This post is in response to Ettis’s comment on an earlier post: Three Principles for Successful Gamification.
Ettis asked “How do we gamify work?”
I’d like to answer a different question: Should we gamify work? And if we should, then what kinds of work should we gamify?
The most common manifestation of gamification is the implementation of general reward mechanics for non-game tasks. In general, adding competitions, a point system, and/or leaderboards to a non-game system is considered industry best practices for engagement.
When you incorporate these gamification mechanics into your Health and Awareness program, HR training session or whatever it is, you are hoping that external motivators will prompt a user to complete a task. Your user will do Action X in the hopes of getting: points, money, a trip to Hawaii.
Internal motivators, on the other hand, prompt a user to complete a task purely for some internal, generally personal, reason. If I, the user, do Action X, I will feel happy; I will feel smart; I will start to look like Bradley Cooper.
What is interesting here is that, as Daniel Pink has demonstrated, often external motivators do not lead people to complete the task at hand. Or more importantly, in the context of this post, to complete the task at hand well. There is a big difference between internal and external motivators. Which one will motivate me depends on what kind of task I am doing.
Pink argues that when people engaged in rote work are given external motivators, the efficiency of their work increases. They work faster and better.
On the other hand, once a task requires any level of creativity, it turns out that the quality of the work–the actual productiveness of the individual–not only does not get better with external motivators but actually declines. If I’m going to be any good at doing a creative task, my primary motivation should be internal: the satisfaction of solving an interesting problem, the fun of playing a published game I’ve worked on, etc. This is not to say that I don’t need to be paid for my work. The financial motivator, however, is not the primary motivator. Adding badges or points to a job which relies on a user’s creativity might then actually decrease performance.
On the other hand, gamifying a Starbucks might work well. I don’t mean to imply that Starbucks baristas are not creative; rather, the work at a Starbucks involves the repetition of rote tasks. Consequently, awarding points to baristas who sell more Double Mocha Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos might indeed boost the sales of those Double Mocha Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos (for a real-life example of a successfully gamified Juice Bar, see here).
Thanks for the question!