Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Archive for April 2013

Gamification: Defining Business Objectives

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My previous set of posts described elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors.

The authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

Defining business objectives seems like an easy step — you want your customers to buy your products or engage your services. In this context, though, you’re thinking about the business objectives for your gamified system. You might want to retain customers or build brand loyalty. These objectives are more general than target behaviors, which are covered in the next item. Improv groups face the same challenges when they try to define their business objectives. Obviously you want to encourage customers to be loyal to your brand, but what other goals do you have? Do you want them to become active consumers of theatre in general?

It’s often tough to distinguish between business objectives and target behaviors, but Werbach and Hunter provide a useful exercise for identifying business objectives. (p. 87) They encourage you to make a list of what you think are your objectives; then, go through the list and cross out anything that’s a means instead of an end. For example, “Build brand loyalty” is an end but “Have visitors view the company’s mission statement” is a means.

Working through this exercise will bring your business objectives into better focus. Plus, if you’re like me and don’t always distinguish between objectives and behaviors on the first pass, you’ll find you’ve identified several target behaviors, too.

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Gamification: The Six D’s

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I’m most of the way through the Gamification course I’m taking on Coursera. I’ve learned a lot and hope to apply some of the techniques in my own work.

Much of the course’s material appears in For the Win, written by the Coursera professor Kevin Werbach and his coauthor Dan Hunter (both of whom are faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School). My previous four posts discussed four elements of gamification (such as meaningful choices and conflict) and how to incorporate them into business and improv. The authors also identify six steps to gamification (For the Win, p. 86), which I think provide an excellent framework for business and theatrical endeavors.

The authors’ six D’s are:

  • Define business objectives
  • Delineate target behaviors
  • Describe your players
  • Devise activity cycles
  • Don’t forget the fun!
  • Deploy the appropriate tools

My next six posts will address these D’s one at a time, starting with how to define your objectives.

Improv and Gamification: Potential Conflicts

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I’m taking the free Coursera course on Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Management. The book For the Win, which Werbach coauthored with Dan Hunter, mentions four basic elements of gamification:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

Their final item, potential conflicts, addresses how game elements can come into conflict with organizational goals and intrinsic (internal) motivation. The traditional management case study of conflicting elements is suboptimization, where an employee focuses on a specific task to the detriment of the overall project or even the entire enterprise.

As an example, suppose you’ll receive a substantial bonus for releasing a product to market by a specific date. It’s natural for you to evaluate your incentives and get that product out the door regardless of what corners you need to cut. If the product’s not as a good as it could have been, your employer must take a substantial portion of the blame. After all, they structured your incentives in a way that rewarded you for focusing on the subgoal instead of releasing a quality product.

In improv, you can suboptimize by going for the joke instead of playing a good scene and letting the laughs come naturally. I was especially guilty of this practice early in my career, but I’ve gotten away from it. The idea is that you want to keep the scene moving forward smoothly instead of stopping it with a joke. A joke’s punchline is an artificial endpoint that stops progress, pulls focus from the scene, and forces everyone to reset. Are jokes always bad in improv? No, but they make everyone’s job harder, especially when more than one person is going for the joke in a scene. Then it’s a travesty.

Improv and Gamification: Structure

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I’m taking the free Coursera course on Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Management. The book For the Win, which Werbach coauthored with Dan Hunter, mentions four basic elements of gamification:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

Werbach and Hunter use the structure element to ask:  “Can the desired behaviors be modeled through a set of algorithms?” For San Francisco firm Keas, structure comes in the form of challenges participants undergo during the workday to improve their wellness, Microsoft gamified identifying translation errors in Windows 7 dialog boxes, and airlines provide better service as you accumulate more miles.

Measuring results in improv is a less exact process, but ComedySportz gets around the problem by having the audience vote to see which team gets the points for a pair of competing games.  The idea that the show is a competition, where the players try to win but don’t care if they lose, provides a hook that makes the experience more than simple entertainment.

For businesses, organizational performance is often based on revenue, market share, and similar targets identified by the executive team. Individual employee performance is measured versus criteria set for each employee, but how do you provide an overall structure for a project, department, or division? Chip manufacturer Intel uses a Plan of Record, or POR, to identify goals and, in some cases, methodologies at all levels of the enterprise. That which adhereth to the POR is blessed; that which doth not is condemned.

Developing a structure to measure performance can be difficult, especially when applied to creative workers. Don’t feel compelled to gamify a process — the best gamification structure might be none at all.

Improv and Gamification: Meaningful Choices

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I’m taking the free Coursera course on Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Management. The book For the Win, which Werbach coauthored with Dan Hunter, mentions four basic elements of gamification:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

The second item, meaningful choices, is a foundation of well-being and self-esteem. Everyone likes to feel that they have some control over their lives — that their choices make a difference in how events turn out. Improvisers’ choices have direct and immediate impact on the show, for good or ill. Your scene partners can find ways to exclude you, of course. A former member of our group was a guest performer in another city, but the other players on the team apparently didn’t care to have him around. They were polite to him before the show, but after he exited a scene, one of the other players stepped on stage and said “You know the guy who was just here? I killed him.”

So much for collaboration.

It’s little better to have teammates ignore offers you make within a scene, preferring to wait for another player to come on and further the action. It’s hard to make progress when no one listens to you, even if you are the junior member of a group.

The same considerations hold true for the office. I’m not saying less experienced workers should be given complete autonomy, but they should have their opinions given a fair hearing. There’s very little that’s more demotivating than disappearing into the bowels of an organization and losing the connection between your work and a company’s success. Of course you can add points, badges, and levels to attach some (albeit artificial) meaning to their tasks, but Werbach and Hunter point out that it’s possible to gamify work unethically, in such a way that the “game” structure works against the employees’ best interests. Much like the sales competition in the movie version of David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross (first place is a car, second place is a set of steak knives, third place is you’re out of a job), you can use gamification for good or evil. One of their colleagues turned down such a consulting assignment. Rightfully so.

Improv and Gamification: Motivation

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In my previous post, I mentioned four basic elements of gamification put forward by Wharton School faculty members Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter. Those elements are:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

Motivation is tricky. I’ve stated my belief that all motivation is internal, but I  admit it’s a reductionist and curmudgeonly view. Many individuals, particularly extroverts, gain energy by interacting with others. Yes, you can argue they use these interactions to stoke their personal fire, but the truth is that the external forces affect their performance.

I’ll still use my “all motivation is internal” line at parties, though. It’s fun to argue and often leads to interesting discussions.

Gamification uses game elements such as points, badges, and leader boards to set goals, measure performance, and reward individual and team success. One example, which is near to my heart because I’ve written books for Microsoft Press since 2001, is how Microsoft used gamification to get their employees to identify errors in Windows 7 dialog boxes. Windows 7 is available in 35 languages, meaning that the dialog boxes and other text was translated into tongues as diverse as Chinese, Swedish, and Polish. Microsoft tracked which teams (usually members of the same business group) discovered the most errors and posted their names on a leader board displayed in the tool. Some team leaders decided to focus their efforts on the contest, which led to impressive performance.

Improvisers receive feedback from their audience immediately, usually in the form of laughter, but also as appreciation for what’s been done. Some performers can be thrown off by a quiet crowd, especially if they feel they’re having a good night but the audience just isn’t laughing. If you’re not getting the audible feedback you’re used to, check for eye contact. If your spectators meet your gaze and smile, you’re doing fine. They just prefer to express themselves quietly.