I actually wrote this post exactly one year ago, when I was busy fininshing my thesis on gamification. It's funny to read those thoughts, once you've started a job - and I'm still convinced they're true.
Despite I'm studying gamification and games for a little now, they still make me wonder from time to time. In video games, the average rate of failure vs. winning equals 80% - of failures. And despite the failure rate, people would call games fun... What's the magic that games inherit - that make things fun that we otherwise would label torture in real life?
Particularly failure is a very bitter juice to gulp... In real life, failure is a downbreak, hard to justify, most of all to oneself. Games give you the possibility to fail and to be ok with it, to even make fun of it. It's crossing boarders you wouldn't cross in reality, test one's capabilities, go crazy about ideas and fantasies, for which you would be frowned at, if you would do that elsewhere than in games.
In my university in Pforzheim, we have an design faculty, and they exhibit their ideas every semester. It ranges from product design and car design to web design and fashion design. Often enough, we business students walked through the exhibition halls and didn't quite grasp the use of an alien looking, bigwheeled, non-cycle-able bike or a room with a built-in Post-it landscape in pink. We always asked: where is the use, let alone the monetary use, to it?
However, exactly this craziness, this out-of-the-box thinking, generated ideas like the interactive table, which interacted with items on the table and digital data displayed on the table (as far as I know it was purchased by Microsoft in 2008).
Only, if you allow yourself to have crazy ideas, crazy non-cycle-able bikes and pink post-it rooms, you'll also have brilliant ideas, such as the interactive table, the light-bulb, the iPhone.
Allow your employees to go crazy from time to time. Google does for example by a 20% time grant in which they can work on own projects and ideas. And you might come up with something like Googlemail and Google Earth. Or, like 3M, with pink Post-it notes...
Despite all the gamification elements and motivational add-ons, the needs fulfilled, the gratification given, the feedback shown, the goals set, the rules played, the rewards set: the meaning is essential and cannot be given. The significance of work, the purport in relationships, the sense in life. Sounds cheesy? Well, in the end this is one, if not the essential driver. Eventually the career paths, the targets by career coaches, the "how to become a millionaire" advice, etc. may overshadow the ultimate question.
In a conversation yesterday I discussed the studies of how little value the monetary rewards and other benefits actually add to a person's satisfaction and how much in contrast appreciation does.
It's a funny thing how the human brain works, as we tend to think that money will motivate us. But at the same time it feels like you're selling yourself. It's the loss of autonomy that makes us uneasy. We need the money, so we need to work for a living. That's why we sell our workforce and why we basically sell ourselves - that's what it might feel like. That's why we might not live up to what we really can do in a job in comparison to a work we're doing as a hobby or in games. As we sell ourselves, we only do what we're supposed to do, even if there was more potential. We do, what we're told to, that's what we're paid for. We have our targets and tasks we have to fulfill - for someone else than ourselves.
That's why there are a lot of entrepreneurs out there, creating their own business on their own means and living their dream of self-directed work. However, not everyone can be an entrepreneur. Also, collaboration is the most productive and high-quality work there is. But how do you as a company or as a supervisor ensure that your employees don't feel that they only sell themselves for eight hours a day, leaving their love for work at home for hobbies, such as playing music instruments or doing sports?
I think that's where appreciation comes in. Money is a mean of appreciation, but mostly only to the degree that nobody wants to be undervalued. As long as the paycheck is right, it is the task of the supervisor to show the employee that you appreciate them because of their abilities, try to see their potential and encourage them to live up to it. They should feel appreciated not only for doing the job they signed up for, but also for their personality and their potential.
In the end, the paycheck comes only once a month, whereas appreciation and encouragement can be spuring every day. If you can manage to make the person feel comfortable at work, he will be able to live up to his potential and beyond. And that can be even more rewarding to the individual than the stimulus of appreciation, let alone the monthly paycheck.
It is amazing how Mark Twain managed to create a tale of making work a game already in 1876. In his book "The adventures of Tom Sawyer", Tom, main character and scallawag in the story, has to paint the fence of his aunt as a punishment for a fight he got in the day before. However, he manages to convince and manipulate his friends to pay him so they may whitewash the fence for him. By telling them about the huge privilege of being chosen to do the task and selling them this right per bar, he manages to turn work into play.
