Improv skills lead to success

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.

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