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.

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