Gamification: new term, old idea, still useful

Gamification can be roughly explained as applying game mechanics to the real-world scenarios in order to entice people towards particular goals. This subject (new field?) has been getting a lot of attention lately. It has not hit popular press quite yet, but seems to be gathering steam fast. Companies such as Foursquare use the concepts from gamification approach quite well.

What is interesting to me is that once one looks at the world through the lenses of gamification, it is easy to notice the core concepts being discussed in seemingly unrelated literature that predates the term.

I have a number of recent examples:

The first couple is from the works of Franklin Covey business productivity group.

In the - otherwise mediocre - Audio CD “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”, the middle two disciplines are “Pick the lead measures, which is are measures one can actually influence” and “Keep A Compelling Scorecard”. So, basically, create a real visible score system and then have a leader board, so everybody can feel they are playing for the top spot. Leader boards and scores are the core parts of gamifications.

In the “Focus Audio Workshop”, Covey is talking about writing the tasks for the day as the first thing in the morning. And “writing the tasks” is actually the first task on the list, so one gets to tick it off right from the start. This obviously gives the person some starting adrenaline  rush and therefore encourages them to continue with the game of “doing the tasks” and “keeping the score”. This easy first success is also part of gamification principles of trying to get the new users into that funnel of participation. It is known that most of the people are lost on the real first step, so if that first step is very easy, it improves the overall statistics.

The other example comes from a book on Knowledge Management by Kimiz Dalkir. In there, she talks about companies such as Xerox that tried to improve internal knowledge management by setting up a competition where “workers could win points (convertible into cash) each time they solved a customer problem”.

So, why is this interesting? It is interesting because these techniques are looked at as “something that worked” but are not analyzed any further in terms of when they are appropriate, what kind of situations they best fit in and how to adapt them to other real-life scenarios.

Gamification seems to be interested in answering those questions. It puts together a framework that explains what the components of a successful system would be, and - the part missing in the examples above - what principles drive those components. Covey and Dalkir may have witnessed - or at least explained - only part of the interplay of behaviors and incentives that make a person want to achieve the desired goals. Gamification can add in some more of the pieces in the puzzle.

This means that with understanding of the gamification principles, one could easily come up with implementation that is most appropriate to the workplace and uses the terms and concepts everybody in that workplace are familiar with.

What would be interesting to me is gamification of Knowledge Management (KM) in an organization. Often, attempts to introduce Knowledge Management in an organization fail because the KM rewards are disconnected in time from the KM efforts and it is quite hard to convince people to spend time on doing KM.

A champion is usually offered as a solution to the problem. However, a single champion - however persuasive or high-ranking - will often run out of energy before KM becomes deeply embedded in an Organizational Culture.

A gamified Knowledge Management would structure the KM introduction in such a way that it would be very easy to start and easy to get early rewards. And, of course, there would be some sort of score along the way and people would actually be interested in getting to the ‘top’, while getting more and competent in Knowledge Management applications along the way.

Now, that would be a book, I would love to read. I just hopes somebody writes it soon, before the Champions run out of steam.