How Will the Metaverse Affect Productivity? – HBS Working Knowledge – Harvard Business School Working Knowledge

In 1992, the very funny cyberpunk novelist Neal Stephenson brought “the pizza Deliverator,” also known as Hiro Protagonist, to life along with the notion of the Metaverse in his book Snow Crash.
Hiro, a “member of the hacker community in his spare time,” lives with a roommate in a U-Stor-It container in Inglewood, California. After losing his day job, he turns to his “auxiliary emergency backup job” as a “freelance stringer for the CIC, the Central Intelligence Corporation of Langley, Virginia.” He, along with thousands of others, uploads information to a repository known as “the Library,” where it is organized into an alternative environment. The Library was formerly the Library of Congress, but it long since has evolved from information in books to complex computer files.
Much of the time, Hiro’s not here at all. He lives in “a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing on his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse. It beats the [expletive] out of the U-Stor-It.”
Recently, Mark Zuckerberg reminded us that the notion of the Metaverse has been flourishing in the tech world. Let’s assume that his adoption of the notion as a central organizing strategy for Facebook is more than a public relations ploy to divert attention from the company’s well-publicized problems.
After all, Google can now provide an Oxford dictionary definition of the Metaverse as “a virtual reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.” It has been described as a shared virtual world where you (or more accurately, your hologram or avatar) can, among other things, go to school, go to work, play games, watch concerts, and browse stores. For Facebook, or now Meta, its dominance in social networking combined with a Meta-based strategy is an inviting path into much larger markets.
Futurist Cathy Hackl has described the Metaverse as “alternate digital realities where people work, play, and socialize.” That reminds us of the things that were promised us by futurists at the time of the development of the internet, many of which have exceeded expectations and some that have not. For example, it wasn’t so long ago that live streaming was thought to be a luxury possible only when the capacity of the internet could be expanded to accommodate storage and uploading capabilities demanded by the new services. Now it’s commonplace; we take it for granted.
Fans of the television show, Alter Ego, in which avatars controlled by contestants competing to become the next pop star, would argue that Alter Ego is little more than an introduction to the Metaverse. They’re ready to enter and enjoy it, and possibly become more productive in it.
On the other hand, phenomena that didn’t live up to expectations, at least for many years, were improvements in productivity, to the extent they can be measured. There are many explanations. We had to learn how to use the technology. Much of the early use of the internet was for activities that had little impact on productivity. Even today, one can argue that the internet gives and takes away productivity (in terms of mind-numbing activities that contribute little to productivity). However, like the space program, we have undoubtedly benefitted as a society in many ways that contribute to real—not the measured kind of—productivity.
Some will argue that the Metaverse is little more than a place in which misfits can escape their own U-Stor-Its. Before assuming that, remember that this will be a virtual world of work as well as play.
The question here is how we can expect the Metaverse to affect productivity. Will it follow patterns associated with many new technologies—that is, disappoint us for a number of years? Or will the innovations in how we work and collaborate in the Metaverse be so profound that real (whether measured or not) gains in productivity will occur relatively soon?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Editor’s note: Heskett explores the leader’s role in his upcoming book, Win From Within: Build Organizational Culture for Competitive Advantage, available in January 2022.

How Long Does It Take to Improve an Organization’s Culture?
Here’s a succinct response from Juan E. Gomez Inciso reflecting many of the responses to the question: “It takes what it takes, given the circumstances and people involved,” especially quality of leadership.
J-Giangrande, for example, commented, “Culture, as the article highlights, is difficult to change overnight … However, it can be expedited with the right leader at the helm who demonstrates the will, the attitude, and the passion for change.”
Moses Moshe Kaisara added, “The leadership sets the pace of change and intended period of adoption by clearly communicating both the business benefits (including the risk of not changing) … (and for employees) ‘what’s in it for me.’”
The predominant message of respondents was that culture change is a complex process often requiring years to accomplish. Several did, however, recommend ways of improving the odds of success. Alina Sandell, for example, said, “Key to all of this I think is assessing the characteristics of your culture, looking at whether your culture is aligned to your strategic requirements and then targeting effort to turn the dial on those gaps…”
Nick C commented, “The more we understand the dominant logic and power of the most influential culture traits, the more we can design an operating climate which through leadership and managerial system and design progressively shape and ‘nudge’ the collective cohort in ways that mitigate (the) unhelpful and leverage the helpful.”
Bill Fotsch said, “Getting the right leaders and managers is important. But putting the right management system in place enhances the performance of all existing team members. People come and go. The management system has staying power.”
Bill Edwards advised, “Do not make it complicated.” His recipe for culture change success included, “organization leadership (along with frontline managers that) model the desired culture,” a reason behind the change (that) “is well articulated and understood by the stakeholders and … not centered on profitability but instead on a common purpose (e.g., embracing industry changes/trends or employee satisfaction), and recognition for colleagues “displaying and living the new cultural norms.”
Do you agree? What do you think?


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