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:
- Epic Meaning and Calling
- Development and Accomplishment
- Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
- Ownership & Possession
- Social Influence & Relatedness
- Scarcity & Impatience
- Unpredictability & Curiosity
- 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.