Bioware is an Example to Other Game Companies

Bioware is a rare breed in the gaming industry today. Even being owned by EA has not taken away their ability to craft grand tales and immerse the player in a universe so vast it takes 40+ hours and multiple play through’s to uncover all the content.

I believe that Bioware serves as an example to other gaming companies about how to develop great games. If you look at Bioware’s line-up throughout the years they have a number of outstanding gaming properties. Some like KOTR (Knights of the Old Republic) and Mass Effect are considered two of the best RPG’s of all time.

Even though there are complaints about DragonAge because of the graphics and or game play, it still has gotten fan approval and strong reviews. It’s because Bioware tells a story like no one else on the gaming industry today. They make you care about the characters, and they let you play out the story as good or bad, or anywhere in between. Their games always give you a reason for multiple play through’s, and there is always new stuff to uncover.

Bioware does not spend time on bad games or producing mediocre entertainment. They listen to the gaming community, and they take the time to produce quality. Their PC games come with a tool kit so the community can change or enhance the game, which means their PC games a lot of re-playability.

Other companies need to play games like Mass Effect 1 & 2 so they can understand what a quality game is about. As gamers we want to play games that are most importantly fun. Bioware understands this and that is why their games rate so highly over the years.

Thanks Bioware, you set a strong example to follow.

Mental Health Stigma

Despite the increase in publicity surrounding mental health and mental health issues, there is still a lack of understanding about mental health in general. For example, a research survey published by the government “Attitudes to Mental Illness 2007″ reported that 63% of those surveyed described someone who is mentally ill as suffering from schizophrenia, and more than half believed that people with mental illness should be kept in a psychiatric ward or hospital. Overall the results showed that positive attitudes to people with mental health had actually decreased since 1994 which is worrying indeed.

Amazingly, many people still don’t understand that mental health problems affect most of us in one way or another, whether we are suffering from a mental illness ourselves or not. If we bear in mind that a quarter of the population are suffering from some kind of mental health problem at any one time, then the chances are, even if we personally don’t have a mental illness, we will know someone close to us who does, so it is our responsibility to understand what mental illness is and what can be done about it.

Many people with mental health problems will often feel isolated and rejected and too afraid to share their problems with others purely because of the way they might be perceived. This lack of understanding means they are less likely to get the kind of help and support they need and are in danger of slipping even further into depression and mental illness. People need to understand that mental illness need not be a barrier to a better quality of life and that help is available and that most people with a mental health problem can regain full control over their lives if they get the support they need.

A new guide to mental health

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced a new guide to mental health which was published in November 2007 and is aimed at informing the general public about what mental illness is and is a big step towards tackling the stigma that is still attached to mental illness.

The guide is written in an easy to understand format and over 60 mental health experts have contributed to it. The Mind: A User’s Guide contains chapters that cover a whole range of mental illnesses and includes a section on how the brain works, how mental illness is diagnosed, and how to cope with it.

A Scottish survey

In Scotland, a national survey of public attitudes to mental health Well? What Do You Think? (2006) was published in September 2007 and highlighted that although people living in socially deprived areas have a higher incidence of mental health, the level of stigmatisation is still no lower than in other areas. This suggests that being confronted with mental illness is not enough to change the attitudes towards it.

There are also gender differences too. According to the Scottish survey, men with a mental health problem were more likely to be treated with suspicion than women and were also more inclined to avoid social contact with someone else with a mental health problem. Even out of those who displayed a positive attitude towards people with mental health problems, many said they would be reluctant to tell anyone if they had a mental health problem themselves which just goes to show that there is still fear surrounding other peoples’ perceptions of mental health.

A CIPD Survey

A recent study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and KPMG consultants surveyed over 600 employers and reported that doctors are not doing enough to help people with mental health problems return to work and that this is costing the business world billions of pounds. For example, only 3% of the participants rated doctor support as “very good”.

It may be that doctors really don’t know what else to offer someone suffering from depression and anxiety other than drugs and time off work. Even more worrying was the fact that 52% of employers maintained that they never hired anyone with a history of mental illness which serves to perpetuate the stigma. On a more positive note, of those that did hire someone with a mental health problem, more than half said the experience had been “positive”.

Changing attitudes

A lot is being done by governments and organisations to try to change public attitudes towards mental health but is it enough? Until we all recognise that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it can affect any one of us at any time regardless of our age, gender or social background, the stigma attached to mental illness is likely to persist.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it can affect any one of us at any time regardless of our age, gender or social background, and yet the stigma attached to mental illness still persists. Although a number of government initiatives, awareness campaigns and organisations have been set up specifically to tackle mental health stigma and change our attitudes towards mental health in general, there is still a long way to go.

It is therefore up to each and every one of us as individuals to make sure we are well informed and understand the issues involved because only when the public are fully aware of the facts will mental health stigma become a thing of the past.

Systems Thinking in ‘ORGAN’-Izations

What is systems thinking? Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. That definition and many like it are found all around the internet, but do we know what it looks like in action? I found it confusing in many cases due to these same resources stating that a systems thinking approach is the opposite of breaking a larger system down into its parts to be analyzed and/or improved. It is my opinion that using a systems thinking approach in an organization is a balance of both.

I’ve read a lot about tearing down these functional areas as if they are some kind of barrier standing in the way of a systems approach. I am going to disagree with this and state that we simply need to work with them differently. I strongly agree with the need for these teams, but the information within should be openly available to all other teams and the communication paths should be directly available.

