Productivity

Can Thinking Like A Gamer Unlock Motivation?

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Think of motivation like this – you’re playing a video game and you need to unlock the next level.

sony controller and wiiu

2. Think Like a Game Designer and Redesign Your Work

Goals may be far too specific (hence crippling agility) or too vague and disconnected from a compelling purpose. Rules may be archaic obstacles that get in the way of things or they may be engineered to favour competition (when what you need is collaboration). 

Feedback may be so delayed or non-existent that people can’t see how their effort contributes to anything. Without useful feedback, our autonomy is threatened, and we tend to default to a conservative level of effort.

But sometimes it’s not that work is poorly designed – often, it’s barely designed at all, or we have such a fixation on goals that we don’t develop the system or pathway to making them happen.

In these situations we are best served by thinking like a game designer. All are the interplay of goals, rules and feedback. A good game is a goal-driven, challenge-intense and feedback-rich experience geared towards progress. Work should be the same.

3. Keep Motivated by Remaining Curious

The two biggest overlooked elements of motivation are rules and feedback, which link to mastery and autonomy. 

Sometimes, it’s best to take motivation out of the equation altogether – just assume everyone is 100% motivated to act and behave exactly as they are, all the time. This way, when you or someone isn't behaving as you’d like, you don’t question their attitude (or beat yourself up). 

Instead, you get curious at the game that’s at play. What’s the friction between where they are and where you want them to be? Where’s the sense of progress. Are the rules helpful? It’s like agile science – we keep ourselves objectively curious about what’s at play, tweaking the goals, rules and feedback until the motivational dynamics are conducive to progress.

All work and no play makes for a dull day. Make sure your work is balanced with time outside, time with friends, and time for pointlessness by yourself.

- DR JAMES FOX, AUTHOR OF THE GAME CHANGER

4.  ‘Reset’ Rituals

In video games when a particular approach isn’t working, we can reset to the last checkpoint and try a different approach. One of the key activities you can do when you're feeling overwhelmed is to start visualising everything you need to do. Start getting it all out on paper in front of you. This then places you ‘above’ the game(s) you’re playing, allowing you to change the game, or at least tweak it and try a different approach.

Also, all work and no play makes for a dull day. Make sure your work is balanced with time outside, time with friends, and time for pointlessness by yourself. For some people, this is their daily run.

If you’re managing a team, try to encourage them to match their tasks to their mindset. For example, I’m much more creative in the early morning and late at night – I’ll work on developing and progressing ideas then. Afternoons are my crappiest time, and so it's when I'll do my emails and meetings.

5. Step Back and Take Incentives Out of the Equation

Game design is about constructing meaningful challenges and unlocking motivation. Take the rules away from golf, for example, and the game is suddenly less fun. 

Gamification, on the other hand, is currently more concerned with incentivising people’s behaviour through status and rewards. Most of what we have seen in this space involves points, badges and leaderboards tacked onto an existing activity or experience. The result? 80% of current gamified efforts will fail due to poor design (according to Gartner, a global technology research firm).

Watch motivation expert

and fellow TEDx speaker, Daniel Pink, talk about financial incentives contaminating and displacing motivation.

Find Out More

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