Social Business Zone is brought to you in partnership with:

Chris Walker is an Information Management Consultant. He provides Information Management consulting services to clients in North America and Europe. He holds a number of AIIM credentials and has spoken on Information Management topics in Europe and North America. Chris has contributed articles for some AIIM publications and the AIIM Community Blog, and he maintains his own Information Management related blog. Chris is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 7 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Gamification – Dumbest made-up word ever?

02.24.2013
| 1159 views |
  • submit to reddit

WARNING: This post contains swear words. They’re there ‘cause of my mood when I wrote this in reaction to a gamification discussion. I’m all better now, thanks.

Of all the buzzwords & acronyms being bandied about out there, “gamification” pisses me off above all others (maybe it deserves a shiny badge). I cringe whenever I hear it or read it. It cheapens what I and others have worked our asses off to achieve in our careers. It reminds me of the fat kid in grade 6 that got a ribbon because he managed an astonishing 7 situps in 1 minute (for the record, it wasn’t me). As a professional, equating my work with games, however obliquely, insults me. Games are what I play with my friends and family.

I was raised to work hard, though I didn’t always do so as a student. At school you worked to get the grades and not spend more than one year per grade. If you were the smartest kid in school you may have gotten an exemption from finals, a scholarship, or beat up.  Professionally, you worked hard (and smart, I hope) to get your stuff done and get ahead. If you didn’t get your stuff done you were rewarded with time off ‘cause they fired your ass for being deadwood, and you deserved it. Rewarding / recognizing people for doing just enough to get from grade 3 to 4 or to keep their jobs (reward enough, I say) is sheer lunacy.

My kids don’t get rewarded for just doing stuff that’s expected of them (e.g.: cleaning their rooms, picking up after pets, doing well in school). They get rewarded for exceptional behaviour & performance; the rest is just life. I don’t get rewarded for just showing up and doing my job in an ordinary, expected way. I get rewarded when I perform above expectations. If I or my kids don’t meet expectations in our respective roles bad things happen. Such is life.

The key, my fellow planetarians, is to set the expectations early and define what one need do to earn the rewards / recognition. Apparently, doing the dishes does not automatically entitle me to “get some”, but if I don’t do them it’s automatic that I won’t? WTF is that about? Anyways …

I have no objection to reward & recognition schemes. In fact, I’ve received and doled out plenty of recognition (the positive kind) over the years. Rewards / recognition have been tangible (e.g.: bonus $, raise, promotion, time off, gift cards) and intangible (peer/client/manager figurative pats on the back). Most people, me included, are happy to receive them. But we’ve generally received them because we’ve performed exceptionally or taken on additional responsibilities. I can’t recall one instance in my career where I’ve given or received a reward for simply doing my job. It’s just not something that makes any sense to me.

Like I said, rewarding / recognizing people for exceptional performance or taking on additional responsibilities is fine. In fact, it’s a freakin’ critical thing to do because it helps to motivate people and keep them interested in their work. It can also help motivate the unexceptional to become exceptional. I truly believe that it’s a necessary thing to do and that it benefits all involved.

One of the areas that [the word I hate] is being linked to is social collaboration (which also sucks ass as a term because how the hell are you gonna collaborate if you’re not being social), especially as related to identifying experts. It works like this:
Say something not completely stupid.
Someone, who may or may not be stupid, rates your stuff (or gives you a badge or a cookie or a pin, who cares?).
Someone else sees the rating, and being equally as stupid, or not, bugs your ass for your opinion or for help.

Uh, WTF? I do good work and get “rewarded” by more people bugging me? What kind of psycho place is this?

Identifying experts is good. It helps those seeking advice by providing resources to tap. It helps those providing advice by making them think a bit more and pushing them to be better (and the ego stroking likely doesn’t hurt). But calling it [the word I hate] does everyone a disservice. Experts have worked extremely hard to get where they are, and many truly enjoy what they do and helping others. The folks looking for advice are likely stuck on something that may or may not be hugely important. I’m not certain that anyone involved wants their situation or efforts equated to playing games.

When I write a post I don’t write it to garner likes, +1’s, follower, or increase my Klout score (Klout is Krap, IMO). I write because I have something to say that I think and hope will benefit someone, or at least make them think. If someone provides positive feedback I appreciate it. If someone provides negative feedback I appreciate that too and try to be better the next time (unless they’re just being a dick). If someone reaches out and asks for advice, an opinion, or help, I provide it gladly with no expectation of getting a badge or biscuit. I do it because I am social just like every one of you reading this. Sometimes I write because I get pissed off and need to get something off my chest. On those occasions feel free to ignore me, just like my wife and kids do when I go all bat-shit crazy over something.

As a consumer, I love [the word I hate], but prefer to call it loyalty rewards or some such. I like going out and spending money on stuff, getting points, and using the points to get more stuff for FREEEEEE!!! I also like discounts, upgrades, and complimentary in-flight hookers (not available on domestic flights). But when it comes to me spending money that I’ve worked hard to earn, don’t equate it to playing games.

I’ll give [the word I hate] a little slack on social media & social networks. Earning “stuff” on Facebook (was thoroughly disillusioned to learn that “poking” wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d imagined) games, Foursquare, Klout, …, doesn’t bug me, mainly because I don’t take them all that seriously (like I do my work & my family).

On the corporate side, there’s a few areas where I think [the word I hate] is apt:
Projects requiring participation of people that have “real” jobs;
Organizational change management;
User adoption.

When you pull staff onto a project they’re still typically expected to do their day jobs. They’re also generally not used to working on projects; there’s a huge change in dynamics from doing an operational role (e.g.: claims processing) to being the subject matter expert in JAD (Joint Application Design) sessions for a new claims system. Doing something as seemingly insignificant as awarding a prize for the best project name can reap huge dividends.

Organizational change management and user adoption are other areas where it pays to “play”. Adapting to new tools and methods is not easy for most people. Even if people hate the tools and methods they’ve been using, they’re used to them and some really are resistant to change. Providing people with goals, tools to reach them, and incentives for reaching them is a good thing. [The word I hate] won’t make the transition any easier, but it ought to serve to get the participants more involved and also provide them with a way to measure their progress.

Give me a raise or a bonus, give me a pat on the back, ask me for my “expert” opinion / advice; I’m cool with all those things if I’ve earned them. Just don’t equate what I do professionally to playing games. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old bastard. If so, I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s not the application of game theory I hate; it’s the label we’ve given it. When applied to so many aspects of our lives I find it diminishes us, our efforts, and our accomplishments.

Note: none of this applies to people who actually play games for a living. E.g.: Bowling, darts, pool. I don’t care what channel they’re televised on, they are not sports.

Published at DZone with permission of Chris Walker, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)