We asked Dr. Michael Wu, Chief Scientist at Lithium, some questions on one of his areas of expertise—Gamification—and how it can be used to enhance the workplace, productivity and employee motivation.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in Gamification?

I’m trained as a data scientist, although when I started out that term didn’t exist yet. My PhD is in Biophysics, I used machine learning to model how the human brain processes visual information—to understand how we see things and recognize objects, etc. When I came into the industry and joined Lithium, a SaaS provider for social platforms, I began analyzing behavior data with the goal to understand consumer behavior. The next step is how can we use these behavior data and understandings to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. Gamification is a very effective way to do just that.

Gamification

How would you define Gamification?

I define Gamification as the use of game attributes to drive game-like player behavior in a non game context predictably. Four things are needed for Gamification:

-Use game attributes: anything that a game designer uses to make a game engaging involving game mechanics, dynamics, and much more.

-Drive player behavior: when you are playing a game you are not only totally engaged, you are also learning how to play the game. However, player behaviors includes much more: competition, communication, collaboration, etc.

-Non-game context: you use game attributes to drive all the above game-like player behavior in a non-game context. This can be anything from sales,marketing to health, fitness, and even volunteerism. There are some pretty amazing stories about the use of Gamification in education.

-Predictability: this is absolutely necessary. For Gamification to work, it needs to be repeatable with predictable reliability.

game

Why does Gamification work so well?

Actually Gamification doesn’t always work well. A lot of people misunderstand this. Gamification will almost always work in the short term but it’s very hard to make it work over a long period of time. If you design a silly game you can still engage people to play for a few seconds or minutes but it’s hard to make them want to play this game in the long term. I wouldn’t call that working, that’s just a novelty that wares off and then they quit. But, if designed right, Gamification can be very effective in the long term because it drives behaviors. I often refer to the Fogg’s Behavior model , which says that underlying every human behavior there’s motivation, ability and trigger that has to happen at the same moment. In most work environments, we have the ability and the trigger, but usually people are just not motivated enough. Gamification, when done right, can provide the motivation that’s needed to create a temporal alignment with ability and trigger.

Fogg's Behavior Model

Is the professional world ready for Gamification?

Whether we like it or not we are already using Gamification in the professional world. In sales organizations you often have leaderboards, which are game attributes, it’s just those game attributes are not designed very well (i.e. not enough feedback, updated quarterly, etc.). Work can be seen as a game–there are rules you have to obey and you are working towards a goal (revenue numbers, a raise, etc). But how come people don’t engage those traditional “games” very much? The reason is because those games are not well designed, nor do game designers design them. The danger of using poorly designed Gamification in the work place is that we can often fool ourselves into believing that it’s working when it works in the short term, but it fails eventually. This is dangerous because it can create more resistance to Gamification in the long run.

Workplace Fun

What’s your advice to people looking to bring Gamification into their environment?

You need to really understand the behaviors you are trying to drive. Are you are trying to drive collaboration, sale performance? And when I say understand the behaviors it has to be very granular understanding. It’s not just “collaboration,” because that’s not just one behavior. That actually consists of many, many, behaviors such as sharing information, communicating, etc. Likewise, sales performance is not one behavior. That includes prospecting, updating lead gen pipeline, etc. So, you have to understand every one of those behaviors and then gamify each one of them.

You also have to understand your player, this is very important. When I say understand your player it means understand if they have the motivation, ability and the trigger and if they have three of these at the same time. Temporal alignment is crucial.

My third piece of advice would be to have a very sophisticated behavior tracking technology in place. I think a lot of Gamification can work without technology, because the key thing is you need a way to understand people’s behavior and give meaningful feedback. However, in a work environment it’s very hard to track employee behavior if you don’t have a sophisticated behavior tracking technology. The old saying “You can’t improve something that you cannot measure” is true.

Business Person Chalkboard

What do you think the future holds for Gamification?

I think the future is still a little bit unknown because the future depends on what people do right now. I think we are at a critical point. There are people who design Gamification in the right way, which takes into consideration the user and the behavior and ultimately drives value back to the user so people will continue to play the game.

But a lot of people who are less experienced with Gamification will simply slap on badges and points and think that will work to drive behavior. However, ultimately that’s not a very well-designed game. A poorly designed game will be seen as a waste of time and then people will deliberately avoid it moving forward—develop resistance to gamification. If that happens often then the future will be very grim, because the Gamification wouldn’t work, and if it doesn’t work then no one will use it.

My hope is that a lot of people will focus on doing Gamification the right way, driving value to their user and recognizing the value. If that’s the case I think Gamification will be pretty much infused in every part of our lives. It will be part of the design in every product or service. It all depends on what people do today.

For more on Gamification by Michael Wu visit https://community.lithium.com/t5/SoS/bg-p/scienceofsocial/label-name/gamification.

Michael Wu

Dr. Michael Wu is the Chief Scientist at Lithium, where he currently applies data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael has developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work has won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.

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Sales Gamification

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