6 Reasons Why We Should Apply Game Design Approaches to Designing Workplaces

what is next?“Life is too short to waste on playing bad games.” Yu-kai Chou

Imagine a world of work where your colleagues work tirelessly to complete the hard work that keeps everything moving. They voluntarily stay late and even deprive themselves of sleep to ensure the work is done. Along the way, they collaborate at a moment’s notice to fend off enemies and slay the dragons that arise from unexpected locations, and they’re always working on their own skills development. When things go right, they celebrate, they gain credibility among their colleagues and they nobly take their new-found skills and powers and apply them to even bigger challenges, all the while striving to strengthen the team and the organization.

Sound like fiction to you? Rather than fictional, perhaps it’s virtual—as in gaming. Yes, video gaming.

As part of my research for my latest book project, I’m digging into the theory and application of game-centered design (“gamification”) to our world of work. The findings and the opportunities to adapt and adopt the principles that have tens of millions of people happily engaged in leveling-up by grinding (dealing with the grunt work) and overcoming obstacle after obstacle, may very well hold some of the key answers in the quest to build as Gary Hamel describes it, a modern organization designed for people.

I approached this project with some initial trepidation. Admittedly, my credibility as a gamer is light. Yes, I am old enough to have played the first version of Pong, and if you’re giving me truth serum, I confess to still owning an operating version of the original Atari console from the mid 1970’s. It’s safely stored at my lake house and pulled out on inclement days after all other entertainment activities have been exhausted. Space Invaders anyone?

As part of my research, I’m digging in to not only the theories and principles behind effective game design, but the application of the theory to management. Yes, my wife is actually giving me latitude to “play” as part of my research. (I love this job.)

A number of serious game theorists and designers have spent a great deal of time translating the theories and principles of human motivation, behavioral psychology and economics, neurobiology and other fields into their form of virtual reality in great games. One of those experts, Yu-kai Chou, writing in his fantastic book, Actionable Gamification—Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards, and via his blog, TedX talk and social media activities, offers up a treasure trove of thought-provoking content and guidance for game designers and management thinkers everywhere.

This is not an easy read, but it’s most definitely a voyage of discovery as Chou presents his Octalysis framework describing the 8-core human motivations and how they tie to game design. While he offers up many examples of the application of game design to a variety of activities in the corporate world, including: onboarding, training, marketing, employee and customer engagement, he mostly focuses on the core drives as they relate to creating great games. The game design theory is all his and that of the many experts he cites in this detailed and well document work. The applicability to organization design and the practice of management and all related speculation is mine—don’t blame Chou for my transgressions here.

While I cannot do justice to Chou’s extensive work in this short-form post, a few key points from his book are in order:

“In (his) view, gamification is the craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to the real-world or productive activities.”

The process of gamification is: “…Human focused design—which optimizes for human motivation in a system as opposed to optimizing for pure functional efficiency within the system.”

“Now imagine a world where there is no longer a divide between what you need to do and what you want to do.”

And the cautionary:

“Despite the many case studies on gamification that demonstrate the potential and promise of its great impact in the world, there are still many more examples of poor practices, failed attempts and misconceptions.”

In what is the focal point of the book, Chou presents: “The 8 Core Drives of Gamifcation,” as the building blocks of his “Octalysis” framework. While you’ll recognize these drives from your study of human psychology and various theories of motivation and behavioral economics, his structure is designed for applying the concepts, not just understanding them.

The 8 Core Drives of Chou’s Octalysis Framework:

  1. Epic Meaning and Calling
  2. Development and Accomplishment
  3. Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
  4. Ownership & Possession
  5. Social Influence & Relatedness
  6. Scarcity & Impatience
  7. Unpredictability & Curiosity
  8. Loss & Avoidance

For those of you inclined to go to the scientific sources behind these drives, Chou conveniently recaps a number of the major academic and research studies into motivation and decision-making and relates them to his framework in a chapter near the end of the book. He is quick to highlight that he studied and participated in game design and discovered these drives as part of observing games that succeeded with millions or tens of millions of people. Later on in his work, he studied the science behind what he observed was working with wildly successful games.

And in what to me is the critical contrast between games and real life, Chou offers: “The only problem is, unlike most games with a computer interface, life does not have clear objectives, visual cues to tell me what to do, or feedback mechanics to show me how I have advanced in it.”

He’s right. And perhaps we in management have it mostly wrong.

At Least 6 Reasons Why We Should Consider Applying Game Design Approaches to Designing Workplaces:

1. Our traditional design is mostly flawed. Beyond a handful of firms that we all read about on the “Best Places to Work List,” many of us work in environments that suffer from a variety of systemic maladies that destroy morale, motivation and any propensity towards innovation.

