The Brave New World of VR
For loyal mwah. readers (hello friends, and thank you!), you will know that we’re obsessed by designing work differently. We are continuing to explore and design new ways of working and pioneering brand new ways forward with a special group of brave partners across the corporate, government and small business sectors.
A very cool part of our work recently has been focussed on creating circuit breaking experiences through Virtual Reality (VR). Looking at how VR can trigger empathy, understanding and most importantly, behaviour change. How the chance to live in someone else’s shoes, even just for a few minutes, can open a different conversation. One that allows the ‘eggshells’ to be clearly explored, and beyond this, creates an environment where we can all confidently understand and own our role in getting work right for ourselves and each other.
As we delve deeper and start looking at the extremes of technology, we are constantly excited, and always a little cautious, about where we may take this in business and in society.
The questions that continue to bounce around the mwah. office walls are confounding.
Is it possible to have deep humanity AND awesome technology at the same time?
Can we take things further in this space?
Is this far, ‘too far’?
How could we use this marriage of tech and deep humanity seamlessly humming along together, so that we can get the future working better for more of us?
The Big Thinking Debate
As we do when we are faced with big hairy questions like this (which are frankly hurting our heads), we asked some friends to join us for a big-thinking discussion. And this time, we brought in the big guns. Some of the most senior HR and Business Leaders from around Australia (and indeed the world) who also happen to be some of our awesome clients and members of the mwah. community. Globally renowned VR experts. And for good measure, we threw in one of Australia’s best winemakers (if you haven’t already- check out Meerea Park Wines) to help us keep the conversation flowing.
After the team all had a play with some of the VR experiences (on Power and Exclusion) we have built with our partners’ Equal Reality, we all got to talking (over a very good glass or two, of Meerea Park’s ‘Hell Hole’ Shiraz)
So, what did we talk about?
We start light. Where else could we be using VR in our work?
We explore recruitment, promotion, safety, talent, perhaps even disaster management simulations? Our agreement is – wherever a chance to actually ‘live’ an experience and create deep understanding, empathy, and insight is valuable – then VR could sensibly be used.
Which is when things start to get a little hairy.
Personal Safety, Individual Value, and Bias
What happens if a VR experience is triggering? If an experience is too realistic and creates concerns for a person’s psychological safety? Could a VR experience do more harm than good?
The views across the room are mixed. Stories are shared about where VR could push people too far… For example, what if someone who had been bullied did a VR scenario on bullying. What happens next? Do these experiences need a trigger warning? Or could this take away from the impact of the experience for the majority?
What about recruitment and promotion? Is a person’s reaction and behaviour in a VR simulation, really reflective of how they would perform in real life? And could using VR for this kind of application open up the prospect of ‘gaming’ these experiences, and potentially undermining the ‘pure’ value of this technology?
And even hairier… Can VR ever be built without bias? Given VR is often used to create an experience that allows for a deep discussion and potentially behaviour change (focussed around our own biases), what happens when the VR itself is built with certain biases ‘coded in’ and perhaps not articulated?
These questions and challenges are hard. But they are critical. Critical in creating a view as to our role in this space. And not ‘accidentally’ creating experiences, or using technology, in a way that damages people and humanity, instead of actually taking it positively into the future.
These challenges are not for us to be scared of, or for us to use to deter our efforts. They should encourage us to keep being brave and trying new things, but do this with care, sensitivity, and planful action.
So, what did the group say in response to these big questions? Well it was all about context. The context of the business, the scenario, the team, the industry, the state of society and about each individual in the business.
There is no magic bullet, no one size fits all.
But what there is, is a whole lot of amazing opportunity for humanity, tech and business, to link together seamlessly and create a new way forward. It’s just going to take a little thought, context and care.