we hear a reasonable question:  So why does the Nuvana platform work?

Without doubt, the confluence of our technology, customized features, elegant design, seamless user experience — all these aspects contained in Nuvana products results in success.  But to be honest, like any man-made structure, somewhere along the line — and perhaps in many places — there are linkages that can only be closed by the A.F.L.: the Almighty Flying Leap.

flying leap 3

In other words, you gotta believe!

In the spaces that Nuvana operates in (education, health, communities of practice, private sector performance), there are so many other factors at work:  teacher performance, student readiness, community ethic, administration commitment, device capability, internet connection, a solid curriculum, time of year, executive buy-in.  A full battery.  And on and on.  You have to believe these elements, many beyond one’s control, will work to your favor.

But even when they don’t, and believe me, we have had those unavoidable instances where servers shut down or batteries go dead or connections freeze.  After all, blind faith in man-made objects, even ours, is bound to let one down.  Nevertheless, in the face of these setbacks, we almost always achieve success — and it’s made me and my colleagues realize that putting faith in the community, especially if it’s given power and agency to drive toward a truly positive outcome, constitutes a strategy that is rarely a losing proposition.

Yes.  People are inherently good.  People inherently want to do good.

And I hope I’m never wrong about that.  Otherwise, why be in this crazy space?

Lily Kwong & the Fierce Sistah Society

Lily Kwong & the Fierce Sistah Society

It’s the efforts of good people that makes our platform sing.  Out of this foundation of faith in people, a whole set of other beliefs begin to unfold.  That people want to learn.  That there are mentors and teachers, execs and managers, who will work hard to make learning happen.  That learners will mentor others given the chance.  That an empowered social network naturally flows toward Good.  That a community of practice learns best from one another and even better if that learning takes place in the real world.

The beliefs don’t stop there, but I won’t bore you with a laundry list.  You no doubt harbor most of these beliefs yourself otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.  But if you need a lovely little reminder of the innate goodness in your fellow wo/man then take a couple minutes to watch this mini-doc by Casey Neistat.

In the meantime, all the best to all of you in the Year of the Serpent.  Here’s to you putting your faith in the right people (not things) so you’ll land safely in capable hands, no matter how big of a flying leap you take.   Truly, I believe wholeheartedly, it’s going to be a wonderful year!

Take the flying leap in the Year of the Serpent!

Take the flying leap in the Year of the Serpent!

                                                                                                                                                                                                             — JvK

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Goals of An “Online” Education

Jeannette Wei, great mom and teacher extroardinaire

I had lunch with my mother today.  She’s 82-years old, but Jeannette Wei still teaches every day at an elementary school in Palo Alto, CA, then commutes into San Francisco to tutor Chinese immigrant children (she’s an immigrant herself) three times a week.  Yes, she’s a saint.

She’s also an amazing teacher (recognized as a California Distinguished Teacher with a Master Teacher accreditation) at a very innovative public school.  Much of her teaching philosophy has influenced our educational values at Nuvana — most of it based on listening to children, respecting them and empowering them.

Today, she handed Jeff and me a yellow postcard which, at first glance, I thought said:  “Goals of an Online Education.”  Here it is:

Ohlone Elementary School’s education goals

It took me a while before I realized it didn’t say “Online.”  It said “Ohlone” — the name of the elementary school she teaches at and it’s a very special place.  You can tell by reading their educational goals:

Self-Awareness—Our children will have positive self-images and know their strengths and challenges.

Independent Thinking—Our children will have a growth mindset, think for themselves, act responsibly and be resilient.

Time Management—Our students will manage their time wisely, focus on quality work and take responsibility for their own learning.

Democratic Values—Our children will realize the meaning of democratic values and give voice to their principles through their words and actions.

Tolerance and Compassion—Our children will show compassion for others and value different perspectives.

Citizenship and Community—Our children will understand their places in the global community and care about the environment.

Lifelong Learning—Our children will view learning as a lifelong process that will enrich their lives.

“Physical Awareness—Our children will be aware of, and comfortable with, their own bodies.

Risk Taking/Creativity—Our children will be comfortable taking risks to express their creative selves.”

A pretty impressive set of goals.  And certainly works for ‘Online” education too, don’t you think?