2. We’re stuck in a rut. Consultants and management theorists have been working on tweaking organizational models for decades now, but somehow, they still mostly take on the characteristics of the organizations that emerged in the early and middle throes of the industrial revolution.

3. The obvious has been un-obvious. The construct…the logic, the framework and the base appeal to core human drives of well designed gaming experiences have been on display for a couple of decades and tested by hundreds of millions. However, those in charge (my generation) mostly ignored the power of these models and the design principles. We failed to connect the dots to our kids spending endless hours “leveling up” and the powerful psychology at work in those games.

4. Modern game design is…modern. The video games were designed with a different objective in mind than our organizations. If you follow Gary Hamel (Management Innovation Exchange), you know that he makes a compelling case for the traditional organizational model to have been the tool to convert artisans and farmers and craftspeople effectively into machines able to do the same work over and over with as little variation and as much efficiency as possible.

5. Modern game design is based on principles that have emerged on the Internet and Web. The games of the past two decades were designed with the Internet as an integral component, unlike most of our longstanding organizational and management models still struggling to bolt on these principles.

6. The Beta testing shows it works for humans. Great games draw tens of millions of people to labor unceasingly, to collaborate, to grow and learn, and in some cases to do so at the expense of food and sleep. These games appeal deeply to the motivations that make us go.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m early in my exploration and perhaps just partially baked (or half-baked as critics may point out) in my thinking. I frankly hate the idea of solving our problems in the workplace with the points/badges and leaderboard thinking that dominates so many light attempts at gamification. I’m much more interested in extending and embedding the models and design principles of mega-successful games into our world of work. Stay tuned, and if you have some ideas to build on this early foundation, please share. I’ll read them when I can pry myself away from my latest attempt to level-up!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Leadership Caffeine™—Seeing and Observing

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeve

The Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

A dialog between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

“The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”


“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

The famous author Saul Bellow coined the phrase, “first class noticer” and the late Warren Bennis as well as Harvard’s Max Bazerman both implore(d) us to strengthen our powers of noticing.

”I’ve never seen the world before. Now I was seeing it, and it’s a beautiful, marvelous gift. Enchanting reality! –Saul Bellow

In my discussions with senior leaders, I ask a few simple but not simplistic questions:

  • What’s new that will change everything for your firm?
  • Who are the people on your team that see the future?
  • What are you doing to change the game for the better for your customers?

As you might imagine, the answers to all three of the questions are often…light.

Too many of us view our world through glasses that both narrow the vision and shrink the focal point to a point just a short distance (and time) from the here and now.

We spend an incredible amount of time immersed in a world of our own fabrication—the world as it feels and looks and acts from inside our organization’s walls. It’s not the culture that will kill you, it’s the view. It’s time to change it.

Take off the blinders and look up and out further. Extend your focal point.

Changing the View and Becoming First Class Noticers:

A marketing executive I hold in high regard did this with her team.

She had grown tired of the endless debates about what to do and where to go that were anchored firmly by the view and biases of the people in her firm.

She sent her team out into the field to attend industry events and talk with customers. They parroted what they heard: “faster horses” (more of the same…incremental changes) from the customers, and the same tired industry gossip and scuttlebutt about new features, functions and releases from competitors. She had long been convinced that the only thing that changed at the annual industry trade-shows were the company names on the badges of the same people.

She did something her team viewed initially as odd. She cut the budgets for travel to industry events and she signed people up and sent them out to events and conferences and summits in markets and for technologies far removed from her firm’s industry.

The team was confused.

She sent them out with bewildered looks on their faces, armed with two requirements:

  1. Listen and observe. Pay attention to this environment. What’s happening? What’s new? What’s driving and changing everything? How are the change leaders impacting the incumbents?
  2. Be prepared to come home and share your ideas (no matter how wild) on how what you observed might apply to our industry and customers?

While people were tentative at first, they quickly embraced the idea of listening and learning and observing in these very foreign environments. They met with industry leaders. They lingered at the booths of unfamiliar companies and asked questions. They asked a lot of questions. And then they returned home to share.

Some of their ideas connecting developments two or three degrees away from their industry sounded like science fiction. She was pleased.

They logged the ideas and made them visible in open space area. She encouraged people to return to them and refine and jump and build on the ideas…on their own or in small groups. She encouraged people who developed a belief in a vector to research and experiment. They did.

Over the two years following the start of this program, the company added two of the ideas from this adventure to their long range investment horizon. Two other ideas translated to near-term revenues based on new partnerships uncovered in these pursuits. Her team is now talking with their customers about opportunities to grow and adapt and partner in new ways with new technologies and ideas.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The team in this example extended and broadened their view of the world to their firm’s benefit. They became “first-class noticers” who translated what they observed into ideas and in some cases actions. If your firm is preoccupied in the world that exists inside the walls of your firm, it’s time to push out and open your collective eyes and look around and notice. There’s a lot going on out there. As Bellow says, “Enchanting Reality!”

