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“Instead of optimising for engagement, we’re optimising for humanity”

A conversation with veteran strategist and social innovator Erin Liman about her journey to becoming Chief Design Officer of Cordial World, gamification, and the opportunities it brings to reengineer how social platforms work.

Erin Liman is all about unlocking people’s innate genius to transform communities. From her 25+ years of industry experience supporting businesses to solve complex problems, she attests that the sharing of this all-too-often unrealized knowledge and lived experience that everyone holds is what drives successful innovation.

The question that Liman keeps returning to is, “How do we enable people to show up for all that they are?” This is what drew her to Cordial World — the potential to realize the kind of knowledge-sharing platform that she has known was needed since 2006.

Back then, Liman was working for a company with over 55,000 people, driving innovation projects with diverse teams who brought a wealth of different mindsets. What intrigued Liman was that, although the work was “incredible,” there was so much more they didn’t know about each other than what they did. Liman refers to Adam Grant’s concept of languishing as she describes the missed opportunities that arise from not truly knowing one another and untapped human potential:

“How might we enable the right work to find the right people? They’ve got so much more to give, but they’re defined by their job and can’t tie to their aspirations. So many people are twisting themselves up to fit a job description that doesn’t really suit them. They can’t give their best because they’re siloed, and their manager doesn’t understand their talents.”

So intrigued was Liman by this dilemma that she created a platform to try and capture what people’s “special geniuses” were. However, the technology that was required to constantly update these “living resumes” was not there at the time. Cut to 2021, when Liman happened to meet Cordial World CEO Chris MacGregor on a business call. MacGregor’s description of Cordial World as creating a network for people to share their lived experience awoke a key commonality:

“I thought, huh, if you’re thinking about that, we’re probably thinking about some of the same unlocking of genius that needs to be exchanged. We have the opportunity to be that connective tissue: how do we have the problem right, and find the right genius to solve it?”

Liman has taught systems and design thinking for decades, and when asked what motivates her in her work with Cordial, she explains that empathy is a key driver: “Leaning into someone’s experience, how they see things, and what the blockers are.” She shares the example of her mother, who uses a wheelchair, and says that if anyone spent an evening with her, they would truly understand the challenges of opening an oven door at wheelchair-level and reaching a sink with a chair that doesn’t raise well:

“So many rich opportunities are missed because we’re never having those conversations about understanding what someone else is having a hard time with. All too often, we decide ‘Oh, here’s the problem they have.’ So, we create things that don’t matter and miss the things that do.”

Liman is equally driven by the potential for Cordial to provide a space where the marginalized and missing are finally heard:

“A lot of social platforms are very ego-driven, there to draw an audience, which is fine… but then other voices that are equally important are drowned out, or never heard. When I solve a problem, it’s really ‘Who is missing from this? Who else could contribute something really valuable?’ And it’s not just the loudest people.”

In an era where we have seen the consequences of unchecked algorithms, Liman emphasises the importance of doing no harm and using constant data capture and feedback loops to test solutions. The Cordial World platform will be built to be tested against key questions, such as:

  • What are the risks?

  • How might it fail?

  • Were we right?

  • Did we learn something unexpected?

A longer-term aspiration of Liman’s is to piece together these data loops to learn something different and create new simulations. Thus, the platform itself is designed to learn and evolve from its members, while it is there to support their own learning and knowledge-sharing.

When it comes to implementing such an ambitious vision, Liman explains how gamification will help to shape an online space that promotes Cordial World’s values:

“There’s something magical about games. There’s something about gamifying where suddenly you put someone into a context and they have the opportunity and support systems to build skills and knowledge along a manageable pathway, be their whole self, and give their best. Gamifying provides guardrails, booster supports, or however you want to look at it. By doing something you learn something, and it allows for trial and error. You want to keep doing it until you get it right.”

When asked about the kind of behaviours gamification could incentivize on the Cordial World platform, Liman provides some possibilities:

Onboarding: “Just to get people through and understand, what are the norms here that allow for a psychologically safe space? What is our core organizational culture when we could have people from all over the world and tribes of people that have been traditionally marginalized or left out? I like to think that there are universal principles that apply to all of us, I think there are some basics there.”

Collaboration: “A good game is often a collaborative one. Some of the massive multiplayer online games do that really well, like a group of people fighting against a monster. Each person plays their part… How do you start to come together and recognize which things are needed? Some of that can be done through technology, but we might need human arbitration to connect questions with the right knowledge providers.”

Motivation to learn: “I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates people; about that engaging work, learning while problem solving. If you are a people person, or you care a lot about an issue, that’s where listening to multiple perspectives may really be valuable. Gamification means someone’s not telling you what to do — choose your own adventure.”

Recognition: “Leaderboards, traditional things that were old-school gamification, can be used to recognize points of view that successfully captured a problem. So, rather than ‘Look at me,’ imagine a community where they catch you doing something amazing and they’re like, ‘Do you see what she did? Isn’t that amazing?’”

Curiosity: “We want to encourage people to lean in and say ‘tell me more about that…’ — how do we draw that out? If there are common probe questions that produce great results, can we utilize AI to use them more at scale? You don’t want it to just be spoon-fed, but by transforming information into different mediums — artwork, songs, poems — you give people the chance to interact with the material and make it more accessible to more people.”

Citizenship, altruism and common courtesy: “If someone isn’t aware they’re being discourteous, how do we address that? Do we understand the reasons behind it? Could we train our AI in non-violent communication and Emotional Intelligence questions to encourage different word choices?”

Liman provides other examples of how gamification can foster humility, courage, and vulnerability. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and the Cordial team are motivated to use the tools necessary to design for humanity rather than shareholder profit. But, when considering the question of what the tech will be truly built to enable, it is striking that for Liman, it comes down to self-actualisation:

“The power of knowing what your part is, and where it’s needed. If people are drawn to the platform, they should be pondering how their gift relates to the things they care about. ‘What should you call on me for?’”
It is Liman’s hope that Cordial World fosters a community who are willing and ready, both to call on others and to answer the call when their particular genius is needed. And, as Liman remarks, once you’ve heard another person’s ingenious story, “You can’t see the world the same way again.” This is the power of knowledge sharing done well.

Written by Hannah Lind, and published on International Women’s Day, 2022.

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