Okay, mom — we’ll do our best to embed those goals into our online educational tools.

And I promise to also read more carefully!

— JvK

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A Tool for Communities of Practice

I have to say, building tools is a total blast.  It’s so fun problem-solving the facilitation of a process — because the tool builder is never exactly sure what the process will exactly look like.  You’re just making the wand to facilitate the magic.  At any rate, there seems to be two primary design paths to the perfect tool.

Path #1:  Build the tool to suit the needs of the user.  The user usually wants more efficiency, to maintain or raise quality, a faster rate of production, and all at a cheaper cost.

Path #2:  Build a tool that you hope is extremely utilitarian and flexible — and then let users tell you what it’s good for.  And then, perhaps iterate from there.

I think of the bright, up-and-coming Neanderthal that first invented a thingamajig to dig holes.  His buddy, only slightly impressed, got him to make a much smaller version and it became a whosamagatz which was the perfect tool to eat soup and gruel with.  And then her buddy (yes, let’s not get all male-oriented here) suggested she cut some slits into that whatsamabob and that thing became a fork.  Best of all, the part they cut out for the slits made the perfect toothpick.  (I’m pretty sure toothpicks were always called toothpicks.  I’m just guessing though.)

The Nuvana Whatchamahoogie aka the MVP aka the Mega Versatile Platform never ceases to amaze us when folks tell us what it’s REALLY good for.

One of the partners we were planning to build for defines their institution as a community of practice and asked us to customize around that sensibility.  After carefully looking at the Nuvana MVP, their remark was, “Never mind, your platform already does that.”  To be safe, we decided to delve a little deeper nonetheless and came across this interesting article:  “Cultivating Communities of Practice” by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder.

Here are some design tenets that Wenger et al suggest a good community of practice adhere to.

  1. Design for evolution.
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
  3. Invite different levels of participation.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
  5. Focus on value.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community.

So how does the Nuvana platform specifically adhere to these principles?

1.  Design for evolution:  “The key to designing for evolution is to combine design elements in a way that catalyzes community development.” — Our platform uses missions aka “calls to action” derived from expert opinion as well as community suggestions and moderation that result in dynamic but authentic outcomes.  Most of our competitor platforms are closed systems.  The outcomes are pre-defined.  The Nuvana system self-iterates (evolves) — leading to unforeseen positive results.

2.  Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives:  “Good community design brings information from outside the community into the dialogue about what the community could achieve.” — The Nuvana platform, depending on how admin sets it, allows in “guest experts” to moderate.  Also, if the “game” is set to “Open/Viral” those outside perspectives are invited in.  The calls to action also encourage the community to seek outside experience and expertise.

3.  Invite different levels of participation: “The key to good community participation and a healthy degree of movement between levels is to design community activities that allow participants at all levels to feel like full members. Rather than force participation, successful communities “build benches” for those on the side lines.” — The Nuvana platform allows admin to set levels for broadstroke grouping, and emphasizes mentor/moderator participation to give individual attention.  The result: top to bottom inclusivity and personalized learning.  The leveling and badging system makes for dynamic flow within the community, transforming the social network into collaborative space.

4.  Develop both public and private community spaces:  “The key to designing community spaces is to orchestrate activities in both public and private spaces that use the strength of individual relationships to enrich events and use events to strengthen individual relationships.” — The Nuvana MVP has public walls, private messaging, private forums for the moderators, and circles of privacy setting to determine who can look at what user-generated media.  The activities can be virtual, but we encourage real world activity, and embed a voucher system to connect behaviors to bricks & mortar venues.  The profile formula we’re working on synthesizes all activities from liking to scoring to badging — into an overall reputation quotient that helps individuals seek the right mentors and understand the utility of comments they’re getting.

5.  Focus on value:  “Communities thrive because they deliver value to the organization, to the teams on which community members serve, and to the community members themselves.” — One of our partners, a foundation, uses the Nuvana platform with the adult grantees of their organization.  It allows the grantees to share best practices in a healthy competitive environment (while keeping certain issues secure), provides value to the constituents of the grantees, and gives the foundation usable media to market and proclaim the value it provides overall.  By allowing users to act as individual “players’ or collaboratively in Teams, a host of different interactions are available to the community.

