Category: Innovation

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BRIGHT IDEAS: Werbach and Hunter on For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business

This Bright Ideas post looks at Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter’s new book, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. I have posted about it, but Kevin and Dan were gracious enough to answer some questions. We go into what is gamification, the differences between internal and external uses of the technique, how it relates to super-crunching, and the ethical and legal implications of the technique.

Kevin and Dan, you have drilled into an area, gamification, that seems almost arcane, a technique known to initiates. Why do it?

[KW] We actually think gamification is quite relevant for a broad range of audiences. First of all, video games have a huge impact on our culture. The games industry generates more revenue annually than Hollywood does at the box office. According to a Pew survey, 97% of American teeagers play video games, and it’s not just young people: the Entertainment Software Association reports that the average age of a gamer is 30, with almost half of them women. We can dismiss video games the way we used to dismiss social networking… and e-commerce before that… and the Internet before that… or we can look at why they are so powerful and apply those lessons in other contexts.

Second, the core goal of gamification is motivation. Think about all the situations where motivation matters: at work, at home, as consumers, in legal compliance, in social activism, and in collective action, to name a few. In all these cases, greater engagement drives material results. If there were motivational techniques that were proven in real-world businesses, consistent with decades of psychological research, and synergistic with big data and other leading-edge technology trends, wouldn’t you want to understand them?

And third, gamification is happening. It’s a rapidly growing business trend among startups, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and even government agencies. It raises a host of significant legal, operational, and ethical issues, as well as a variety of practical business concerns. We felt that my work on emerging technology and policy trends through the Supernova conference, and Dan’s scholarship on virtual worlds and background in cognitive psychology, gave us a unique ability to tackle these questions in a serious way. That’s why we put together the first gamification course at Wharton, and wrote For the Win as business guide to this emerging field.

OK, so what is gamification?

[KW] Gamification means applying design techniques from video games to business and other problems. In other words, it’s the process of motivating customers, employees, and communities by thinking like a game designer. It doesn’t mean turning everything into a game. Quite the contrary! Gamification involves incorporating elements of games into existing activities, the way Nike weaves levels and awards into its Nike+ system, or Microsoft motivated employees to review half a million Windows 7 dialogue boxes for localization errors with a competition among offices.

When you look at it that way, the basic concept of gamification is pretty simple, but doing it well is hard. Even experienced game designers often create games that aren’t much fun. Executing gamification effectively requires a combination of skills and knowledge, which we describe in For the Win.

Right. I see games are important in that they are big business and a big part of many folks’ lives. Let’s talk a little more about motivation. Is this approach a sort of applied behavioral economic one? Someone identifies levers and then builds systems to nudge or indeed shift the way others engage and behave?

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Robots for Relief: Disaster Robot Challenge

With Sandy upon the U.S. Eastern coast, DARPA’s “Robotics Challenge” could not come fast enough. As NPR reports, robots were used after Fukushima, but the need for robots anyone can use and especially for disaster operations is high. The contest will be a “junkyard-wars-style competition next year. The robots will have to open a blocked door, operate a valve, climb a ladder. And perhaps the toughest: get into and drive a vehicle.” As my friend Brett Kennedy of JPL notes in the piece, JPL’s RoboSimian has many advantages but may not do so well with car driving as yet.

This challenge offers $2 million to the winner, but the real prize maybe like the self-driving car challenge. Great technology is developed, industry sees it potential, and a whole new industry blossoms. There are some questions about what technology can be proprietary when the core was from government funds. Peter Lee’s work on this point comes to mind. Nonetheless, I dig this approach and the goals. Cylons to help us in nasty places and nasty jobs, oops, did I say cylons? Seriously, I hope we don’t need these sorts of options for Sandy or other disasters, but the odds are we will. So working on finding better ways to deal with the aftermath of such events is great and smart in my view.

The video below is from the Drexel project, Hubo, I believe.

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Gamification – Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter’s new book

Gamification? Is that a word? Why yes it is, and Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter want to tell us what it means. Better yet, they want to tell us how it works in their new book For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business (Wharton Press). The authors get into many issues starting with a refreshing admission that the term is clunky but nonetheless captures a simple, powerful idea: one can use game concepts in non-game contexts and achieve certain results that might be missed. As they are careful to point out, this is not game theory. This is using insights from games, yes video games and the like, to structure how we interact with a problem or goal. I have questions about how well the approach will work and potential downsides (I am after all a law professor). Yet, the authors explore cases where the idea has worked, and they address concerns about where the approach can fail. I must admit I have only an excerpt so far. But it sets out the project while acknowledging possible objections that popped to mind quite well. In short, I want to read the rest. Luckily the Wharton link above or if you prefer Amazon Kindle are both quite reasonably priced. (Amazon is less expensive).