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.



High Performance Management—Courage and Business Transformation

Graphic displaying terms relevant to high performance managementThe topic of transformation is a challenging one for all management teams. It’s not surprising that few muster the collective courage necessary to transform their organizations even in the face of sustained headwinds or looming crisis.

Certainly, there are different drivers behind the need for significant change. One very common and challenging situation arises when a firm comes face to face with its own impending irrelevance, often created by competitive disruption or technological obsolescence. Another scenario…the one I see most often in technology firms is the need to transform to support growth. Both offer their own unique challenges.

The first situation…impending obsolescence and a high probability of organizational death demands transformation on a major scale. The issues are fairly clear, and the adversary easily observed and studied. While some of the big decisions are obvious…shedding unprofitable endeavors, cutting costs etc. selecting the response or strategy that will postpone or eliminate impending doom is quite challenging. The art and science in this situation isn’t the financial management it’s the strategy and execution work.

In the second scenario, transforming to support scaling…to go from good to great or great to greater, the biggest adversary management teams face is overcoming the comfort of “incrementalism” and wrapping their brains and arms around the need to unite on and drive significant change. The overwhelming emotion for managers is to incrementally fix and tweak and tune what has been working versus taking action to reinvent. What’s needed are new functions, processes, systems and talent with a charter to go to new arenas, and what happens looks more like the duct-tape and flexi-hose repairs I use for sudden plumbing problems. I momentarily stem the crisis, but I don’t fix the systemic issue.

Having lived both of these scenarios in multiple technology businesses, I find the second situation, driving significant change while successful (albeit increasingly stymied by capacity, infrastructure and talent issues) to be the most vexing of the situations. There’s almost never a mandate to change and management teams solve small problems all the while the bigger machine begins to squeak and groan and then smoke. As efficiency and effectiveness decline and good opportunities in new markets or with new products go unrealized, management begins to flail and inevitably, the financials begin to move in the wrong direction.

Navigating and ideally, avoiding the squeaking, groaning and smoking phase takes incredibly strong senior leadership starting at the top with the CEO and carrying through the entire executive management team. In the circumstances where we got this right, the group was able to put ego and personal interest aside and focus collectively on what was right for the business over a longer horizon. The groups found a new performance gear, and while talk of risk and uncertainty dominated much of the dialog (and emotional atmosphere), the unrelenting focus on the need to help the business “Level-Up” defined the mission. There must be unanimity or talk of transformation remains just that.

Conversely, where the need was present but the work failed, these teams lacked the collective courage to consider the topic with anything more than lip-service. Talk of transformation in these cases is infused with politics, self-interest and the dialog if it even turns into that, is more an endless philosophical debate. Those seeking to derail this train are able to easily manipulate the agenda and a less-than-unified team lets it drop. In this case, the focus remains on tackling incremental issues versus systemic. It may work for awhile, but it eventually runs into the brick wall of reality.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you and your team have recognized the warning signs of your firm’s structural, capacity, strategic and human limitations, it’s important to begin framing and forming a discussion that looks beyond the symptoms to the underlying issues. The temptation is to attempt to reduce the symptoms with a variety of small fixes. The need is for the team to rethink what it needs to look and act like to ensure a profitable, healthy future. Don’t fight reality. Recognize that the inertial power of the status quo is strong. It takes extraordinary strength to move beyond how we do things today.

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.





Ideas for Professional and Performance Growth for the Week of August 2, 2015

How Would You Run the Play?Note from Art: Every week I offer ideas to encourage you to stretch and grow. Use them in great professional health!

Do: Ask an Objective Outsider to Observe and Offer Feedback on Your Team/Project Meetings

There’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes to help assess group dynamics and team performance. One of the simplest and most powerful ways to improve project team effectiveness is to gain objective feedback on what’s working and what’s not. An outsider is able to observe interpersonal dynamics, assess whether everyone is engaged and look for destructive or toxic behaviors that are holding the team back from performing at their best. I’ve observed teams that were nothing more than debating societies, arguing everything and deciding nothing. I’ve also observed environments where a toxic team member was suppressing the input from others. The functional leader didn’t see this until I provided my unvarnished view as to what I had observed. Given that so much of our work takes place on teams and in groups, it makes great sense to ensure we’re doing everything we can to support the emergence of healthy behaviors. Find a qualified, objective outsider and ask them to sit-in on your sessions and then ask for input.

Experiment: Promote Managerial Skills Development by Establishing a Rotation for Leading Operations meetings.

