In a fascinating TED talk, Tom Chatfield lays out the argument that virtual games have the “power to motivate, compel and transfix us” and that the principles that make that attraction possible should be applied as rewards in countless additional settings.

Some of his suggestions:

  • Experience bars that show progress – motivating people by a feeling of constantly progressing instead of holding back rewards until the very end.
  • Rewarding effort not just outcomes – games often give credit for trying (e.g. points for playing the game, not just winning it).
  • Rapid, frequent, clear feedback – you know in real-time how many points you are accumulating and you know the consequences for your action (X points for capturing the icon). Chatfield stresses that it is hard for people to learn if they cannot link their consequences to actions.
  • Peers watching us – other people seeing us accumulate status or points really crates the energy to do more.

Think about ways that you can incorporate gaming principles in your operations:

  • Showing progress bars for longer actions such as filling out a series of HR or tax forms, completing assignments for a course or degree, or achieving a savings goal at the bank.
  • Reward effort through tracking attempts: “points” for just going to the gym even if you don’t complete the workout; celebrating those who make proposals even if they aren’t funded or praising relationship calls even if they don’t result in sales.
  • Rapid, clear feedback: smart energy meters that show real-time use of electricity or water, cars that display changes in gas mileage, tracking that shows revenue brought in by each contract
  • Peer involvement: sharing current results company-wide, buddies or support groups to impact weight change or fitness goals or allowing peers to see cookie sale progress in real-time.

Gaming, e-sports and virtual reality is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It’s not because people like dragons or farms or angry birds but because these environments are strategically and intentionally designed to compel extended involvement and release of dopamine. Apply those principles to stimulate the same excitement and persistence toward goals that matter to you.

Watch the 17-minute TED talk here.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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