6.  Combine familiarity and excitement:  “Lively communities combine both familiar and exciting events so community members can develop the relationships they need to be well connected as well as generate the excitement they need to be fully engaged. Routine activities provide the stability for relationship-building connections; exciting events provide a sense of common adventure.” — Since the Nuvana MVP allows for 24/7 presence, like any social network, our games become a familiar part of a community’s daily life.  Then with special Missions of the Day or Week that have deadlines or clear incentives — there are surges of excitement — not to mention the frenzy that occurs at the beginning or end of game cycles emblazoned on our countdowns.

7.  Create a rhythm for the community:  “Vibrant communities of practice…have a rhythm. At the heart of a community is a web of enduring relationships among members, but the tempo of their interactions is greatly influenced by the rhythm of community events.” — With the Nuvana MVP, our newsfeed pages allow admin to create rhythms of activity for the community involving research, collaboration, activity and celebration.  The timing is up to you.

Well, that’s how one group is using the Nuvana MVP.  We’re waiting for the right partner to show us how our tool works as a toothpick.

—  JvK

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Sustaining Transformation

When trying to create positive behaviors, ecstatic positive transformation is usually not that hard of an event to create.  It can happen in an instant at a religious ceremony, a self-help workshop, a music festival, a New Year’s party (“This year, I’m definitely going to quit smoking!”), a university classroom…even at a gym workout session.

These moments are powerful, visceral and life-changing.

The question is, how can we sustain those transformations?  And even more important, how can we share and inspire others to undergo the same transformation?

Because we all know what happens after corporate retreats, or self-help workshops, or New Year’s resolution declarations…

They go kaput.

According to corporate consultant Tom Connellan, 25% of New Year’s resolutions are forgotten in the first week, and by the end of the year — a whopping 88% are abandoned!

Again, transformation is not the problem.

Sustaining it IS!

In recent weeks, as we’ve been demo-ing the new Nuvana MVP, many have been telling us that the ability to sustain behavioral transformation is a particular strength of our platform.  That by socially-networking a transformation community in a gamified context, the MVP sustains new positive behaviors, even when the behavior is difficult, or on it’s own, not particularly pleasurable (i.e. quitting smoking, breaking obesity habits, going to school, working harder, overcoming fear).  The context of the game PLUS actions witnessed by the social network of the transformation community results in an overall pleasurable experience that drives the player to repeat the effort.

What is a transformation community?  Well, the more we talk to folk, the more it seems just about any community of positive practice is aiming itself at transformation.  Learning communities (i.e. schools, universities, research orgs), for-profit and non-profit businesses looking to improve their methods and attract more customers, health organizations trying to re-vamp behaviors, event organizers looking to grow and impact — they are ALL in the business of transformation, either of their cohorts or constituents.

One organizer we’ve been talking to is well-known for the collective intellectual epiphanies they generate at their exclusive workshop event that borders on the ecstatic.  Attendees return to their workplace full of energy, ideas and inspiration, but are unable to share what they’ve learned with co-workers who did not attend.  With the Nuvana MVP, not only can these “evangelists” share their experience, even while they’re attending the event, but they can also collaborate with other attendees who they normally would lose contact with, long after the event is over, no matter what the physical distance — resulting in deeper investigation of issues, the sharing of best practices, seeding real world impacts, drawing in like-minded supporters, all while creating compelling testimonial content for the original organizer.

We’ll be gathering data on the effectiveness of our tool in different contexts, but initial indicators are very positive.  Stay tuned for case studies.

—  JvK

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Measuring the Immeasurable

Those of us who create behavioral change tools where the holy grail is adoption by academic institutions, non-profits, corporations, health and military organizations, the quest for legitimacy is a relentless task.  Fellow colleagues back in the 90s were simply called gamers.  Then came the millenium and we all got a nice promotion to “game designers.” But that was nothing when we somehow achieved a title bump to “serious game producers,” and then just recently, I heard an ARG serious game designer described as a “transformational game practitioner who impacts the digital media learning space.”  Now we’re hearing about “interactive architects building game-infused learning trajectories for core curriculum.”

Okaaay.  That just won’t fit on my business card.

