Articles and Blog

Capability Games : Your career is now the ultimate multiplayer game.

Best selling author of Talent Economics, Gyan Nagpal, shares his observations on disruptive career and hiring models.

This article was first published by the Global Recruiter magazine. You can read it here: https://magazine.theglobalrecruiter.com/2017/05/15/gr-177-asia-pacific-capability-game/pugpig_index.html


If you, like hundreds of other recruiters, think data professionals are in short supply – think again!
Topcoder is one of the world’s premier sites for top-drawer technology talent. Founded in 2001, the site now boasts over one million technologists on its crowdsourced platform. Of this number, data professionals number somewhere in the tens of thousands. What attracts them to the Topcoder community isn’t just the opportunity to pitch for projects from NASA or Hewlett-Packard, it is also the ability to learn and benchmark their rapidly evolving skill and to do this continuously.
As one gaming geek who splits time between work gigs and fantasy warcraft describes it: “Capability is now the ultimate online multiplayer game.”

Topcoder’s founder Jack Hughes is a huge chess enthusiast and the site uses a methodology modelled on the ELO world chess rankings to rank every developer, designer and data professional. The Topcoder team host fortnightly fun competitions called Single Round Matches (SRMs) which test real-time skills in various categories of data science, machine learning and dynamic programming among others. Winners get cash prizes and add to their rating points, receive feedback and have other Topcoders peer review their work.
Top Coder isn’t the only one doing this. Competitors like HackerRank also use gamification, competitions (called CodeSprints) and award ‘badges’ for accomplishment. HackerRank’s million strong coding community is probably one of the best places to look for technology talent today. So much so, that technology titans like Google and Facebook are building similar platforms. Google hosts regular Code Jams and launched its AI Challenge in 2010. Not to be outdone, Facebook launched its own Hacker Cup in 2011.

Not just technology
The idea is catching on. Media, arts, fashion – they are all transforming into vibrant marketplaces for talent. Creative marketplace Tongal also uses crowdsourced competitions to source marketing and creative content from an army of freelancers and production houses. Today, both marketing directors and ad agencies use Tongal’s 12,000 strong community; making it a powerhouse in an age of social marketing driven through Twitter or Snapchat campaigns. Quite symbolically, during the initial ‘ideation’ phase of any project, concepts must be submitted in 140 characters or less.


Tongal’s revenue at 40 million, might not seem like much, but it has grown six-fold in three years. Probably more importantly, Tongal is profitable and in being so, is almost a poster child of Clay Christiansen’s concept of disruptive innovation. It burst upon the scene in 2009 as a fully online enabler of low-budget, low complexity work that no top agency would want to touch. Contrast that with their client list in 2017. Johnson and Johnson now use Tongal for over 20 of its brands. P&G, Unilever, Lego and General Motors do too.
"Tongal is redefining the content model," says Catherine Balsam-Schwarber, chief content officer of toymaker Mattel, which in 2016, signed a two-year deal which includes the creation of entertainment series and new toy franchises.

Companies can do it too
I have come across tens of non-tech companies recently where gamification, hackathons and similar competitions are already being used to supplement largely hit-and-miss techniques like interviews. Using gamification techniques, Domino’s offers the Pizza Mogul game in Australia to build brand connection and affinity, particularly among high school kids, who would love nothing more than to have their pizza recipe go viral. At the other end of the spectrum, looking for potential spies and code crackers, in 2011 British intelligence agency, GCHQ used an online code game http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/, to reach an audience of candidates well beyond their regular recruitment channels. Interestingly, the legacy of the GCHQ code game goes back to the search for code breakers during the second world war.

Bletchley Park, located in the leafy suburb of Buckinghamshire, 50 miles north-west of London is probably the spot where the second world war was won. It was here that British codebreakers from the British Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), led by mathematician Alan Turing, eventually deciphered the reportedly unbreakable Enigma code used by the German Army. Historians point to this as the critical pivot in the war, leading to several Allied victories including the Battle of the Atlantic. So, where does gaming come in? The Bletchley park crowd of code-breakers once used a harmless newspaper crossword puzzle to secretly recruit talent!


Crossword puzzles, it turns out, follow similar principles as code setting. Hence solving them requires similar skills: logical and lateral thinking and creative approaches to problem-solving. The word enigma after all, is the Greek word for puzzle.
James Grime, an expert on Alan Turing, concurs: “It was problem solvers they needed; unconventional thinkers to solve the problem.” The Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle they placed innocuously on 13th January 1942, asked those who solved it under 12 minutes to call in. Games can be a great way to gain a glimpse at creative skills. In the event you missed the picture above this article, here is the original crossword if you would like a crack at it: http://mumde.net/runtpuz/TuringMachine/

The modern hackathon hiring event has grown from the same DNA of creative problem-solving. Hackathons are being employed as hiring tools from Ivy League campuses to business parks in Hyderabad or Hanoi. Once considered the exclusive domain of technology buffs, we find more non-tech companies are experimenting with them too. Probably because the hackathon is a great way to access the truly innovative talent out there.
As deeply immersive events ranging from 6 to 48 hours, a hackathon is an opportunity to flesh out ideas and prototype solutions on a given theme. As a filter: the best ideators, the strongest lateral thinkers and dogged problem solvers thrive in hackathon environments; and it is for this reason that they have become a preferred hiring tool among startups, looking to scale after a funding round. But hackathons aren’t just being used by pure-play technology firms. Even staid and traditional banks, like RBs and DBS, now use hackathons to hire.

After studying this and several similar trends while researching my new book, I strongly believe that world of talent management will look decidedly different by 2020. And there is always a hidden invitation in every change. The question to ponder is: Are we game?ong startups, looking to scale after a funding round. But hackathons aren’t just being used by pure-play technology firms. Even staid and traditional banks, like RBs and DBS, now use hackathons to hire.
After studying this and several similar trends while researching my new book, I strongly believe that world of talent management will look decidedly different by 2020. And there is always a hidden invitation in every change. 

The question to ponder is: Are we game?