Yes, yes, yes: Gamification! The term sparks this Tell-Sell voice in my head “Oh my God, this is just A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Look, I can do what I have to do and have FUN while doing it. Such an amazing discovery. Your work will never be the same.” All delivered in pastel colours by suntanned people. True, this is powerful stuff. It is absolutely amazing but not all that new.
What are we talking about when we worship gamification?
Mostly, we are talking about a perspective change. A shift from doing something you do not want to do into something you do want to do, without having to change what you are actually doing.
The extrinsic reward system we have built our lives on creates postponed certainty and fulfilment; your actions may lead to money/status/physical comfort but the existence of these rewards is only certain in the moment they are given. Before and beyond this moment, these rewards are mere concepts. The physical manifestation (your experience of them) remains uncertain until they become. After they have become, they quickly vanish into your past. The world giveth and the world taketh away. So you hop from (mostly material) reward to reward, connecting the dots and building a life.
The very attractive perspective shift in gamification is to move your attention from the fixed-point-yet-uncertain-reward back to the process you are in. Back from what ‘may be’ to what you are actually experiencing, and making this experience more interesting. You reel in your postponed reward structure and fish out a desired experience. Instead of waiting for a future reward that may never be, the reward of any action starts in the process of the action itself.
If the manifestation of desired rewards depend solely on the results of our actions, these results better be good. We put a lot of stress on ourselves and others (and the planet) to manage the outcome of results before they even exist. We want to make sure that our results will be judged as desirable results and lead to the extrinsic rewards we set out to claim in the first place.
This kills creativity.
In order to make as sure as possible that we achieve what we want we look at who will be judging us, and preferably by what standards they will be doing so, and we try to fit in. Now, please take a moment and try to make friends between the words ‘judge’, ‘standard’, ‘fit’ and the concept of ‘creativity’. The more we try to make certain the results of our processes will be judged favourably, the less creative they must become for they cannot deviate from the norm used by those doing the judging.
Of course there is creativity and there are lots of brilliant and creative people. If you go and ask them you will find that they are more interested in the process than in the results. They need to write, to paint, to solve the puzzle, to build the thing, to go out and sing and dance. In short, they wish to create. The need is not to ‘have written’. The results of their actions are important but creators are most happy while in the process of creating (we all are but we tend to forget).
This shift of focus from result to process clears the way for more creative thinking, for oodles of positive emotions, for a more enjoyable experience of the actions you are performing and ultimately (usually) lead to a better result. Especially in such areas where there is no standard or the standard is irrelevant.
Software development is such an area and –low and behold- the structures they thought up and use to guide development have gone from rigid top-down ‘follow the marked X’s all the way down to the desired results’ to a development style that focuses much more on the process of creating than setting yourself up for judgement.
Crack-developers that should be hired to head such a process are the ones that say
“I think I understand your questions and I have some ideas that may lead to a solution. Let’s start working on this.”