Playing at work promotes discovery, opens door to innovation

Editor’s note: For posterity’s sake, I’m reposting some content that we created during our time at Oracle. These statements and views are those of the author and do not reflect those of Oracle’s current user experience organization.

Playing at work promotes discovery, opens door to innovation

What if work could also be play? It turns out that it’s both better for the worker and for the work. As such, it’s something the Oracle Applications User Experience (OAUX) team tries to incorporate into its research on emerging technologies.

We all enjoy play—it’s fun. When we’re playing, the activity itself is its own reward, not money or some other external reward. We play for the sake of playing, not because we were told to.

But how can work become play? It tends to happen when people are allowed to explore and experiment in a self-guided way.

There’s just one problem: Play gets a bad rap. Lloyd P. Rieber of the University of Georgia says in a report on play there is “a sense of risk attached to suggesting an adult is at play. Work is respectable; play is not.”

There is a tendency to define play as the opposite of work, but that’s not the case. Rieber also explains, “Work becomes play when one’s job is so satisfying and rewarding that getting paid to do it is of secondary importance.”

Visitors to the OAUX Cloud Labs at Oracle Headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., get a chance to play with the emerging technology that’s been part of our user experience research.

Play and work don’t have to be at odds with each other; the best kind of work is also play.

Embracing a spirit of discovery

This relationship between work and play is something we’ve taken advantage of in Oracle’s emerging technologies team, the AppsLab. We encourage playing with new technologies to learn what they’re capable of, and creating demos that speak to that spirit of discovery and exploration.

The OAUX team’s research and experiments help to generate better ideas, allowing Oracle as a company to encourage innovation by promoting different ways of working, and to take a risk by allowing the exploration of new, and maybe a little wild, ideas.

This approach to innovation — and also to user experience design — is the charter of OAUX. “Play is essential in design because it allows an individual to understand why things are, and how they could be,” Jeremy Ashley, OAUX Group Vice President, said.

Playing, in this sense, is deeply tied to exploration—gaining knowledge about how these technologies work in the first place, and then how they can best serve our users and fit into the world of Oracle software.

This exploration usually involves building a prototype—it starts with learning about the code, and then leads to investigating the user experience of a new technology.

A play-oriented approach to emerging technology engages even younger audiences considering careers in IT, from the Girl Scouts to Oracle’s Design Tech High School.

It also solves a problem encountered when researching emerging technologies: often there aren’t many users for the technologies we are investigating.

Recycled development

For example, when Google Glass first came out, very few people had access to the device, given its limited release and high cost.

We were fortunate to have someone on the team who was a Glass Explorer, and he quickly built an Oracle Sales Cloud application to show on the Glass.

When we showed Google Glass to users, not only did we show our prototype, we were also able to see how people used the device, what they wanted to do with it, and what they thought about it.

We didn’t have any existing users, but we used the opportunity to learn from their initial impressions.

The fun demo, and moving faster

OAUX team member Anthony Lai demonstrates how Google Glass works.

Over the years, we have used this challenge with emerging technologies as an opportunity to create new, faster research methods. Enter the fun demo.

We use the fun demo as an engaging way for people to experience a device or interaction paradigm that is likely new to them.

For example, when the Leap Motion—a gestural input device that detects what your hands are doing from a distance—first came out, our team “played” with the technology by using it to control a robot arm. We’ve since demoed this to hundreds of customers and visitors to the OAUX Cloud Labs, and it consistently impresses, because it’s a fun way to use gesture technology. They often want to play with it themselves.

We have since used the Leap Motion in our Smart Office, a demo showcasing our vision for the office of the future, but that initial play showed us the device’s capabilities and limitations. It taught us what Leap Motion is good for, and where it would fall short. This is critical, because the play phase is informing us when it comes time to build the real-world use cases that our customers require.

If we didn’t invest that time in playing with the technology, we wouldn’t be as familiar or capable with it.

The Leap Motion-controlled robot arm is only one of many fun demos we’ve done:

  • Using text messages to control Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots
  • Sending tweets by hitting an IoT-enabled target with a flying monkey
  • Controlling a Sphero robotic ball with your brainwaves
  • Shooting a Nerf gun using IoT
  • Racing Anki cars using arm gestures
  • Playing a virtual game by playing with things in the real world

Each demo targets a specific emerging technology for which we wanted research and input.

Fun is key to the fun demo. As people enjoy themselves using a particular device, they tend to think about it with respect to what they know. These are Oracle’s users, each of whom has experience with our software and has domain expertise in areas like Human Capital Management (HCM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), or Financials.

OAUX team member Noel Portugal, left, shows the robot arm, which allows the crowd to use gestures to interact with a computer.

As their minds open to this new device, they begin to talk about how it could be used to improve their work, create efficiencies, and do new tasks.

In our experience, this happens more organically using the fun demo than if you merely asked the same people to think about how a new device would be helpful to their work.

The difference is fun, and this is how we collect some of our best research.

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