Game dynamics in the workplace

The other day, I was watching TED and came across this talk from a guy called Seth who wants to put a “game layer” on the real world. His arguments starts with the observation that the last decade was all about building the infrastructure to support connections between people. He goes on to say that that game is over, and has been won by Facebook,  an assertion I’m not necessarily in agreement with, but useful as a starting premise, I suppose.

But the next part, startling to me at least, was his suggestion that this decade is going to be all about behaviour systems and layers, or more precisely, infrastructures that go to management of the behaviour of people. In other words, putting gaming tools on the types of stuff we do day to day.

He then goes on to talk about 7 drivers of behaviour that are typically implemented in games, and leaves the viewer to mull over the consequences if you incorporate those drivers into systems that are useful for every day work. The nett-nett: when you build a game layer into things, there are many positive outcomes for workers and not only in terms of productivity.

Now this is a topic I’m interested in, because I’ve written before about how gaming dynamics can make really boring work interesting. As I said then, this is something the team and I implemented at LLoyds Banking Group wtih Innovation Market, and got pretty good results.

Now that I’m working in the Department, we’ve implemented something quite similar, and again, we see the same behaviour dynamics arising as at the bank. The tool – we call it IdeaStreet – isn’t a toy, but because it has competition dynamics based on a virtual currency with leader-boards and other motivational devices, we’re getting very good results.

Now I fully expect that someone is going to chime in here at the horror of having a civil servant using something that might actually be enjoyable. That, by the way, happened at Lloyds regularly as well.

But I think we must be realistic about things. I really believe the world of work is moving towards a blurring of the line between work and play. In fact, the changing dynamics of the workforce make it an inevitable consequence for the future, I think.

I think the time is swiftly approaching where we won’t be able to get talent in the door who suspect they won’t be entertained at work. Its not like real talent can’t move around pretty much as it wants, after all.

And I think there’s another hurdle coming as well, and that’s the entrenched view that entertainment at work is inconsistent with work. The line that separates the two, for many, is pretty inviolable. I remember working at an employer in the late nineties who determined, for example, that listening to music on work computers whilst working was actually a sackable offence because you were supposed to be working.  It’s laughable now, I know.

Anyway, Innovation Market, IdeaStreet and Seth’s talk have led me to a conclusion which I think may be important: when you start  building workplace tools with game dynamics built in, other kinds of work seems to be less interesting. Consequently, you get some people who spend disproportionate amounts of time on fun workloads, letting the rest suffer. This leads, inevitably, to the situation where you have line managers screaming at you and their employees. These line managers then try to shut down your game dynamic to get some control back.

Yes, that’s happened in both places as well.

My point is this: in a workplace that starts implementing game dynamics in one system, you’ll probably have to implement them in all systems to get back to equilibrium. That requirement, I suspect, will make it harder for large organisations to agree to the entertainmentisation of work in the first place.

It will be a great pity if that happens. Think of all the lost talent that chooses to go a workplace that’s actually fun to be in!

One Response to“Game dynamics in the workplace”

  1. Dan Mullineux
    January 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Have you looked at Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, bit whacky but tempting to think that ‘games’ can have an even bigger impact.

    Also – I think your ideas apply equally to education, where there has been a endemic fear of competition. But watch how things get transformed when the right kind of game mentality is encouraged.

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