All of this long-winded jargon provides gravitas to what was once considered a trivial pursuit.  A game.  No school superintendant or CEO or exec director in their right mind some years ago would have allowed a game in their institution.  A “game-infused learning trajectory” — yes.  But not a game.

What differentiates the two interventions?  Verifiable data.  Games merely entertain.  But a serious game lifts the learning environment.  And this lift must be quantifiable.

Lord Kelvin on an early “tablet computer”

In these contexts, you will often hear a well-worn saw generally attributed to the great 19th-Century physicist William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, most frequently referred to as Lord Kelvin:  “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve.”  And thus, on the backside of most good learning games (and certainly, this is true of Nuvana games), you will see reams and reams of data generated by the activities of the players, and sometimes, the mentors.  Our new digital platforms themselves can’t help but generate the data given their mathematically encoded make-up.  It’s why researchers, academics and evaluators love the medium.  Every good digital serious game generates an endless outpouring of whos and whens and wheres and hows that are easily sliced and diced by age group, sex, demographics, racial profiles, economic class, geographic pinpoints, times of day, device used, and of course, type of gum chewed.

Where is this leading?  The holier than holy grail:  assessment.

If admin can tell by a player’s score, or level, or game outcome HOW they are doing relative to their grade, their work force, their disease cohort, their political grouping, their target market peer group — then the presence of that game within an institution is not only legitimate — it’s necessary.

Or is it?

If there’s anything that’s truly measurable in the last three decades of American academics and the U.S. workforce, is that we have an alarming dropout rate and an even more disturbing unemployment rate.  The years of No Child Left Behind and rigorous standardized testing which gave us a certain kind of thinker — for better or worse — has helped to generate these stunning results.

To cloak an SAT score, a STAR test, an employee assessment (can you say “urine test”) — in the sheep’s clothing of a “transformational game” — transforms nothing.  Most users see through that kind of inauthentic camouflaging.  Interestingly, the games that give one the most “reliable” data are actually “closed loop” games.  That is, there are right and wrong answers, and thus, results are verifiable.  But those make for very dull games when everyone is aimed toward the same outcome.

The most interesting transformational games, like life, are where there are many correct answers.

In fact, if you really think about it, it is those things that we CAN’T measure that improve us, by and large.  Spiritual fulfillment, fun, love, creativity, inspiration, friendship, familial bliss, meditation, relaxation, focus.  Enthusiasm for problem solving (and that is not measurable by getting the “right solution”).  These are all things that are hard to measure.  (Yes, we can measure activity that generates and surrounds some of those qualities — but, for example, is there a reliable creativity quotient?)  And yet, there is no doubt that when we immerse ourselves in these kinds of activities — we do feel vastly improved.

So at Nuvana, we’re of two minds.  Yes, we love data and we provide it.  But we also know that at times, it can be misleading.  That the games we want to make should also put the player on a path to improvement that has impact on what is generally immeasurable.  Immeasurable impact.  When that unquantifiable area is attended to, the “player” feels a wholeness that is generally missing in many of the institutions where they normally inhabit:  school, work, government, etc.  If the “player” feels improvement in that area, they engage and apply themselves more effectively at those quantifiable activities.

Improving the measurable is what all transformational games aim to accomplish.

Improving the immeasurable is the Nuvana secret sauce.

And by the way, about that Lord Kelvin guy.  A brilliant man.  But before you put too much faith in his little aphorism about measuring and improvement, just remember, he’s the scientist who wrote to the Niagara Falls Power Company: “Trust you will avoid the gigantic mistake of alternating current.”  And also predicted: “Radio has no future.”

— JvK

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Sowing the Learning Environment

In almost every game, just like a good story, there is a beginning, middle and an end.  We’ve talked before a bit about “win states” and “failure states” which are, of course, end game events.  Since Nuvana games revolve around mission-based activities, our opening gambit is almost always a call to action.  What we’ve noticed over the years, is that if the gaming environment is prepared in certain ways, the more successful the learning outcomes.  It really doesn’t matter if the environment is in a school, in a business, or an organization, there are certain qualities that create optimum pre-launch conditions.

