They say that the sign of genius is to hold two conflicting opinions at the same time without going crazy. Of course, this was said by F Scott Fitzgerald who was slowly descending into alcoholism and craziness, so take that for what it's worth. That said, here are two seemingly conflicting ideas that I suspect are true:
First, virtual worlds (think Second Life for grownups) will inevitably become more popular in business. But second, personally, I hate them and will be dragged down that path kicking and screaming.
Yet here's the important thing: I suspect I will go down that path anyway, (noisy and unpleasant as it will be for all concerned).
What got me thinking about this was a blog post by Maria Korlova over at the HyperGrid Business Blog. In it, she maintains her firm conviction that businesses will soon come around to using these virtual worlds as business tools. Just as the nay-sayers were wrong about the Internet, Software as a Service, and Lady Gaga, we will eventually integrate this technology into how we work.
The tone of the article reads a bit like a late-night primal scream (and that's not a criticism, I've written those "why don't they #@$%@%^ get it" articles myself) but it makes some good points. For those who resist Second Life, On24 and others, buckle up.
- The technology is becoming more and more impressive
- The worlds are becoming more life-like and less, well, creepy
- It's becoming more ubiquitous
- The price is dropping, and as soon as it's cheaper to do an effective conference this way instead of paying for airfare, the bean counters will insist on using it
- Those of us who resist it on principle will either retire or leave feet-first (remember, gang, any job that doesn't end in retirement ends in death)
On the other hand, if companies want to get people to use these tools they'll have to do a better job of rolling out the technology. And there are plenty of things they need to do better:
- Stop trying to sell virtual worlds as cool. Most managers don't want cool, we want easy to use.
- Find a way to make avatars either look like real people or avoid the zombie-like eyes that creep me out on some deep neurological level
- Note to designers: no grownup wants to fly between rooms. Can we please just navigate from one room to the other without a meeting turning into a giant Dungeons and Dragons session?
- Focus on a pressing business need and show how you can solve that problem.
- Start with a small group of influencers. Not the tech gurus, but real line managers or project managers who have the ear of others in the organization.
- Roll it out slowly and hold people accountable for results
- Train them- and training does not mean online tutorials. The cure for people resisting technology is not more technology.
As I said, I'm not a big fan of these virtual worlds, but I'm not stupid either. If it can really save money and be effective (and the company says I have to use it or else!) I will do it. Even though I make my living teaching people how to communicate virtually, I much prefer to be in a room with people and presenting live, I know that this is the way the world works and I've made peace with it.
Is this the year business really adopts this technology and it stops being exotic? Possibly. I won't be at the front of the line, but I'm no longer manning the barricades to prevent it, either.
Now, if they could just do something about the whole "creepy avatar" thing, we'll be getting somewhere.
If you are attending the American Society for Training and Development's (ASTD) Tech Knowledge 2012 Conference in Las Vegas, I'll be speaking on Friday, January 27th and hope to see you there. The topic will be How to Roll Out Successful Webinar Training…. Or Not. Drop me a line if you're going and let's meet in person.
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