The most important lesson of this story is the fact that work is considered as something you are oblidged to do, whereas a game or a play is considered something you do by choice.
As always there are two sides of the coin though: When I hear this story, I admire Tom's creativity and savvy - and at the same time I try to figure out if I ever got tricked into something like that.
There is a sneaky feeling about gamification, that it is manipulative and dishonest - opposing the epic thought of being able to make work a game.
What would you say if you'd be cheated into something like... gamification?
Life is a game. To a lot of gamers though, it doesn't seem to be the best game, as they have more motivation to play created games than play life. Now, what if you could "export" the features and elements that make a game playworthy? What if you could make life a better game?
Recently, the approach of implementing game mechanics and game elements in non-game contexts received a name: gamification. Degraded by uptight people and serious business approaches, games themselves were not taken seriously for a long time. Somehow though, since the game market is growing steadily and in big steps, the idea of using the motivational potential of games in non-game environments and creating gameful experiences and engaging consumers, customers and employees became a huge trend. Agencies like bunchball
emerged and thought leaders of gamification, such as Gabe Zichermann
or Jane McGonigal
envision the movement as the holy grale for the coming generation, be it to finally keep a healthy lifestyle, create unbelievable customer loyalty or even solve the problems of humanity.
As always, a trend needs to be considered carefully. Will this really be a permanent change in business practice? Are the ideas as great as they sound - or as sneaky as they feel?
I decided to evaluate this question in my bachelors thesis and to shed a little bit of light into the depths of games, motivation theories and if they could really change the world.
As the topic is a very wide field, i will focus my work on employee engagement and compare predominant financial motivation systems with gamification measures.
All types of games prohibited
Games are an essential part of our childhood and get a ridiculous meaning in our adulthood. When we were younger, we were not allowed to play and when we grew older we lost this urge, it seems.
Or do we keep it, do we use it in "adult games", such as friendly and hostile trials of strength, play of words and power games?
Are childhood games only the preparation for later life - or are we continuing to play?
When young Mihàly fled the concentration camp in Poland, he wondered with his 7 years of age, what the heck the adults got wrong. Today, Mihàly Csíkszentmihályi is a known researcher on the field of happiness, one of his most important books is the concept of flow, which describes the optimal balance between challenge and skills in a task. A child is often in that flow moment, totally absorbed by it and the will to master it. Often enough his skills are not sufficient and he needs several trials to do it right. One of the best examples for the relentless learning of a child is the progresses of how he learns to walk and to talk. And the best about it: they are motivated intrinsically, they don't need anyone to tell them how and when to work on it. They work hard to learn, and they do it, because they want to.
So do we lose this inner drive, this urge to learn by trial and error? And when do we lose it, if so? Maybe it already starts in school. Maybe we get taught that learning is not that much fun at all. We get good grades and rewards of merit, such as little picture cards or stamps, if we manage to fulfill the teachers aspirations. We get told how to do it and how not to. Memorizing, imitating and following instructions are rewarded. After all, mistakes are not desired - and mistakes are defined by the social structure and culture. Why is there no possibility to maintain this childhood drive? Some groups tried to maintain this childhood drive by introducing a laissez-faire educational approach, where children could do what they wanted, learn if they wanted to, not learn, if they didn't want to. This definitely has it's advantages, but also disadvantages, and the thought of keeping the motivation doesn't really stay. Despite the free upbringing, boarders will be reached, behavior conditioned, and rewards introduced. Giving and receiving is a basic concept of humanity.
I think the secret is that motivation is to some extend individual. Whereas one of my sportive brothers learned walking before talking, my intelligent sister learned speaking very quickly. An entrepreneur shows motivation that is often comparable to or even beyond a child's motivation to learn, whereas a lot of teenagers, including me when I went to school, hated learning what had to be learnt, except for some rare topics they liked - unless their social surrounding told them to dislike it.
In the end, there are a lot of tricks in bending motivation to a better or worse direction - best with measures taken by the person itself. However, the basic interests and skills will strongly influence the persons motivation in the end.