If you wonder about games, play games, and maybe have thought what is with all this badging, point accumulation, leader board stuff at work (which I did while I was at Google), this book looks to be a must read. And if you have not encountered these changes, I think you will. So reading the book may put you ahead of the group in understanding what management or companies are doing to you. The book also sets out cases and how the process works, so it may give you ideas about how to use games to help your endeavor and impress your manager. For the law folks out there, I think this area raises questions about behavioral economics and organizations that will lay ahead. In short, the authors have a tight, clear book that captures the essence of a movement. That alone merits a hearty well done.

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Because It’s Cool, Time Lapse from Space

I sometimes suggest that folks, especially lawyer folks, should look up and remember the coolness of the world. This post of star trails and city lights looks down, down at the Earth from the ISS. It’s sort of 2001 updated. According to Wired, “Photographer Christoph Malin from Austria created the stunning film by stacking image sequences taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.”

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One step closer to Star Trek, painless injections

Remember the syringe looking device that made a hiss and allowed Dr. McCoy to sedate folks? It looks like we might be avoiding needles and using lasers (so maybe Dr. Evil is happy somewhere) to deliver medicines. And it may be pain-free.

A series of very short laser pulses, lasting no more than 250 millionths of a second each, generates a vapor bubble inside the driving fluid. The bubble creates a pressure or elastic strain on the membrane, which forces the drug to be ejected through the tiny nozzle as a narrow jet no more than 150 micrometers (millionths of a meter) wide, or slightly thicker than a human hair.

Yoh explains that the jet pressure is higher than the tensile strength of skin, so it penetrates smoothly into the targeted depth underneath, causing no splashback.

The team has tested the device on guinea pig skin. This showed the jet drives the drug up to several millimeters under the skin, without damaging surrounding tissue.

The speed and narrowness of the jet should be enough to make the procedure painless, says Yoh. But just the fact they are aiming for the epidermal layer just under the surface of the skin, about 500 micrometers down, where there are no nerve endings, should already ensure it is “completely pain-free”.

The hope is that the device may be developed so that it could be used for mass vaccinations.

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The Correct Word is Desource, Not Outsource.

Everyone thinks jobs are being outsourced; they are, in fact, being desourced. When Mitt Romney claims he will create jobs, when Barak Obama claims the same, when Google, Apple, or Amazon assert they build out the economy, they all overstate. Worse, they ignore the reality that both manufacturing and service jobs are dying. Robots, artificial intelligence, and the new information-at-scale industries all but assure that outcome. The ability to build and sell without humans is already here. I am not saying that these shifts are inherently bad. They may even be inevitable. What we do next is the question. To answer that question, we need to understand the ways humans will be eliminated from manufacturing and service jobs. We need to understand what I call desourcing.

Focus on manufacturing is a distraction, a sideshow; so too is faith in service jobs. A recent New York Times article about Apple, noted that manufacturing accounts for only about eight percent of the U.S. labor force. And, The Atlantic’s Making It in America piece shows how manufacturing is being changed by robots and other automation. According to some, the real engine is service labor “and any recovery with real legs, labor experts say, will be powered and sustained by this segment of the economy.” That is where desourcing comes in. Many talk about the non-career path of service sector jobs. A future of jobs that have low pay and little room to rise is scary and a problem. Amazon explains why that world might be heaven.

The world of low wage, high stress service work is being replaced by automation. Amazon gave up its fight against state taxes, because it is moving to a model of local distribution centers so that it can deliver same-day delivery of goods. According to Slate, Amazon will spend more than $1 billion to build centers all over the U.S. and hire thousands of people for those centers. The real story is that like any company Amazon wants to reduce operation costs; it must automate or perish as Technology Review put it. It will do that, in part, by using robots to handle the goods. Self-driving cars and autonomous stocking clerks are the logical steps after ATMs and self-serve kiosks at movie theaters and grocery stores. I am always amazed at the folks who line up at movie theater ticket windows rather than use the kiosks. A friend said to me that we should walk up to the window to keep those jobs. It is a nice idea, but I think untenable. We all want to move faster and pay less. Welcome to desourcing.