First off, the environment has to be safe.  A good call to action challenges players to engage in actions that are often outside their comfort zone.  In fact, in our opinion, the definition of a good learning community — whether a school, a workplace, or an affinity group — is one in which the environment feels safe enough for the learners to accept even the most demanding challenges that will likely end in failure.  Furthermore, in a safe community, players feel comfortable about sharing everything from best practices to authentic feelings to constructive criticism.

That said, when we began creating Nuvana games, our team spent many hours debating on who should create these calls to action.  After all, generating calls to action is a tremendous responsibility and bestows upon the creator a considerable power.  You’re telling the community what to do.  You’re dictating their behavior.  Given that authority, one faction on our team felt that admin and experts should make up all the missions.  But another faction had a very different opinion.  They felt that the player community should also have that right to create missions.

If you’re familiar with any of our games, you know that it was the latter camp that won the day.  On every one of the games we’ve launched thus far, there is a subtle but radical feature common to them all:  there is a clickable button that reads:  “Suggest a mission.”

What we didn’t realize at the time we first embedded this button was how empowering this little button was to any playing community.  In most learning communities, it is a “Top Down” proposition.  The teacher or admin or the COO or the exec director or the expert tells the community, “This is what I need you to do to satisfy MY standards.  This is what I challenge you to do.”  But in one fell swoop, the Suggest-a-Mission button flipped everything by fostering a “Bottoms Up” environment.  The player pool is able to tell admin, “Why don’t we do this!  THIS is what I’m interested in — and so should you!”

Essentially, the community was empowered.

The level of engagement went through the roof, even in subject areas that normally have minimal interest.  Rarely do we see flame wars or spamming in our games.  Mutual respect is the order of the day.  Liking and moderation is a much more intrinsic behavior rather than a frivolous activity because it actually means something coming from an engaged and committed community.  Instead of slacking off, players tend to exceed expectations.  And all because the player-base is empowered.  They are, in essence, owner-operators of the game along with admin.  You don’t vandalize your own property, right?  So too with learning communities:  by empowering the learners, they become the mentor/guides with real investment in the outcomes as they build social capital in the activity.

Dan Pink talks about this in his TED talk about motivation.  His cites scientific research that shows incentives like rewards and bonuses often diminish performance results.  (Another reason why I’m on the fence when it comes to badges.)  When it comes to driving higher performance, Pink believes it’s a matter of three triggers: autonomy, mastery, and purpose (especially if it’s higher purpose).  In results-only work environments (R.O.W.E.), employees who are given autonomy over their hours and the direction of their efforts, their productivity and work quality goes way up.  In other words, empowerment.  ROWE companies like Google and Pixar certainly prove out the strategy.

So back to what makes a good learning community:  it’s safe.  And it’s empowered.

What else?

Well, according to renowned high school, math teacher, Sam Calavitta, an effort-centric environment is key:  “Contrary to popular belief, brilliance is not a prerequisite for learning math. Rather, perseverance and diligence over time can certainly equalize — and even surpass innate ability,” said Calavitta, who has taught everything from remedial math to advanced calculus. “I teach my students to never, never, never give up!”  In the jargon of psychologist Carol Dweck, this philosophy is the essence of “growth mindset” — where recognition of effort leads to authentic learning and mastery.

And lastly (at least for now), let’s not forget fun.  When the learning environment is fun, the play leads to innovation and inspiration.  We see this in the workplace, like Pixar and Ideo.  We see it in schools, like MIT’s Media Lab and Carnegie Mellon.  More on this in a subsequent post.

For now, before launching any kind of digital media learning project, think about prepping the space first.  Make it:

Safe

Empowering

Effort-centric

Fun

As we all know:  we reap what we sow.  Let us know what blossoms from your efforts and if you have any suggestions for “pre-launch conditions.”

— JvK

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Redefining Failure

I wrote a post a couple weeks back about “The Win State,” which in the world of game design is what makes a game, a game.  But that naturally mandates there’s such a thing as a “Failure State.”  We all know what that is.  Brutal when you’re in the thick of an awesome, invincible, controller twitch — and up comes that terrible prompt:  You lose.  Your character has died.  Game OVER!

Nothing to do but hit “Start over” and begin again.  That’s the beauty of a game.  You can always begin again.  And we do.  Because in the world of entertainment games, there really is no consequence for failure.

