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Video Game Shapes Leadership Style of the New Head of MIT’s Media Lab

Joi Ito has a knack for leading people, which he demonstrated, of all places, in World of Warcraft.

There is possibly no better introduction to Joi Ito, the multi-talented investor and thinker who has just been announced as the new head of MIT’s media lab, than his account of how he became so addicted to World of Warcraft that he became a Guild Master in the game. What I remember best about this presentation (which is trapped on Google Video so you should watch it before it goes away) aside from it being electrifying, was the part when he noted that he would listen to the Guild’s voice chat channel while making dinner, just so he could stay on top of their activities.

WoW may have turned into a cliche, but at the time it was radical in its sophistication. It inspired, much as tablet computers and social media are now, whole new levels of involvement from users.

Ito used it as a platform for exploring non-hierarchical leadership models, and now he has a chance to see how well those translate to the real world. Will he build WoW-style heads-up displays that allow him to manage “by instrumentation” as he once managed his character? Will his skill at networking via the Internet – he once called WoW “the new golf” – allow him to return the Media Lab to the levels of funding it once commanded?

Whatever happens, we’re about to find out what will come about under the leadership of a man who talks about going on six hour Warcraft raids without, apparently, giving a thought to how it might affect the opinion of others about his professionalism. Ito is an icon of another era in the Internet – a more innocent time. If there’s anything the Internet needs now, it’s a restoration of its early sense of playfulness.

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