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Of the four groups named in the Bartle Test, the Socializers’ role is key to driving reform

The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, based on a 1996 paper by British writer and game researcher Richard Bartle, was a topic I must admit not having been all that familiar with prior to attending the Gamification Summit in New York City.   But once having learned a little about it, I am struck by its relevance to the business of creating a successful enterprise.

In capsule form, the test involves calculating an individual player’s “Bartle quotient” by using the answers to questions to determine to what extent they fit into four categories: Achiever, Explorer, Socializer or Killer. Achievers are those who like to show off their skills and gain an elite status with others; Explorers are adventuresome types who prefer digging around, making discoveries, mapping things, and finding hidden places. Socializers use the game primarily as a means of meeting or interacting with others, whereas Killers are highly competitive, some in a friendly, sportsmanlike way and others out of a desire to gain power over and in some cases even hurt other players.

The changing landscape of business has caused me see these group not just from a gamer’s perspective but from that of an employer, and made me realize just how important all four of them are to are to building a successful company — especially a start-up. As I reflect on the enterprises I have launched, it occurs to me that I have always had people fitting each of these descriptions on my team. In our current Greenopolis team, for example, I can clearly identify the Explorers who have consistently endeavored to find new technologies we could use and new ways to deploy our strategies. Our entire management team consists of a manic group of Achievers, with a distinct resemblance to the gaming variety. We also clearly have a few Killers — people that are so competitive that their idea of a vacation is to attend World Cup of Rugby  (yes, Rugby). But our largest and most important group is comprised of Socializers. They are the ones who keep the fabric of everything we do whole and interwoven — the people who carry on the water cooler discussions that pull together the Explorers’ new finds, the Achievers’ timelines and the Killers’ prey.

Is this the way we should be looking at organizations? Is Bartle’s theory much broader than gaming?  I think it is – and it jibes nicely with the fall of the traditional command-and-control management structure or autocratic style of running a company that makes top-down decisions without regard for the employees or people affected by them. Recalling my meetings in Dohar Qatar this past summer with some of the leaders of the “Arab Spring” uprising in Egypt makes me believe that the toppling of that country’s authoritarian government was accomplished by the combined efforts of Explorers, Achievers and, perhaps most important, Socializers (yes, I deiberately left out Killers). As Dalia Ziada, one of the key leaders of the Egyption blogging community (and a woman to boot), told us, it was not just the leaders of the revolution, but all of the people (that is to say, the Socializers) who assembled not just Cairo’s Tahir Square, but in all of the squares in Egypt that succeeded in overthrowing the autocratic system of former President Hozni Mubarick.  (This, incidentally, is consistent with Malcom Gladwell’s observation in The New Yorker that “people protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.”)

To me, there’s a lesson that those on the ‘C’ level of many of today’s large organizations should assimilate from the Bartle Test  and the Arab Spring, and that’s  just how important the new world order of segmentation is – and especially those Socializers. Yes, demographics and “psychographics” will be with us for many years, but underneath this and all of the major movements on this planet, it is my belief that the members of that group, linked together by social media applications, will be the ones providing the connective tissue for the essential changes that need to take place.

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