In the all-too-serious worlds of education, business, philanthropy, and sometimes, life in general…if you fail, in many instances — you’re done.  We see this in high schools throughout California where if you’re not white or well-to-do, the dropout rate is staggering (in 2009, the dropout rate was 37% if you were black, 27% if you were Hispanic, 25% if you were low-income).  Unlike Angry Birds, you can’t just hit the re-start button and jump back in for a do-over.

The reliance on standardized testing in American public education has fostered a learning structure that relies on right and wrong answers.  After all, in multiple choice tests, for any given question, there are not multiple correct answers.  There is only one.  Unfortunately, that wrong answer does not set off a subsequent line of inquiry on those STAR tests — and therefore, failure is a dead end.

But in the current circumstances of our ever-beleaguered real world, terminating effort due to defeat  is a frightening notion in that it can only lead to overall system failure.  If we give up, we’re goners.  But try solving the following problems with your first draft solutions:  over population, food and water shortages, environmental crises, economic schisms, wars fought with IED’s built from junk parts on the one hand and high tech drones on the other, global pandemics — not to mention, obsolete educational methodologies.

There are no single right answers to any one of these problems.  A myriad of strategies, quickly but thoughtfully deployed by nimble thinkers — and even more nimble AND effective doers — who must have no fear of failure is the only salvation in the current age.  It’s the only path to effective innovation.

The brilliant inventor and engineer, Charles Kettering had this to say about failure:  “Every great improvement has come after repeated failures. Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

To redefine failure, a wrong answer has to clearly be a temporary state on a longer path to re-invention, wisdom and eventual success.  That is why Nuvana has for the time being, shied away from virtual world games.  In our former lives in entertainment media, we definitely built them.  Besides being expensive and time consuming (and do we really need costly, long-term building efforts in the face of educational budget cuts?), building a virtual world with CG or Flash or any kind of animation for that matter pre-supposes that it is a closed system with borders.  Players get frustrated and bored once they sense the boundaries of a virtual world.  The builder has to constantly expand the world (i.e. more cost and more time).  And intrinsic in this environment, there is a “right” and a “wrong.”  A win and a fail.  Somewhere, the world or the program or the AI reaches its limit.

In a Nuvana game, the effort is to empower the players, show them they have no limit other than their own persistence, and to support while learning along with them, in order for them to find other pathways and solutions that might exist.

As Bruce Lee put it:  “What is defeat?  Nothing but education; nothing but the first step to something better.”

By redefining failure, what we are really doing is reforming the learning process in any context to create innovative, creative, indefatigable thinkers and doers.  Done right, education can be transformed into an inclusive, equitable, behavioral change process that will make dropouts obsolete and create standards based on quality rather than quantity.

— JvK

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Focus groups, polling and the “American Idol Delusion”

“I’m watching you!”

When we pre-tested our first game, “Flashback,” the high-schoolers we polled universally responded that they would NOT play an American history game.  It was the academic course many indicated they hated most, and that playing “a game” revolving around history sounded as attractive as drinking a brussel sprout milkshake.  Yet within days of launching Flashback, the site went wild and within 10 days had 200,000 page views.  In post-game interviews, 97% of the kids who said they would never play our game said they would definitely play it again.

What does this tell us?  About the same thing that election pollsters already know but rarely tell anyone otherwise they’d be out of a job:  polling is unreliable.  In a recent New York Magazine piece, Gavin Polone wrote about a similar mistrust he has of focus groups, the small test audiences (generally 48 men and women) that rate TV pilots.  Mr. Polone observes, “The idea that such a small sample can represent the whole market for a show does seem ridiculous and bound to deliver anomalous results.”  Some of those results are notorious.  Focus groups gave extremely low ratings to “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”

So what is wrong with polls and focus groups, and even more puzzling, why do we continue to use them?

Without doubt, where polling goes off the rails is that they rely on personal opinion — and opinion that is derived in a questionable context.  We call it, the American Idol Delusion.  You know what I’m talking about:  in the early episodes of any season of American Idol, a judge asks a contestant, “So do you think you’re the next American Idol?”  And the contestant brashly exclaims, “Absolutely, I’m a phenomenal singer.”  And then when that singer opens his or her mouth, the worst screeching and out-of-tune caterwauling gushes out.  Randy pales and moans, “No no no, dawg — that’s just horrible!  Can’t you hear yourself?!”

