Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Business Simulation in a Virtual World

For the past several months I have been participating in a business simulation in the world of virtual fashion. Unlike other simulations, I was struck by how "real world" this experience felt. Our goal was to make a splash in an industry already dominated by entrenched players. Did we succeed? Like the real world, the answer was unclear. In fact, measuring our success was a challenge all in itself. What we achieved:

  • Exposure in virtual media (without having to buy space), including print, blog and TV coverage,
  • Solid attendance to virtual fashion shows and events,
  • An increasing blog readership,
  • A tightly knit, energetic team that enjoyed working together.
Our team was made of volunteers geographically spread from Poland to Australia, with the majority being in the U.S.A. Times zones and cultural differences played their usual role.

Things that did not surprise me:
  • Lack of communication was the biggest culprit for problems we faced,
  • The number of times people did not perform what they said they would do,
  • The number of times I didn't do what I said I would.
Things that did surprise me:
  • Being able to see a representation of someone (their customizable avatar), really helped get to know them. The avatars took on a personality over time.
  • Training worked well in the virtual world where all the chat can be saved and reviewed later and where the instructor is able to demonstrate to the students. While it was possible to have private chats on the side during instruction, these did not seem to interfere with learning.
  • Meetings also worked well. In fact, if you were distracted for whatever reason, it was handy to be able to scroll back through the chat history to pick up the thread. While I can't explain it, virtual meetings kept my attention so much better than conference calls.
  • Nobody gets drowned out when everyone is communicating in text. The system displays ALL contributions to the discussion.
  • Most Important Lesson: the self confidence achieved by facing challenges in the virtual world spilled over into the real world. It's just like a flight simulator for a pilot.
Many companies are experimenting with work in a virtual world. Even with all its distractions and imperfections, I think it's the way to go.