Desourcing means reducing or eliminating humans from the production or service equation. Humans are friction points. More and more we can reduce those points of contact. We no longer need to send work to other humans.

There are many economic questions that are beyond what can be addressed in a short piece. But here are some ideas on which to chew. The returns from this approach are tremendous for the companies that desource. For example, by one account, Apple makes $473,000 per employee; yet “About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year.” So we may satisfy our need for instant gratification as companies reduce their costs, but that money will go to corporate bottom lines. Whether it will really reach the rest of the economy is not so clear precisely because a smart company will invest in desourcing. I suppose at some point companies will have to realize that they need masses who can buy stuff. Yet I think some studies indicate that serving the upper end of the economy works better than serving the masses. In theory, a company may offer goods at lower prices but to do that, it will need lower production costs. And less workers means lower costs.

I am not saying I know what will solve this riddle. I offer desourcing, because I have not seen a satisfying answer to the issue. There may not be one; for we may be stil sorting what to do as the digital age takes full hold. As the computer science folks say in early training, “Hello world.”

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My Brand Journey, Part I

Right out of law school, brands were on my mind. I began at Quinn, Emanuel and learned trademark law practice there. I picked up on the way companies such as Mattel, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (think Oscar Awards), Lockheed Martin, and others thought about trademarks. They called them brands. My paper with Sandy Rierson, Confronting the Genericism Conundrum started my work on the topic. We looked at the core value of a brand and started to poke at the blended functions of a brand with which trademark law struggled. We argued that information costs have dropped and that courts looked to uses that did not matter as they determined the status of a mark (at 1834). We also showed in relying on dubious evidence and not paying attention to the broader linguistic aspects of trademarks, courts set up incentives for policing that not only made little sense but are wasteful, not to mention fostering unnecessary clashes between expression and trademark interests (1835-1842). At that point we argued that looking at how consumers encounter the mark in a market setting may help parse the issue. As we put it,

Consider that a person with a cold can walk into a colleague’s office, ask for a “kleenex” and be handed a tissue but not a Kleenex®-brand tissue. At that moment the person with the runny nose is likely to accept the tissue offered without complaining or caring about the brand. When that same person is in a supermarket, however, he may certainly care whether he buys Kleenex® versus Puffs® brand facial tissue, due to his experience with the brands’ relative softness or thickness.

After that piece, I read more and thought about whether trademark law and the search costs approach mapped to branding practices. They don’t. More on that in the next part.

The image is of a coaster available here.

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On Information Justice

Like the other commenters on From Goods to a Good Life, I also enjoyed the book and applaud Professor Sunder’s initiative in engaging more explicitly in the values conversation than has been conventionally done in IP scholarship. I also agree with most of what the other commenters have said.  I want to offer plaudits, a few challenges, and some suggestions about future directions for this conversation.

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For whom does IP work?

One of the major questions Professor Sunder’s book asks is whether IP works for the people who make it. This is a question that US law does not grapple directly with, but assumes and then glosses over. It is an important question. As Molly Van Houweling mentions, drawing on Julie Cohen’s fantastic article on IP as corporate property, IP certainly works for some companies some of the time. Insofar as companies are intermediaries (distributors of IP protected goods) and the licensees of the creators of those goods (either through work for hire or assignment), firms can and do make some of their money from IP revenues, which IP is generated by individuals working alone or in groups.

The story of Solomon Linda is an example of what can go wrong from the initial creation to the widespread distribution of creative expression that has commercial value. Firms will say that without intellectual property, they cannot harness or nourish the creativity to reproduce, commercialize and distribute it, that the conditions of their productive and distributive business require exclusive rights in the intangible goods. (I think this in part right, but it is largely overstated in light of the the many other ways in which companies make money, such as first to market, complementary products, contracting for services, reputation. And the extent to which the company depends on IP is industry specific.) Individuals will say that the best environment for their creative work is a situation in which autonomy and collaboration are optimized. Individuals want time and space to do their work, and they need some funding to pursue it, but that funding may come from a day or night job that does or does not directly relate to their creative or innovative activity. Ideally, the way the individuals earn a living derives from the creative or innovative work they do, and if that is the case, they still seek autonomy and collaboration, which are often at odds with corporate structure and IP exclusivity. Sunder’s book points out many of these conflicts between individual welfare and corporate welfare. My puzzle, these days, is why there must be such inconsistency. How (when and why) does the corporate interest so greatly diverge from the individual’s interest and what, if anything, can be done about it to maximize IP’s functionality in our global system of creative and innovative production? Sunder’s book goes a long way to putting these issues front and center.

