of the week!!
About 10 months ago one of my clients, a lead PMO of a large US-based communications and devices organization, brought me in to discuss their upcoming global strategic meeting. Without a clue about what he wanted to discuss, I came in to listen. “This is a decisive offsite” he said among many other things. The PMO went on to describe his team’s challenge; he spoke of a need to ‘evolve’ because the leaders were still operating from their old mindsets that they had always carried – ones that once worked really well but not anymore. They needed collaboration and not competition through these volatile times for them to become successful. But he didn’t want these issues to be addressed head-on, he wanted a ‘cerebral’ intervention which would allow people to arrive to this realization from deep within.
My first question was, what the ‘heck’ is a cerebral intervention? (lol) After his explanation, I kinda had an idea because we had created metaphorical scenario-based games in the past but this time I wasn’t as straight-forward. We had to take into consideration their business functionality and embed it implicitly in the game so naturally I wasn’t sure as to how I would ago about doing this.
By early December, 2015 we designed an elaborate plan looking at the fundamental game mechanics that would go into the game but the UI (User Interface) and the ID (Interaction Design) was still a blur. I knew what I wanted the people to do and experience as a result of the game but what would the gameplay look like? I still didn’t know. Several calls and meetings with the CXO and CGO and I’ve got a strong game but still no UI and ID.
“How will people play the game? How will they interact with the system?” these were real questions that needed answers. Of course, our reputation was on the line here, whatever the gameplay is, it better be good and in the back of my head I hear Eminem’s prelude: “Look… If you had… One shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it or just let it slip?” I know this is that one opportunity that could change a lot so it’s just as decisive an engagement for us as it would be for the PMO team. 8 key members of the team from 4 continents will be in that room which could result in the opportunity to do work in various parts of the world and see the vision for my organization becoming a reality. So a lot’s on the line here.
By early January, I’m getting concerned because I’ve been banging my head against the wall on how to do this. I know that I want to use some ground-breaking technology like virtual reality to create a realistic and immersive experience. But don’t know how it’ll even be used in the interaction by the players let alone who’s going to do it.
It’s the end of the first week of the new year and I’m thinking about letting go of the technological dreams; by now I’d be happy if I could just have a basic game system, even if it’s on a board-like environment. Board-like… Board-like! That’s it! I reach out to my boardgamer friends and told them about the kind of game I want to create. They point me in just the right direction and by mid-Jan, I have a working board prototype.
Simultaneously I had been reaching out to my friends and contacts about developing the app – that too didn’t result in much. Now that the design bit of the game was coming together, I was definitely struggling trying to find someone to develop it. I spoke to my CXO and he connected me with someone in Thailand who does VR. No words can describe the power of synergy. Just by talking to him (the VR person) I got ideas on how I would like the UI to function. We decided that VR would only be a portion of the game but a large part of the game would have to be finger-interaction driven. Of course, the ambitious me had the idea of making the whole game in VR the cost of which the naïve me overlooked very conveniently.
I spoke to a few developers and put the game development opportunity on sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com but most quotes were simply outrageous in price. And I couldn’t quite get myself to trust the ones who’s offers did match my budget. In the midst of all this, my mom, being the concerned mother that she is, wanted me to meet a young girl who could be a potential you-know-what. I was reluctant but something inside me said “go”. I’ve come to listen to my inner self even if it doesn’t make any sense. I went.
Interestingly the girl who I was supposed to court wasn’t around but her sister told me a great deal about her and as I spoke about what I did, I asked in desperation if she knew “anyone who develops apps” and the rest is history. She connected me with someone who connected me with someone else who finally (after a several rounds of conversation and negotiations) agreed to deliver this project. These developers were probably the best thing that happened to me.
They began the development as the VR team began the 360 degree videos and with the hand off done, I took my mom on a pre-planned vacation to Kashmir. “I can’t do much here right now anyway” The best thing a leader can do is place the task in capable hands and get out of their way. No point bogging them down, I’d probably get in the way. I was always available through and through to answer any questions that they might have.
By the time I got back from my vacation my app was finished and the VR was integrated; yeah, right! The game development was just about complete and was under testing. After the first round of testing the game, I suggested several areas of improvement which would make the game better from an interaction design standpoint, keeping in mind the ultimate goal which is to trigger the very behaviors that are exhibited at the work-place. But there was a bigger challenge ahead of us: the VR integration.