No, they can’t.  Hardly any of us can hear or see ourselves objectively — or anyone else, for that matter.  Prejudice and self-delusion color our opinions.  So why do we continue to use polls and focus groups?  Because they generate quantitative results.  “54% are fearful about the economy…  7% are undecided.”  It all sounds so scientific.  But what are they measuring?  Opinions.  Employing “tools” (i.e. polls and focus groups) that do no more than measure opinions in order to make decisions can result in epic disasters.  (48 men and women, somewhere, LOVED “Homeboys in Outer Space” — or don’t you remember that series?)

So what is worth measuring?  Actions.  Yup.  You know, those things that happen in the real world and speak louder than words.  You may think you’re the next Whitney Houston, but if when you open your mouth you are Roseanne Barr yowling the National Anthem — well, it really doesn’t matter what you think.

That’s why when we build games that also need to serve as assessment tools, we measure the data generated by actions.  Not opinions.

I also mentioned context as important to evaluating the action.  With the Nuvana platform, most of the actions generated by players happens in a social environment.  That is, you do something, and you publish it to the community.  Something very powerful and magical happens within that context:  authenticity.  People who fill out polling questionnaires in private have very different, and generally less honest answers, than when they answer in a community environment.  Let’s face it:  it’s much harder to b.s. peers in public.  Everyone is watching and listening.  If it’s a good community, they will call you out — but hopefully in a supportive way.  That’s what Nuvana strives for:  authentic actions and self-correction by the involvement of the community.

We see this happen all the time with Nuvana games.  The ethics of a social network based on authentic actions always trend toward the moral high ground.  It’s not totally surprising.  There was an interesting phenomenon discovered by Melissa Bateson, a behavioral biologist at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne who was in charge of her psych department’s coffee fund.  She found that by putting up a picture of a pair of eyes, donations to the coffee jar went up threefold.

Hmm.  Maybe we should change our name to NooVana.  With the double O’s in the shape of eyes.

Seriously, we have no interest in playing the role of Big Brother for the gamified universe — but we are seeking to drive authentic behaviors for ethical communities.  The actions that result can be transformed into verifiable data with which one can build trustworthy assessments.

What does that mean in real world terms?  Well, back to Mr. Polone who finishes his New York magazine piece by writing:  “Really, this [focus group] testing ritual seems pretty outdated in the Internet age. Why stick with such a small sample size when we have the technology to quickly get the opinions of a much bigger audience? A network could put all of its pilots up on its website and let the entire populace of interested viewers vote for their favorites and leave comments on how they would like to see the show improved before it went to series.”

Sounds like the perfect premise for a Nuvana game, doesn’t it?

— JvK

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Win State

If you ask a game designer, “What makes a game, a game?” — many will answer with some version of the following:  “If there’s a win state, it’s a game.”  And then you look at those activities that have a traditional win states and your list quickly bulges with the usual:  chess, WoW, baseball, tic-tac-toe, Angry Birds — the list of games is endless.

But then it’s easy to expand the list to other less traditional game activities that still possess a win state:  political elections, educational grading systems (“I’m in the top quintile!”), eBay bidding, war, dangerous medical procedures “Patient X beat the odds!,” foundation granting processes (“We won the grant!”), the human race (well there are always winners and losers in a race), and even love (“I am going to win her heart!”).

For better or worse, that parsing process has helped to fuel the proliferation of gamification.  Is it that I reside in West Coast Technoville or because we’re in this “space” — but it seems every day we hear the rallying cry of Gamification from some of the most unexpected quarters.  (I’d list some here, but even the most preposterous in conjunction with our tool makes some darn good sense).  Alongside this rush to gaming are the accessories and features that come with it, these new, shiny tokens of achievement:  badges.  New badging systems are cropping up like wildfire.  Some from traditional sources, like the scouting community which has always proudly worn their embroidered emblems on their ubiquitous sashes.  Other badges are attached to new systems and games in the digital media learning arena with a whole new set of graphics, titles and certifications — but all meant to be “worn” on virtual sashes over swelling digital chests.

