Dan Ariely’s TED talk is a good one. It’s very straightforward, and gives some good ideas about what motivates people. It can be especially helpful when considering a rewards system within enterprise software. It’s important to think beyond the money that workers (our users) are rewarded with. The challenge is to include things like meaning, creation, challenge, ownership, identity, and pride. That notion — that we need more than just payment as motivation — is at the heart of enterprise playability.
The question comes up often in designing gamified systems: Are the rewards actually worth anything? Can I trade then in for something?
Great article addressing the topic: Motivating Through Games.
At MOC1 we ran an experiment on this very topic, to see if rewards with little or no value (we used Post-It notes, each with a star scribbled on it) worked as a motivator. The experiment was short-lived, but highly successful. Team members responded brilliantly.
The notes themselves were posted to a bulletin board, under the names of the team members who earned them. So it was a leaderboard. It was clear that the notes themselves weren’t what people wanted, but rather to see a stack of stars under their names, and to have more than their teammates.
The team also responded well to Post-It stars given to the team on days when everyone on the team earned a star.
At one point one of the team members approached me to ask “Are these stars worth anything? Can we trade them in for something?” I just said “Right now I’m not sure.” It had no effect, positive or negative, on anyone’s behavior.
Our conclusion was that seemingly empty rewards are a strong motivator, when shown in a leaderboard.
Off the topic of what to do (enterprise playability), and on the topic of how to do it, Steve Blank’s Lean Startup has the makings of a revolution. After you read Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, and then pick up a copy of Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany, you will no doubt like me be looking for interviews like this:
Here’s a quick article about the problems Ron Johnson had at JCPenney: Ron Johnson Didn’t Understand Apple. The post is not about playability per se, but at this point in history, “playbility” won’t be what users are asking for. Jobs had it right (and this article parses it well): users know what their problems are, but they don’t know the solutions. That’s our job, and that’s where playability can help in the enterprise.
Here’s a good post with some great comments: Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think. The topic is cognitive overhead, which is the difficulty users have in understanding a product or a feature of a product. While it’s not directly related to enterprise playability, cognitive overhead and cognitive friction are both faces of usability, and improving both is often done well in games, and often done poorly in enterprise software.
Now there’s a title: “Fighting solves everything.” John McNamara’s post contrasts the reward systems in two games, and clarifies the importance of rewarding team success, versus just individual achievement, in an enterprise environment.
Here’s a great introduction to some of the concepts in enterprise playability (a.k.a. gamification): Is There Value in Enterprise Gamification?. The articles (there are two so far, in what will be a three-part series) touches on the value of enterprise gamification, and also points to a book by Jane McGonigal that would be worth a read.
But the article seems to follow an unfortunate pattern I’m seeing in the industry: There’s an interest in adopting some of the principles of game theory, but it’s a cautious interest, careful not to step into the muddy waters of actual games at work. That pattern is holding back the industry from what could be a powerful change in the way enterprises do business. When we get over the aversion to games themselves, and make enterprise software actually playable, we’ll see an increase in motivation, productivity, and profit.