The human brain is unbelievably complex, but sometimes we’re able to find simple “hacks” that can really improve our lives. Jane McGonigal wrote about a hack like this a few weeks ago in Lifehacker.com (it’s an excerpt from her excellent book, SuperBetter). Apparently, attempting to make a prediction about your day is one of the most reliable ways to activate the part of our brain which is responsible for rewards. McGonigal says these predictions can be anything, from how many emails you’ll get in the next hour, to how many red cars you’ll see on the road. Every prediction we make increases the level of dopamine in our brains, and dopamine is the neurochemical responsible for happiness, as well as motivation, learning and desire.
The reason for this is that every time that you make a prediction, two possible rewarding outcomes are available to you – either you’re right, in which case you’ll receive a dopamine boost, or you’re wrong, in which case you’ll have learned new information about why you were wrong, and since your brain loves learning this also rewards you with a dopamine boost. You can think of it as a kind of a neurological win-win situation.
Betting is attempting to predict
Betting is actually always an attempt to predict the future, even if you’re just using your gut to create these predictions. When you pick a horse to win a race, you’re predicting that this horse will be the one to finish first. Many times, it is a very lousy prediction, since we have absolutely no information to rely on, but still it is a form of prediction. This is also a possible explanation to why we enjoy betting so much, and can even become addicted to it. The rush of dopamine to the brain after every hit or miss, gives us a pleasurable experience that we desire to recreate, again and again.
So how can we use this to enhance employee performance?
When we became aware of all the literature on how prediction and attempting to foresee the future can improve well-being, we had a feeling that there must be a way that we could utilize this in the workplace to enhance employee performance. We started experimenting with very simple betting experiences on our enterprise gamification platform. Essentially, what we did was that we set a mechanism that encouraged employees to predict how they would perform. If your “bet” (actually this is a wager) is successful, you receive double the amount of points that you were supposed to receive for that task.
The results of this mini-experiment were astonishing. We found that allowing employees to predict how they would perform in comparison to their KPIs made them substantially more engaged. In fact, the “betting” feature became one of the most popular features at the Gameffective customer where we first implemented this.
So why does betting on performance work in a gamification environment?
In the time that has passed, we think we understand why this happens:
- Commitment: Attempting to predict your own performance makes you commit to a certain level of performance.
- Autonomy: the level of predicted performance is set solely by the employee herself, so the motivation to uphold the prediction is intrinsic, which is the most powerful and sustainable motivator. It is also willfully chosen by the employee.
- Rewards: An attempt at prediction allows you to reap the benefits of your own performance. In other words, if you are able to uphold the KPI’s that you declared you would, you are awarded for this.
- Reflection: During this process, employees find themselves reflecting on their performance at work, strategizing on how to make the most accurate prediction, and planning out their work load. These are all things that make them much more engaged.
In order for the betting/wager game mechanic to not be abused, the system is programmed so that an employee can only bet on their own performance twice a week. This means that employees have to strategize further and think when the best time in the week is for them to use this betting mechanic.
We are always looking for new ways to improve both performance and the well-being of employees. We’ve found that allowing employees to attempt to predict how they themselves will perform is beneficial both to how they feel at the workplace and to the performance of the organization as a whole. Learn more by scheduling 1-on-1 time with our gamification experts.