Gamification Basics

On July 26th, we held a webinar with Yaniv Corem, (mis)chief design officer at YCXD and Roni Floman, our VP marketing. You can access the replay here, or read the webinar recap below. The comments below were made by Yaniv Corem.

How do you motivate the “human operating system”?

I want to start by telling you a story about human motivation. So this is a picture from a regular gym on the first day of the year. Its full of energetic, motivated and very sweaty people, and here is a picture of the same gym, a month later. It’s empty. In the fitness Industry this phenomenon is known as the new year’s resolution effect and it is caused by a bug in our operating system, aka our motivation. This notion of motivation of the human operating system is actually the key message of the book “drive” by Daniel Pink. Pink suggested that like an operating system, our motivation has been evolving over the years to meet the demands of the changing environments.

So Motivation 1.0 or, survival, was simple and very straight forward. You saw a dinosaur – you ran. You wanted food – you went hunting and gathering.

Then came motivation 2.0 or, extrinsic motivation. This took place during the Industrial Revolution. When workers were placed along assembly lines and tasked with doing one specific job over and over and over again. To increase productivity, factory managers introduced incentives, such as bonuses or competition.

Now, with the digital revolution, motivation 3.0 – intrinsic Motivation – is the latest version of our operating system. Factories and assembly lines turned into cubicles and computer screens. As we shift from motivation 2.0 to motivation 3.0 most employees feel overwhelmed by the decisions they have to make.

Why is workplace redesign needed?

Back in 2010 I was a part of a social technology group in IBM research. I lead the R&D into Gamification. And I spent many evenings and nights responding to e-mails, tweeting, writing code, viewing papers. We call this multitasking but it is extremely shallow, distracted work.

Tom Cochran, CTO at Atlantic Media published an article in 2013 with the title “email is not free”. He started by saying that “my job description does not include managing email flow”. He figured that processing emails took at least an hour and a half daily. So we need powerful strategies to win the war through focus and productive work.

You probably heard that “Gamification is not about turning everything into a game”, yet I think that it is about turning some things into a game.

So let’s look at the basic definition of a game.

  • It is every activity with clear goals (what am I trying to accomplish)
  • A fair rule system (how do I accomplish)
  • Real-time feedback (where am I in the process of working on my goals), and
  • Games are also voluntary.

This might as well be the definition for work, right? The only difference is that play is a choice and work is mandatory.  But on the other hand, many organizations are beginning to understand that we need to start thinking about employees as players who volunteer their time and skill to play your game. That’s the moment when you understand that expecting employees to work because you pay them is no longer enough. Instead, workplace experience is the new currency.

Goals and games

There is no idle time in games. At every point of a game the players are working on goals that are tailored to their specific skill levels. A challenge that is not too hard to cause frustration nor too easy to cause boredom. When this is accomplished players remain in a constant state of flow.

Games also have a fair rule system, they are the embodiment of meritocracy. The players know how to accomplish the goals and advance in the game. To play a game is to agree to follow a specific rule system. Gamification in the workplace means that everyone is on the same playing field, they know how to play and they agree to a specific rule system. Finally, games offer a rich feedback experience. Harvard professor Teresa Amabile studied employee performance and found that employees who receive timely feedback on their progress were more engaged.

For feedback in the workplace, we need to take two parameters into consideration. The format, points, badges, leader board, progress bar, level status and etc. are some of the ways that games use to deliver feedback to players. It is important to remember that feedback is also a way of telling an employee how important a task is. Context is important too: what fires together, wires together. In other works, the closer the feedback is to the event that triggered it, the more effective that the feedback is. Using feedback and attempting to form habits with gamification is a winning strategy too.

Four rules for gamification

To conclude here I would like to offer four key ideas from Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen.

  • Focus on the wildly important. Gamification is great at breaking down complex goals into bind sized tasks and keeping your execution aimed at the most important jobs to be done.
  • Act on the lead measures. There are lagging and there are leading measures. Lagging measures are the things that you are trying to improve, for example customer satisfaction. The problem with lagging measures is that by the time you get to results it might be too late to change the underlying conditions. That’s what leading measures are for. Gamification creates this virtual feedback rule between leading and lagging measures.
  • Keep a compelling score board, and this goes towards many discussions about leaderboards in games and in the work place, the thing is that people play different leagues and you should take this into consideration when forming leaderboards. Doing this can create both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
  • Create a cadence and use accountability – this is where I think thinking about work as play, as a game, is important. When everyone sees where everyone else are, or in other words, when everyone gets on the same playing field, if you will, a sense of accountability begins to form and it’s not trivial. Gamification provides that natural rhythm that keeps the team moving forward. It’s actually a concept called social facilitation, it was first discovered with cyclists, they race faster when racing against someone else versus against time.
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