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A-Ha Moments

Bi-Directional Collaboration

Written by: Bill Sherman on Saturday, 13 March 2010, 4:28 PM

This week, ¬†Gabe Newell, Founder and Managing Director the wildly successful of Valve Software received the Pioneer Award at Game Developer’s Conference 10.

The work within Valve Software has produced pioneering titles such as the Half-Life series, CounterStrike, Portal, Team Fortress, and the Left 4 Dead franchise.

From a business perspective, Newell understands how to create an environment where highly creative people expect that they will be doing cutting-edge work each day, and he offers some management insights.

However, I want to point out some pieces in his presentation which reflect a sea-change within the way that business works. Starting at 3:15, Newell describes how digital rights management (DRM) has essentially created a wall between game developers and consumers — where consumers have essentially been forced to experience games within walled gardens designed by the game’s developer and publisher.

Instead, Newell discusses the ecosystem of collaboration between Valve and its fan community (starting at 6:30). Fans produce custom mods and maps for many of Valve’s titles, and they’re allowed to share these modifications with the community. In fact, games such as CounterStrike have remained popular years after release because the community remains engaged in the development process.

In the digital age, bi-directional collaboration has found a place within the world of marketing and even product development. Fans/customers provide real-time feedback (and often participation) with the manufacturer or service provider. However, the world of learning and development has lagged behind in this trend. Organizations still push content out from their central core to learners.

In the traditional model of training, learners are consumers of content. They get spoon-fed learning within walled gardens of classrooms and e-learning modules. Learners then have little opportunity to contribute or collaborate. However, that model has become antiquated through so many collaborative technologies that now exist. Instead of forcing learners into a passive role, organizations must re-envision the process of learning within the organization. The members of the workforce must become active collaborators in the production of learning.

If I were teaching an entry level instructional design class, I might ask students to differentiate between Valve Software’s view of “customers as collaborators” with Ubisoft’s seeming approach that all customers are potential software pirates. Ubisoft’s approach has generated an uprising (including frustrated individuals launching DDOS attacks).

Quite simply, do you serve your customers’ needs or do you try to force them through unpopular and potentially ineffective processes to suit your own needs?

Even in the world of learning and development, we must align our solutions with our learners’ needs. More importantly, we must respect that they likely know much more about those needs than we do. We must invite them to collaborate with us to find effective solutions.

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