Expert Insights

How Minecraft Shapes Your Digital Transformation

Patrick Kitchell, Senior Technical Specialist at Microsoft, shares insights about how the Minecraft mentality helps drive digital transformation & organizational change.

Patrick Kitchell
February 18 · 13 min read

Digital transformation is hard. And it gets harder in large organizations that are afraid of adopting/adapting to new systems and changing organizational routines. Patrick Kitchell, Senior Technical Specialist at Microsoft, shows how the Minecraft mentality helps shape transformation and drive real change.

Minecraft Drives Your Transformation

Minecraft is computer game that my teenager starting playing back in 2010 when I began to notice something life-changing in the behavior of my son and so much so – I even created a slide in a slide deck over the “Minecraft phenomenon”.

Minecraft is basically “Digital Legos” and in collaborative mode allows people from all over the world to play together building structures of all sorts. The magic in Minecraft is you can build and destroy very quickly. My son was building collaboratively with kids from all over the world while communicating with them over Skype.

Skype was used for communication and teamwork that helped with collaboration and making new friends in the digital space. At the same time, he began to watch tons of YouTube videos to learn about Minecraft. An entire community around Minecraft was created where players created learning videos, collaborated on streams, bragged about their creations. These were organic communities for Minecraft and my son and his friends were highly engaged in both the community and the game. Finally, there was the game itself which had a strong feedback loop from the community as a natural part of the continuous development of the game. The history of Minecraft is a fascinating glimpse into the first “digital transformed” product ever built. They relied on the community to help them further Minecraft and the community felt deeply connected to the game and the designers.

In my eyes, Minecraft is the forefather to the process of digital transformation because it incorporates the use of digital communications and tools to collect feedback, collaborate and trial by error build with a community-first attitude. This Minecraft Mindset of Digital Transformation can be summed up in the following diagram:

 

If your organization is focusing on digital transformation, then it might be good to stop up and ask how well you are to empower your employees to follow this pattern:

  1. Crowdsource ideas: collaborate across teams to gather ideas
  2. Build together: work together in teams to bring ideas to life
  3. Release this idea as Minimal viable products (MVP) for others to test
  4. Update/Edit/ Fix OR Delete
  5. Release the updates or start over

This process brings together the process and mindset needed to drive transformation in an organization and digital transformation is using the modern set of tools available to drive collaboration, feedback and given toolsets to fail fast and cheap when taking crowdsourced ideas and trying to produce an MVP.

Understanding the Digital Feedback Loops

Today, there is no doubt that data and being data-driven is an important part of the transformation today. The reason is that systems today have moved from static systems of record – like a CRM system that is really a phone book and very reactive to “intelligent systems”. Intelligent systems are systems that can gather feedback and relay this information in proactive actions for individuals.

Microsoft (where I work) calls this the digital feedback loop. Since data is centerpiece and data is coming from everywhere, humans need intelligent systems to help them read the signals and help them understand what should be done and/or could be done next. It is this aspect of increased data and increased intelligent systems that are shaping one fast moving aspect of digital transformation.

 

 

The building of Minecraft was a lesson in the digital feedback loop. Digital transformation is about harnessing the new potentials that arise in a scalable way. The real challenge is that truly harnessing these new possibilities requires a mix of adopting/adapting to new systems and a change in both organizational routines and human behavior, which I will discuss below.

Digital transformation is about harnessing the new potentials that arise in a scalable way. The real challenge is that truly harnessing these new possibilities requires a mix of adopting/adapting to new systems and a change in both organizational routines and human behavior.

Let’s Come Down One Level

The human aspect of digital transformation is found in how humans act as change agents. How do humans take all the digital signals and learn to “trust” the intelligence that comes from these new systems? The answer is partly found in the blueprint of organizational transformation and the blueprint for future organizational transformation is available for all organizations to follow.

