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For many people, work is a drag. For Jim Lavoie, it's a game -- literally.
Lavoie, CEO of Rite-Solutions, utilizes a mock stock market called "Mutual Fun" in which employees of the information technology firm are given $10,000 in fantasy money to invest in various "stocks" -- in reality, technologies, products and cost-saving measures they think Rite-Solutions should be focusing on.
Based on the results of this pseudo-stock market, Lavoie is able to get a better idea of where Rite-Solutions should be headed.
"We believe the next brilliant idea is going to come from somebody other than senior management, and unless you're trying to harvest those ideas, you're not going to get them," Lavoie explains. "That's why we give everybody an equal voice, and a game to provoke their intellectual curiosity."
"Our services lead to products that help our customers make decisions faster, with less margin for error," Lavoie says. "Whether you're in business or a war-fighting environment, that's a very good thing."
To make his own business decisions, however, Lavoie enlists his 150 employees.
"This is a very competitive field, so you have to be an organization where smart people want to reside," he says. "The old notion of a labor force is gone within today's technology companies. We are now in a knowledge force. If you can establish a community of mutual respect and give people an outlet for their creative genius, you can have fun harvesting it."
Enter Mutual Fun, which Lavoie calls an "intellectual opinion game."
Employees can divide their play money among three indices -- the "Spazdaq," which contains emerging technologies Rite-Solutions could pursue; the "Bow Jones," which contains products and services in-line with their current offerings which may utilize those technologies; and "Savings Bonds," cost-saving initiatives the company could enact.
To decide where to put their money, employees read not a prospectus but an "expect-us" -- a document written by the employee who launched a particular stock, outlining what Rite-Solutions can do with the idea. All stocks debut at $10, and a market maker (Don Stanford; retired CTO from industry) adjusts their prices based on the amount of intellectual investment each stock attracts from employees.
Important to note is that opinion (mutual fun) is not intellectual investment. Intellectual investment by an employee means that the "expect-us" provoked them to take a personal "interest" and move a stock forward toward improved value (budge-it). A ticker tape of updated stock prices and stock news scrolls across employees' computer screens. Lavoie sees senior managements job as "Adventure Capitalists". The game has a very sticky vocabulary that is close enough to be understood, but askew enough to be fun.
"From Day One, every new employee can see what we collectively believe the future technologies will be and where they'll be applied by us, so they can chart their own career path within the company," Lavoie says. And, he notes, "there's no real management 'disapproval' loop, which often is the gauntlet employees feel they have to run if they want to propose new ideas." The game does use smart routing agents and threaded discussions within a stock to promote dialog between interested investors across the different offices of the company from San Diego to Rhode Island.
"We think this has huge potential in the emerging knowledge-harvesting market," he says. "This is a living game to move a company forward. We could strip out our stocks and a chemical company, another technology company or an advertising company could use the model tomorrow -- these are logical indexes for any company."