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Monthly Archives: March 2016

What Technology Companies Can Learn from Toy Makers

What Technology Companies Can Learn From Toy Makers

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A new Fisher-Price report, The Future of Parenting 1, notes that our lives online hold just as much weight as our real lives. For young kids, the distinction is becoming increasingly blurred. Parents will need to help their children navigate this sophisticated landscape so that their ideas are expressed across any medium. Substitute the word employee for the word kid, and every part of this statement is just as true for the challenges of the digital workplace today. We re already thinking critically about the impact of screen time on kids, and looking for ways that technology can help them learn and collaborate instead of cutting themselves off from others. Now we need to turn that same kind of critical attention to our own tools and work habits. That was eminently clear from two different family tech panels at SXSW this year, where industry leaders shared their insights on the changing nature of play. In the parenting panels and conversations that unfolded at the conference, as well as other recent discussions with people working in the family tech space, I heard anxieties and aspirations for educational and kid-friendly technology that perfectly mirror the conversations we need to be having in the digital workplace.

Indeed, there is a lot that managers, IT teams, and tech-laden professionals can learn from the way that toy and gaming companies tackle the incursion of technology into play. In particular, it can help us address three recurring concerns about technology in the workplace: that it s displacing face-to-face interaction and connection, that it s eroding our social and professional skills, and that it s making us passive consumers instead of active creators and contributors. Let s start with the fear that the digital world is displacing the physical, real world. Michael Shore, VP and Head of Future Play at Mattel, drew grasps from a packed room when he revealed that kids now choose digital over physical play experiences as early as age six. But Shore s revelation closely parallels a recurring complaint in the world of work: that professionals choose digital interaction over face-to-face interaction, even when they re sitting side-by-side with their colleagues. Just think of how often you see your colleagues texting or web surfing during a meeting, and you will recognize that workplace multitasking often reflects professionals preferring the digital to the analog world, just as kids do. In the world of digital play, companies directly address that preference by thinking about how technology can support rather than interfere with offline activities. Michael Moynihan, the VP of marketing for Lego, told me that Lego s strategy is based on the idea that if we have digital experiences that don t inspire kids to build, we haven t built the right digital experience. That s the way software developers need to look at productivity and collaboration tools, too: if they don t help people work more effectively together offline as well as online, then our tools aren t the right ones.

One way to address that problem is by revisiting the software world s obsession with maximizing the number of minutes a user engages with your application, which is tantamount to setting the goal of displacing offline encounters with screen time. We need more enterprise software developers who instead ask how they can create software that inspires colleagues to connect not just digitally, but also in real-world conversations or (gasp!) meetings. A great example is the TripIt feature that lets you know when your contacts are going to be in the same city at the same time, based on your shared itineraries: It s a feature that actually makes it more likely for us to connect in person, where we can deepen the relationships we ve formed online. But we don t just worry about the relative quantity of offline and online interaction: we also worry about quality. In the adult world, we worry that technology has reshaped our work habits, making us rude, lazy, and inattentive. In the world of gaming, companies also see that technology has reshaped play habits: In a panel on building future fans2, Lego s Moynihan noted that the company s research shows even when playing offline, kids now look for rewards, leveling up and other videogame-style dynamics. So let s take another page from the world of play, and starting working with our evolving minds and habits instead of against them. If employees want their computers open during meetings, use virtual document collaboration so that you can take collaborative notes and annotate documents in real time instead of waiting for someone to circulate meeting notes or hand out paper documents for feedback. If it s harder for people to sustain their attention in the era of Vine videos and 140-character messages, keep presentations and meetings short and focused. Or go the opposite direction, and embrace the playfulness of online conversation in the offline workplace, too, by making time for personal jokes and stories in meetings. You may find that the lost time is paid back in stronger relationships and collegial trust.

There s one more big worry about workplace technology that can be informed by the world of play, and that s our shift from active contribution to passive absorption. Anyone who has spent an hour in the presence of a school-aged child is likely to marvel at the amount of time kids now spend watching other people play videogames on YouTube or Twitch, rather than playing themselves. Yet as Mattel s Shore observed, that s no different from adults who watch cooking shows when they could be making dinner. Nor, I would argue, is it different from professionals who spend an ever-growing amount of time reading newsletters, blog posts, and email when they could be writing, doing, or making something themselves. Again, we can learn something from the way kid tech companies are gently nudging their audience off the sofa and into the world of active play. Wonder Workshop3 recently sent me a set of their Dash and Dot programmable robots for kids, and when I spoke to CEO Vikas Gupta, he talked with me about the way these toys get them to step out of a screen and realize there is a real world in which technology exists. By teaching kids to program, Guptas said, we equip our kids with tools so that they feel they can be masters of that world. That kind of mastery could be available to adult tech users, too, if we used tools that prompted us to learn and create as well as read and absorb. But, ironically, by continually lowering the barriers to participation by encouraging people to like, favorite, or reshare rather than actually posting or commenting, we stream tech users away from active creation and towards passive viewing and barely active sharing.

The technologies we need to encourage in the workplace are those that facilitate active creation and contribution, so that we cultivate employees creativity and mastery just as much as we seek to cultivate those qualities in our kids. Instead of simply pushing social media monitoring or news reading apps, we need to introduce employees to tools like Canva, which makes it easy to create engaging social media updates, or Medium, which has made blogging even more accessible. Or take things up a notch and invite employees to explore the world of 3D printing or easy automation (with tools like If This Then That4) so that your employees develop more mastery of technology itself. That s absolutely essential if we want digital technology to substantively empower the next generation of professionals, rather than merely informing them. These examples show that when we look at how kids engage with the digital world, we don t just hold a mirror up to our own habits; we see new kinds of opportunities and solutions.

References

  1. ^ The Future of Parenting (www.fisher-price.com)
  2. ^ building future fans (schedule.sxsw.com)
  3. ^ Wonder Workshop (makewonder.com)
  4. ^ If This Then That (ifttt.com)

Toy store fire in Henderson under investigation

A fire burned through a Henderson toy store earlier Wednesday morning. About 4:30 a.m., the Henderson Fire Department responded to a fire at Brad s Toys and Collectibles, 1433 N. Boulder Highway, near West Warm Springs Road, spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said. The two-alarm fire caused no injuries, Richards said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and no estimate for the cost of damages has been made.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Christian Bertolaccini at

References

  1. ^

Toy Review Tuesday: LEGO Kryptonite Interception Set

Today’s Toy Review Tuesday is feeling extra super, with a look at one of the new LEGO sets featuring characters from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Come inside to see what I have to say about it!

Hey another Lego set to review and this time I have to thank Lego and Warnerner Bros. for sending this set out to me. Now it’s a great set and let’s face it, the draw is this new Batmobile that looks really good. It definently comes off sleeker than our previous models and we also get a new Batman design for the minifigure, along with two thug minifigures and something for Bats to crash into with the forklift I like this set.

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Toy Review Tuesday is your spot for reviews on the latest toys and collectibles that you care about. We examine how they’re built, the quality of the sculpt, and whether or not it’s something that’s worth your attention! Be sure to check back with us every Tuesday for all new reviews.

For all the latest news in the world of geek (from toys to comics and more) be sure to hit up our official Geek Approved 1page on the site!

-Jason The X

Yes I kind of nerded out at the thought someone was sending me toys. Now how do I get them to send me whiskey? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @JasonTheX

References

  1. ^ Geek Approved (www.cinelinx.com)
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