Guy Halfteck, founder and CEO of Knack, a company that produces games designed to measure players’ professional aptitudes, speaks with Techonomy founder David Kirkpatrick about helping people identify job skills in a digital age. Read excerpts from the conversation below, or download the full transcript.
Halfteck: How do we go about discovering, nurturing, and developing human potential? Through helping people figure out from a very early age where they belong in terms of education, training, career track—what’s the right thing for them to do?
Surprisingly, we don’t have many tools to figure out how to match people with opportunity. This is a huge social problem. Knack is about building a company that will change people’s lives and change the economics of human potential.
If you think about all the technologies that are available for discovering oil or discovering any other natural resources and harvesting electricity and wind, we don’t have any comparable technology for discovering and harvesting and developing human potential. Knack is trying to make this fundamental change in terms of how we empower individuals, how we empower businesses, communities, and educational institutions to go about figuring out what potential people have, how to develop that, and how to match them with opportunities.
What Knack is about, more concretely, is discovering your strengths and talent through game play. We have six scientists on board who weave state-of-the-art behavioral science insights into the games. The game observes what you do, how you do it, how you perform, how you learn, how you change your strategies, how you cope with failure, how you recover from failure. Everyone is wired to play games—as toddlers, babies, young adults, and up to very late ages, people are fascinated by games. They motivate people, they immerse them, engage them in experience. We are actually building games that have a very deep social purpose, to help people, to empower and enable them to do better in their life.
Everything you do in the game and everything you actually choose not to do and the sequence of how you do things is all being logged by our technology. And the data is then analyzed to give you insight and feedback into your personality, your behavior. The result is you start to unlock your behavioral DNA. You’re starting to unlock your unique signature that encompasses many traits, abilities, aptitudes, personality traits ranging across very different domains of your personal makeup.
We are going to use that technology to empower people in a number of ways, first and foremost in education. Figuring out the right education for you. Are you into engineering, or are you into life sciences or medicine or humanities? This discovery, this exploration, this insight-driven, data-driven expression can start very early on, maybe even when you’re in grade school.
The other thing is to help people discover professional opportunities. Mainstream corporate America uses all sorts of proxies and tools to assess whether David is the right fit for a job at Google. If David doesn’t have the right SAT, David is not going to have a position at any such company. But that is a problem. That’s a problem both for individuals and for companies. This is an unsustainable approach to finding great people. Skills are important. But skills are less important in the future of jobs and in the future of work, because many companies—and we hear it repeatedly from companies around the world—are looking for raw potential. They are looking for people they are going to be able to bring on board, develop, nurture, train, and make them stick around the company and assume and develop and acquire new skills. So they are really looking for raw potential, for that human potential, not for the hard skills that were acquired as part of some training program or education.
This will enable people to match themselves into the right organizations, the right roles, the right culture, and do the best with their potential.
We believe the disruptive potential of behavioral computing—being able to access and get insight into the behavioral makeup of people, and being able to use that to empower people in communication, in forming connections, in placing themselves into schools, colleges, jobs, and promoting and training them—is a very powerful thing that will minimize the importance of pedigree or credentials. We’re working with a number of global companies. With Shell Oil Company, we’re using our games to discover a predictive success signature for high innovators. We’re running a pilot with several hundred people at Shell throughout the world where they play our games, we map their unique behavioral signature, and then we build a predictive model, algorithmically, from that data to predict what are the attributes that differentiate high innovators from everyone else.
Once we have that signature, Shell can cast a very broad net across the globe and find all the innovators, whether it’s internally or the kid in India that doesn’t speak English. Games are language neutral, right?
We partnered with one of the largest medical centers in New York City, where we’re running a pilot to discover the success signature, what makes a great physician, and being able to use that to select and train and develop physicians for the future.