How gamification can make you do almost anything
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  gamification martin_keen badges social fitbit
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On weekends, my wife used to be a fan of sleeping in late and spending her afternoons watching movies. But then something changed and she couldn't sit still. She watched her movies while pacing around the living room. She got up early to walk upstairs to the attic, only to walk straight back down again and repeat the process over and over.
And before long, I was doing it too. Taking afternoon strolls around the office parking lot. Refusing the elevator in favor of climbing flight after flight of stairs. We had unwittingly and fully embraced the world of gamification.
Gamification is the application of game design techniques to encourage user adoption and participation. The gamification device responsible for my wife's and my transformation from couch potatoes to fitness freaks was a Fitbit activity tracker. This little device measures steps taken and stairs climbed. I've had pedometers before and they've not done much to alter my behavior, but it's Fitbit's adoption of gamification that makes it so addictive. And these same techniques can be used to engage your customers, employees and peers to adjust their behavior and do just about anything. Here's how.
Provide instant feedback and diverse goals
My wife's obsession with repeatedly climbing to the attic was in pursuit of a target: the almighty 50 Daily Floors badge. It's not even a real badge—just a picture file attached to an email that only she would see. But so far she only had the 25 Daily Floors badge, and a goal is a goal.
Any social business gamification technique should provide instant feedback. My wife could see the floor count increasing on her device with every flight of stairs (“just 12 more to go”). If you want people to increase their number of posts in your department team room or work their way through a mandatory education program, you need to let them see how they are doing at any moment in time.
Equally important is to provide a range of goals—some easy so they can be achieved without too much effort, and some that require significantly more effort and provide something to aim for. If the first available badge was 750 Daily Floors, nobody would bother trying.
Competition and community
If gamification stopped there—achieving individual goals—it wouldn't remain compelling for long. An extra element is needed to make gamification attractive over the long term: the element of competition. My wife and I were Fitbit friends, which ranked us against each other. Who would get the most steps this week? Soon we'd added more friends and were competing with them too.
Clearly there's a benefit in creating a bit of healthy competition with your colleagues or customers in a social business implementation of gamification. Bob from accounting is not going to believe it when I take away his “Mayor of the Office” check-in record. But what's more surprising is that gamification continues to work when competing against complete strangers.
Fitbit offers communities, where those with a common interest, employer or location can join and be ranked against each other. I took great delight in topping the IBMers Fitbit group and was beside myself when I made it into the top five of the North Carolina community. People will happily compete in a gamification community even if they don't know all, or any, of the participants.
What you measure is all important
Leading behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman talks a lot about the concept of “what you see is all there is.” We make decisions based on information that is readily available and generally ignore facts that are difficult to obtain, no matter their importance in the overall decision.
My Fitbit device measures steps taken and stairs climbed. Consequentially that has become my focus, and when I'm considering an aerobic activity I think of it in those terms—how many steps and stairs will this give me, regardless of whether these are the best activities for a healthier me. If instead I'd been fitted with a heart rate monitor that ranked me based on the number of times I got my heart beat above 100 beats-per-minute, I'd be forgetting the strolls around the parking lot and instead engaging in high-intensity activities (jogging around the parking lot for five minutes, rather than walking for ten).
The ultimate goal of gamification is to change people's behavior, so it's critically important that you measure the right things. If you want your employees to maximize the amount of intellectual capital they produce, be sure to measure activities that support that goal (such as blog and white paper writing).
If you measure the right things, provide instant feedback, create diverse goals and build a community of participants, you'll find that gamification is a highly effective tool to alter almost any behavior. Give it a try.
Now if you'll excuse me I need to walk home and get my 10,000 Steps badge for the day.
Martin Keen is an IBM Redbooks Project Leader. He works with technical experts to create books, guides, blogs and videos.