Those regular events where you convene with your colleagues to review performance indicators and discuss challenges are ideal opportunities to help others cultivate their own managerial skills. Ask your team members to rotate through the role of meeting leader and give them a bit of flexibility to creatively adjust the agenda. In addition to serving as excellent practice for the team members, it will break the monotony and routine of most recurring operations meetings and add fresh voices and new energy. Consider a rotation that includes a tenure beyond a single meeting…perhaps serving for a month or a quarter. Encourage the meeting leader to both meet the objectives of the meeting (operations/indicators/issues review) and to add his/her own imprint.

Explore: What are your competitors doing that customers are paying attention to?

One of the constant themes in my writing and speaking is for professionals to shift their view and gain critical perspective from the outside. Chances are your competitors are doing something unique and/or particularly effective that has gained the attention of customers or prospects. Take the time to study your competitors and assess what’s working for them.

While never a fan of imitating competitors, it’s always critical to understand what’s working for them and what you might do to blunt their efforts. Tap into  any or all of win/loss interviews, input from salespeople, industry publications, in-person customer meetings, input from product management and support professionals and presentations at industry events to understand and assess where and how your competitor is winning. Strive to find the substantive activities that are working for them and then assess whether you can adapt or countermand these activities with your own moves. It’s good sport and productive to marginalize your competitor’s efforts while focusing on your own core strategy. Keep them distracted and dancing without distracting your own firm. Remember, it’s not the imitation game…you need to focus on your own strategy while blunting theirs.

That’s it for the early encouragement in our new week. Best of success as you do/experiment and explore! -Art

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.


Leadership Caffeine™—Is Leadership Changing?

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

There’s an interesting interview at McKinsey, with Heidreck & Struggles CEO, Tracy Wolstencroft, that explores what they describe as the changing nature of leadership in this era of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The interview prompted my own consideration of some of the changing leadership behaviors I’m observing in firms who are succeeding in navigating the fog of these times.

Warren Bennis once suggested that “leaders manage the context,” and for those firms I’ve observed and have worked with, who are effectively reinventing themselves in this era of complexity, there are a number of emerging new themes in how leadership is practiced and deployed. They are indeed managing the context.

Command and control is giving way to a style that reflects more serve and support and form and frame. The serve component reflects an increased focus by those in leadership roles on answering the question for teams of, “What can I do to best help you succeed?” The form and frame perspective emphasizes the leader’s role in creating an environment where individuals and groups are both challenged and enabled to excel.

And while I use the word “serve” in the description, serve and support, don’t construe that to mean “soft.” The leaders  who have shifted their focus to helping find the answers versus dictating the approaches are anything but soft. They set expectations high and demand a great deal not only of their teams, but of themselves. They are fierce in pursuit of results through groups…and fierce in their support and defense of the work of their groups. There’s a mutual accountability and transparency between leaders and teams that is…refreshing and even invigorating.

Position in the hierarchy is less relevant, with emphasis placed on the ability of these leaders to span functional boundaries in pursuit of solving problems through temporary teams. The strongest, most effective leaders…people leading groups to get things done, are in my opinion, the emerging “integrator” leaders who span boundaries and operate without authority but with huge accountability for delivery. And thank goodness, because the work of navigating structural uncertainties in the marketplace isn’t the work of any one function, it is the work of people with diverse skills coming together to solve problems. (Might this mean that silo walls are finally coming down?)

Supporting the development of high performance teams is more of today’s focal point for leaders, as we begin to recognize the potential for groups to lead innovation and strategy execution. Most of the work that propels organizations into new markets with new strategies and technologies comes about via teams and today’s leaders are tired of the results described in headline grabbing studies on  how miserable we are at succeeding with these groups. They are committed to realizing the true potential from teams.

Leadership is much more of a temporary mantle, with individuals moving from a leadership role one day to a team member role on another initiative the next day. I like this…it reinforces the need to understand what it takes to be a great team member…critical context for learning to be a great team leader. Leader selection is more about who has the right skills for the situation and much less about title or seniority.

For those of us who grew up in a world where command and control was the style, much of how leadership is being deployed in some organizations looks and feels different. Yet, underlying the behavior and style differences are the foundations of effective leadership, which remain unchanged over the millennia. From setting direction to selecting talent to both earning and giving respect to motivating and inspiring and standing up and fighting for the group and the right issues, these attributes of leadership thankfully remain and are perhaps more important then ever.

And while I’ll stop short of suggesting a causal relationship between an organization embracing new styles of leadership and gaining financial and market success in today’s world, the differences are at least part of the answer. Conversely, firms I’m observing that struggle to navigate our world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, tend to be tethered to the hierarchical, command and control style of a bygone era, with the employees waiting to be told where to go.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It makes sense that the skills necessary to lead in today’s environment are different than those that were emphasized in quieter times. Leaders aren’t defined by title, they are defined by behavior, and the behaviors necessary for success in today’s world suggest that we best be supporting the development of emerging leaders at all levels and in all roles of our organizations.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.