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Super-Sizing IP Values

In a 2006 Stanford Law Review article, Madhavi Sunder despaired that “there are no ‘giant-sized’ intellectual property theories capable of accommodating the full range of human values implicit in intellectual production.”  But, she argued, there should be. From Goods to a Good Life is her full response to her own challenge, pushing intellectual property scholars to conceive of IP rights not through the narrow lens of incentives to create and distribute, but as tools to promote human flourishing broadly understood.

I am quite sympathetic to Sunder’s goals here, and we share an affinity for the capabilities approach most prominently associated with Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. Indeed, Brett Frischmann and I have also suggested (only in much broader and tentative terms than Sunder) that IP theory needs to open up to a broader range of goals. Yet in spite of the ambition of Sunder’s project, I was struck by how traditional her project ultimately seemed. For notwithstanding her avowedly liberal goals, Sunder embraces property as much as she rejects it, and many of the tools on which she would rely to promote development depend heavily on the very market mechanisms she criticizes for having led to the exploitation and inequality she wants to address.

To be sure, Sunder has different ideas about the scope of IP entitlements – particularly when those entitlements run up against concerns about access to medicines or other cultural products. But fundamentally what she wants is a principle of equal recognition that operates in practice and not just in theory. She wants poor people’s inventive/creative contributions to be recognized, both in the sense of attribution and in the sense that those contributions deserve the status of property that can be traded to improve material conditions. Hers is a freedom-promoting conception of property that, as Jedediah Purdy has written, traces to the “Enlightenment period of the mid-to-late eighteenth century, when it was exemplified in the thought of the Scottish jurist, moral philosopher, and proto-economist Adam Smith.” This notion that the ability to own property can enable individual creators to make a life for themselves is prominent in certain threads of IP literature. But notably, most proponents of that view (Rob Merges comes to mind most significantly here) favor more IP protection than do the cultural critics of IP on whose work Sunder draws when she argues, persuasively in my view, for greater recognition of the need to engage with, and even to subvert, creative works.

This is not to say that Sunder would come to the same conclusions as these scholars about how a freedom-promoting conception of IP should play out in practice – clearly Sunder would balance the competing interests of creators and users differently, at least in some cases – only that I am struck by how resonant her approach is with those understandings of property, and indeed by how much actualizing her views would depend on property as an institution. Thus, I had the feeling reading the book that Sunder is deeply conflicted about the role of the market as the mechanism for promoting human flourishing.

Sunder, for example, suggests many times throughout the book that people in the developing world might rely on geographical indications (or some variant thereof) as means of gaining recognition for their creative accomplishments and as a lever for economic development. But GI’s, as Sunder notes, are brands – they work only to the extent they are valued by consumers because they denote (or reify) some characteristic consumers care about.  And getting consumers to notice and care about a new GI won’t be easy, because they are swimming in GI’s already. There are well over 100 American Viticultural Areas in California alone; the names of thousands of counties in the US are protected appellations of origin; hundreds of wine-related indications are protected just in France; and thousands more GI’s (counting the several varieties) are protected in Europe.

To succeed with a GI in this marketplace, you need a megaphone. That will be even truer for indications that refer to places in the developing world, since as Sunder ably demonstrates, we in the developed world have a skewed sense of the sources of creativity. And of course those who will need the biggest megaphones have the least access to the marketing machinery they will need to compete.

Lea Shaver wrote in her review that “MAD MEN is the perfect antonym for the better world that Professor Sunder’s work envisions. Marketing executives, practically dripping in 1960’s-era white male privilege, strive to endow branded commodities with hegemonic symbolism. The protagonists of this drama view their fellow Americans not as citizens to be democratically engaged or individuals creating their own lives, but as minds to be manipulated. To achieve that goal, they fund the creation of one-way cultural media, which offers its audience no opportunity to challenge the message that the most important way of making meaning in the world is through passive consumption.” The irony of Sunder’s book is that, having shown so well the problems with one-way cultural media, some (many?) of her solutions would rely on the very same mechanisms of one-way cultural media.