Learning from the "New Golf"

Like many of you, when a new technology strikes my fancy, I try to learn as much about it as possible.  These days I’m interested in how the internet can enable better collaboration within design teams.  But instead of reading white papers, I’m practicing what a few of us have started to call the "New Golf".  In other words, I’m playing a video game called World of Warcraft (WoW). 

With all due respect to, in my opinion it’s WoW that’s really cracked the "software as service" subscription business model.   For $15 a month, I can go online with millions of my closest friends and adventure around a Tolkien-ish virtual world full of elves and trolls, dungeons and dragons.  Yeah, it’s geeky, but it’s an extremely compelling experience… lush, beautiful, entertaining.  Amazing.

So what have I learned?  First, it really is the New Golf: WoW facilitates surprisingly rich social interactions between players.  In WoW I’ve set up meetings, arranged introductions, even asked for a favor or two.  All the things that used to happen at a country club can now occur in this online space, only with an order of magnitude more people and without the limitations of geography or tee times. 

Second, this is the first time that I’ve seen the internet really live up to its potential to enhance the performance of far-flung teams.  It’s amazing what gets accomplished in WoW – complex objectives are routinely solved using a combination of top-down leadership, individual creativity, and emergent strategies.  WoW is a prototyping lab for new paradigms of collaboration.

The most important – and honestly, most surprising – thing I’ve learned in WoW is how it forges genuine, we’ve-been-through-hell-together friendships.  Understand that when we’re online we all sport faux screen names and assume the look of imaginary elves and gnomes and trolls and orcs, so it took me a while to figure out that I was adventuring alongside web gurus like Joi Ito, Don Park, and Ross Mayfield.  In fact, that’s Don, Joi, me, and my pet bear in the photo above. Through WoW, I’ve come to trust these guys in the same way I trust my real-world collaborators. 

We can a lot about the future of work from the state of the art in entertainment.