In every business we have a product, service, solution, etc… to provide to someone and in many it is important to have expertise organized into functional teams within the organization. These functional teams need to be in place for organizations to provide important pieces such as expertise, accountability and responsibility. Building a culture of relating these functional teams to systems that are part of a larger system and promoting collaboration between these systems is how I would describe getting your organization to a systems thinking approach.

A systems approach provides many things from efficiencies and cost savings to feedback loops and product improvements. It can even have a positive influence over morale.

After recent discussions on systems thinking I was looking for an example of an organization that utilizes a systems approach effectively. What I realized is that not only is the human body a great example of many things working together for a common goal, but that we study and teach on this subject recognizing each of these parts as systems working together.

If you were to look up the Human Organism and write down the highlights, you are probably going to write something like skeletal system, muscular system, nervous system, etc… See the common factor?

Now hold that thought and let’s look at the human body as we look at our own organizations. Imagine a standard org chart with organ systems breaking down into each system (nervous, muscular, digestive, etc… ), then to the organs themselves (heart, lung, liver, etc… )

From atoms to molecules to organelles that form cells which form tissue which leads to organs that make up an organ system and results in an organism.

If the body worked vertically it probably wouldn’t function let alone be what it is today. The body maintains our functional groups that allows for expertise, responsibility and accountability; but still has many interworking systems.

Notice that when we speak of the functional teams that make up the body, we refer to them as systems. The body has 11 major organ systems, but what you cannot display in such a standard org chart representing the body is the overlapping of these systems. Nearly all of the major organs of the major systems have other organs from other systems connected to them. Notice that I said there are 11 ‘major’ systems. Choose your belief here, but whether fantastic evolution or a genius creator, the need for interworking systems was obviously not overlooked. I listed some organs that fall under their organ system, but what happens when I ask you where the hypothalamus resides? It is a gland so let’s say its functional area is the endocrine system, but it’s function is being responsible for the activities of the autonomic nervous system. This happens to us everyday right? Your software developers are not writing software to develop software.

We’ve decided that with the org chart of the human body if you will, it needs a system to link the system, hence we have what is known as the neuroendocrine system. This is found again and again throughout the human body where functional areas overlap. The muscular and skeletal systems work so closely and are dependent on each other for optimization of movement and support that we have a musculoskeletal system. Genius right?

The musculoskeletal system is not a whole new functional area of the business with new management, etc… Consider instead that it is a space where representatives from both systems come to collaborate on their ideas of how to reach the common goal and then returns to their own system.

Aside from not addressing dependencies from multiple functional areas to optimize the outcome, silos cause other issues in the organization. Regardless what your functional area is, it is better than the others right? If you are an installation tech, you could meet your goals if development had it together and if you are in development your product is fine if only your installation guys were smart enough to implement it.

We’ve got to tear down these silos and interact. Every decision made in a functional system is going to change the overall system. If your change is not matched and/or countered by other changes the result has changed. What a standard org chart (silos) doesn’t do is help us identify where a problem is or visually instill the idea that what one does has a greater consequence to the common goal. As an example, let’s assume you have hypoglycemia.

Well, hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too low. Now you have double vision, fast heart, nervous, shaking, sweating, etc… Each system is reacting. If you take medicine to rectify the symptoms without understanding the true cause you could damage your pancreas or cause other systems to work harder to counter the new effects while not actually curing the problem.

Hypoglycemia can be caused by medications or alcohol so it could be the fault of the mouth. If not the mouth maybe the overall digestive system for not breaking down the carbohydrates or back down in that functional system to the pancreas for not producing insulin. Maybe it’s the blood stream and maybe it’s that the liver and/or muscles aren’t storing glucose properly. It very well might be a digestive system problem, but unless we understand how systems overlap you might of just replaced your director of digestion when in fact the problem could of been any one of circulatory, muscular, or endocrine systems.

Similarly, defects in the muscles and bones can be the result of neurological problems, metabolic or vascular disorders, nutritional imbalances, etc… If any one of the systems that make up the human body were to over/under produce or change what it does all together, it can drastically change every other system and the overall result of what they were previously working together to do.

The body has 5 vital organs being the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and pancreas. Scroll up if you need to, but I’ll just tell you that the blocks are red and each resides inside of a functional system. What?! The brain isn’t higher than bones? All of these systems work together and due to this the information uses the nervous, muscular, circulatory, and other systems to share information where they overlap and transport it to another system it interacts with. If you were to put your hand on a hot surface the body reacts by sending signals to other parts of the body. Your muscles contract to pull away, it notifies your brain of the incident, your blood pressure increases while you breath heavier, your pupils dilate, and you start releasing hormones like adrenaline.

Many systems in the body just worked together to notify, react and rectify and it did so by communicating within interworking systems rather than all information leaving the critical areas and coming back via the same point it went it out. Good thing or you might just still have your hand on a hot surface waiting for that single point of communication to be available.

Any living organism is amazing, but remove any one system or even tamper with it without proper communication to the others and if you are still alive, you’ve just caused cancer.

To do this an organization needs to instill a culture of collaboration and team building so that the vital organs can work together while the functional manager acts as a servant leader to keep his experts focused, trained, and with the tools they need to do what they do.

With all of the communication that the body has going on, you can provide it with the right nutrients and not only is it healthy, it becomes self healing when the unknown arises. Shouldn’t your organization be self healing?