The VR team based out of Thailand would have to deliver the videos to the app development team in India, the result of that would be our final (well, not so final) product. And so began the VR integration and with it the blame game. “The videos are not working on our systems” says the app development team. “I’ve given the videos in the right format, the app team must not know what they’re doing” reacts the VR team. This was the first of its kind of product that the app development team had ever worked on so I don’t blame them. And as the bickering continued, I’m stuck in between with an unfinished product with a delivery date which is less than 7 days away and must I remind myself what’s on the line here?
I felt like swimming in rough seas, not knowing where I am and who to say what to. I finally found my footing when I leveled with my VR team and convinced them to inject the metadata into the video files as per the requirement of the player that the developers were using. The videos were working – we now were able to see them on the google cardboard playing within the app. But wait, the videos are not looking the way they’re supposed to. Not just that, the VR integration has caused the other functionalities of the game to be affected. At this point, I’m wondering if this whole thing with developing the app and integrating the VR was too much of a stretch… “Why must I be so ambitious about things?” “Why can I just not be happy with perfectly functioning app and no VR?”
I even went into ISABS mode: “What need am I fulfilling by trying to turn into reality everything I dream of?” My helpless state was temporary but profound. I came back after talking to my development and VR teams about how we’re changing the way learning happens. We’re building something that hasn’t been done before. I painted a picture of what the future would look like for us and how this opportunity could be that one thing could get us there.
We arrive in Singapore on T-1 and I still don’t have the updated apk which will need to be installed on the phones. I have the older version which is just as good but has the placeholder VR clips which are, dummies waiting to be replaced by the real thing. On the other hand, the team in Thailand is working on adding the finishing touches to the VR clips and rendering them (which could take hours on end). The expected delivery was 9 pm the night before delivery and I hear “we’re still waiting for the VR clips” from the development team. I call the VR team and they’re still working and rendering and so it’s time for me to pray.
I acknowledge that there isn’t much I can do at this point and that the teams have accepted complete responsibility for our current status. The development team is on standby at the office in India waiting to receive the VR clips so they can integrate them into the app and create the apk build and send it to me while the VR team works on rendering the clips. I, on the other hand, decide to go to sleep, I need to be fresh to be able to observe critical behavior to conduct an effective T-group which will be the cornerstone of the intervention.
5:05 AM I wake up to the sound of the alarm and take a look at my phone for updates: none. I call the development team and learn that we’re still waiting on the files to be rendered. I head down to the conference room, my colleague will join me here at 6. She looks at me and instantly knows that the apk still hasn’t come through but she still asks. I respond with a negative and we wait. The start time is only 30 minutes away and the participants are already coming in. The pressure only increases as they come in and sit down, waiting for 8:30 to clock so we can begin. These aren’t your typical training participants that walk in 10 or 15 minutes late and still need time to get off their phones. They’re here and ready to get on with it. I’m trying to keep a smile on my face as I step outside to call the development team and I hear “I got the files, I’m building the apk right now. Will upload in a few minutes, keep checking your inbox” at 8:20AM.
At 8:25AM that morning I receive the updated build which is ready for deployment. I begin downloading a 485 MB file and Murphy’s law kicks in. Download speed of 16kbs, UNBELIEVABLE!!! Please remind me if I’m at the Hyatt in Singapore or if I’m in an underground tunnel of some God-forsaken place? I push my counterpart to go engage the participants in an activity for a few minutes while I download this app and install it on the phones. Eventually we get a hold of the IT manager of the hotel and he gets us a copy of the app on a flash drive. We go on to install the app on the phones and begin the game. Though we started late, I believe we more than made up for it. The participants had an incredible experience playing the game and watching the VR cut-scenes which only led to a very strong and effective T-Group discussion after the gameplay. And so I say the befitting proverb: All’s well that ends well.
I tell you this story to share a small learning I’ve had about risk taking. Until recently, I thought of risk taking as a skill or rather a behavior that entrepreneurs and leaders display. But through this experience, I’m realizing that risk taking is not so much about a behavior as it is about a belief. It’s about the belief in what could be; the belief in the ability of self and in the commitment of others to a cause. When a person believes in the future, he/she ventures to take risks that others won’t. The difference is not that the one who took the risk has a greater appetite for it, the risk taker is just as scared as anyone else but the belief in ‘what could be’ far outweighs the fear of ‘what if it doesn’t?’ The belief that ‘I have a strong and committed team’ far outweighs the fear of ‘what if they let me down’, because each belief is reciprocated by a behavior that only goes on to confirm itself.
It is no wonder that over 2000 years ago Jesus said: “Just as you believe, so it shall be done onto you.”
The game built is called EVΔLVE. You are invited to attend a demo session of it on the 28th of September in Delhi and 19th of October in Mumbai. RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org