There is no real mystery to what changes need to take place internally for real transformation to take place. The major challenges are that the digital transformation relies on organizational transformation, which relies heavily on organizational cultural and individual mindset changes to have the most impact and these are no easy tasks.

SO … What is the Blueprint?

When looking at the Minecraft Mindset of Transformation there are some key elements that organizations and humans need to adopt and I call this the “Blueprint.” The blueprint for digital transformation when implemented drives the transformation process forward through humans and has a profound impact on both the organization and people working in the organization. I believe that this blueprint consists of three overlapping elements that need focus:

 

 

Collaboration

Collaboration is complex because true collaboration requires a certain level of trust and respect in those we are collaborating with. Everyone knows what is like to be in a group or project where they are not heard and their ideas are not valued. Therefore, the openness, transparency, acceptance of others and communication around and in collaboration plays a key part in the transformation process. Communication is a habit and organizations foster a style of communication that reveals the inner workings. For example, is communication top down? How are new ideas accepted and communicated? How does knowledge spread? Can you write the CEO without going through the chain of command? Do you rely heavily on email to make decisions?

Because of the digitalization of collaboration in tools like Microsoft Teams the traditional ways of collaborating and communication are dying these new tools give a rise to opportunities to collaborate in ways that strengthen the transformation process across all layers of an organization.

Fail to Learn

Failure to learn is a key element in the transformation process. Like collaboration and communication, this element goes to the very heart of any organization. Organizations that punish employees for taking risks and failing hinder innovation from springing up and thriving in their organization. Allowing people and teams to experiment to fail allows them to learn what works and what doesn’t work and by sharing these throughout the organizations helps everyone from not having to repeat the same mistakes.

Companies that encourage failure as a powerful learning tool increase the trust and respect throughout the organization where individuals feel empowered to experiment thus finding better routines, new ideas flourish and spread.

How many of us have seen larger organizations buy an innovative start-up only to kill it by trying to incorporate them into the existing organization structure? I have seen many organizations that take a risk on a new idea and separate the team from the rest of the organization not to suffocate them with inertia of the existing organization. The bottom line is that to transform you must encourage people to experiment and with all experimentation comes failure. To punish the failure is to signal that innovation is not welcome and those that fail will be degraded or let go.

Feedback is a Superhero

Lastly, feedback and the power of listening. Feedback is the most powerful part of this puzzle. Mature organizations have a culture of feedback that allows people to give balanced and constructive feedback both internally and externally. Looking at internal feedback can be a challenging cultural change as it requires a level of trust to be able to give feedback knowing you would get retaliated against for offering feedback and that your feedback will be taken seriously. It is a fine line and good companies offer training on feedback and drive a feedback culture. External feedback, feedback from the outside world is ever more difficult and yet this is a key element to driving deep transformative change by involving the outside world in making your products and services better. Take the example of Microsoft Windows Insider Program, Microsoft’s global beta program with millions of members who receive and give feedback on the early builds of Windows.

These three blueprint components are the fundamental drivers of transformational change within the organization because it forces change at all levels both structurally in the hierarchy and at individual mindset /behavioral levels. I can imagine that many organizations on this journey struggle to know the progress they are making and there need to be programs in place to help see the progress. One way is to reflect on what can be unlocked by driving changes in these 3 areas.

Conclusion

Harnessing the potential of transformation taking place in industries and technology is not easy. It is not easy because it requires change in both systems and people. Many large organizations have process inertia that makes them slow by nature and with the rate of technological change, it is challenging for industry leaders.

What is needed is a Minecraft Mindset. The ability to build quick solutions to simple or complex challenges in collaboration and change or destroy those solutions without being punished for it. It is hard because it requires employees to accept feedback from both external and internal sources and accept that feedback is a key mechanism for transformation. Also, a manager’s role has to change to coach people to be open-minded and encourage trying and accepting failure without punishing employees for trying because the ability to allow people to try and fail as a key learning mechanism is difficult yet critical.

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