With the Nuvana MVP, our users can import whatever badging system they prefer — or create their own, or use our default badge set.  That’s what certain communities need and demand.

But at Nuvana, we think it’s important to remember that there is a significant population of “active engagers” (our sometimes-used, less trivializing term for “gamers”) that actually hate badges and scores.  And that’s putting it mildly.  The ostentatious display of achievement only serves a certain kind of player.  The quest for badges and subsequent community admiration is in many cases, a turnoff to innovators, artists, out-of-box thinkers, and geniuses.  It’s also a turnoff to kids with already-low self-esteem who are one gold star-less day of becoming dropouts.  Do we really think that trading a letter grade for a badge or a snazzy score because a school is suddenly “gamified” is going to make a difference to that disengaged teen sitting in the back of the class with the hood over his head?

Marlon Brando and Woody Allen’s refusal to attend the Academy Awards to receive Oscars is legendary.  The greatest golfer of all time, Bobby Jones, the only man to win the Grand Slam, retired at 28, thoroughly uninspired by tournament play and the thought of winning more trophies.  Jean-Paul Sartre not only declined a membership to the Legion of Honor, he also refused the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 citing it went against his philosophy of how a true writer would behave.

What we strive for at Nuvana is to create games and tools that fit the unique ideals, principles and sensibilities of the organization that adopts it — and even more important, for the community it wants to engage.  You want a competitive game with high scores and badges?  Great, the Nuvana MVP can serve you.  And you over there — you want a tool that provides a thoughtful, collaborative journey without scores or medals?  Well, the Nuvana MVP works just as well for you too.

A deeper question might be, what does your community think a win looks like?

What we’ve realized over the years is that there is no one “win state.”  Belief in the One Win State creates too many losers.  The best definition of win state is derived through personal and/or institutional actions and behavior, and that individual’s or culture’s sense of achievement and quality.

I had the good fortune to go to an amazing high school that both my children were able to attend as well which embraced a controversial “no grade” policy.  Really.  You wrote papers, took tests — but there was never a letter or number stamped on the result.  Instead, assessment was a rich and involved process of self-evaluation mixed with detailed teacher commenting connected to an ever-present rubric.  The result?  There were no A-students.  There weren’t even D-students.  At least, they weren’t easily identified.  Still, every student knew where they stood — and the path they needed to follow.  This unique school fostered a culture of life-long learners who did not look to others for judgement and glorification, who were driven by a passion for inquiry.  A momentary failure was only an experience that deepened wisdom.  A so-called “success” was only a step on a path with many forks.

Rudyard Kipling’s words over the door to center court to Wimbledon are well known:  “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same…”  Understanding those two lines will lead to a higher understanding of Win State, without doubt.  But do you know how Mr. Kipling’s poem ends?

“…If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Totally committed action and relentless passionate engagement is the ultimate win state.  That’s why we at Nuvana believe…the New Win = greater good in the real world.

Any way we can get to that state, whether through a game or a collective journey where everyone is a winner — well, that’s our goal.

—  JvK

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The Best Game Platform

THE BEST GAME PLATFORM

When we began designing the Nuvana MVP (Mega-Versatile Platform), we spent a lot of time looking at one game platform that had a lot of the features we wanted to embed in our product.  The more we looked at it, the more we saw design genius.

It is:

  •          Inexpensive
  •          Supports individual and group play
  •          So simple, it never comes with instructions
  •          Yet generates thousands of different games
  •          Can be played for win state
  •          Or can be played for non-quantified amusement
  •          Playable by all ages – from toddlers to adults
  •          Male and female friendly
  •          Creates social networks
  •          But also suitable for solitary use
  •          Builds math skills
  •          Sharpens memory functions
  •          Is small and exceedingly mobile
  •          So indestructible and foolproof, makes “Help Desk” unnecessary
  •          Access to technology not a barrier, yet —
  •          Excellent for desktop and mobile conditions
  •          Easily adapted to myriad graphic designs
  •          Can support branding or advertising (on flip side)

What’s this awesome platform?

by http://bestdaybiomechanics.com/2012/03/28/deck-of-cards-workout/

  •          Oh, and it’s adaptable for real world activities too…

Hopefully, the Nuvana MVP is as fully featured.

—  JvK

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