Does your job flow?

Everyday millions of us go to work; we get up and head out to perform our jobs.  Up until recently many of my jobs have been mundane and not very exciting.  I go to work and do my job for 8 hours a day, my last job my 8 hour work day felt like 20 hours.  I can barely focus on the task at hand, my mind wandered all over the place and I was barely motivated to do the job or task I was giving to do.  If you are experiencing this you are not alone, in fact according to Gartner (2013) nearly two thirds of all employees in the United States (Canada had similar statistics)  are no longer engaged with their jobs, costing somewhere between 450 – 500 billion dollars a year.

When we ask people who are engaged with their job, there are common elements that seem to be present, first that the flow of time seems to accelerate.  For example, ever been to a really great movie, and after 2 hours come out and wonder why it felt like 5 minutes, or perhaps you are working on a new project, and the only reason you knew it was lunch time is a colleague stopped by your desk and asked you to go to lunch.  Not only did time pass by quickly, but you lost all sense of awareness of what was going on around you.  The unfortunate part of this is that these instances in the work place are few and far between.  That intrinsic feeling you get of a job well done, is not always there, and sometimes we need a boost, but how often do companies provide that.  Most places work on extrinsic motivation, where you do work, I pay you every two weeks.  What more do you need?

Where does engagement come from, one of my personal favorite theories come from a Psychologist by the name of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.  A truly engaged world our jobs would exist in what Csíkszentmihályi calls a flow state.  According to Wu (2012) the flow state is a state in which our work exists somewhere between anxiety and boredom.  Where anxiety is the difficulty and the challenge of the job and boredom is the Skill and Ability to do the job.   In order to get into a flow state, a person must reach the activation threshold; this is a point when an employee becomes fully engaged in what they are doing.

Take for instance a new employee who is just starting a job, they are excited, highly motivated to learn new skills, and quickly adapt to the job they are doing.  The issue then becomes as the employee becomes more skilled at the task, a relaxation/boredom state starts to creep in, employees start becoming disengaged in what they are doing and at the very least stop caring about what they are doing, or worst start sabotaging the workplace.  Keeping an employee engaged and challenged in the work place is hard.  One such technique is called Gamification, which is the application of a game like mechanic in a non-gaming contenxt.

One example of how Target, a large US retailer, wanted to decrease the time people spent in lines during the checkout process and increase cashier accuracy. Target gamified checkout stations, by using the game mechanic of urgency, each item in the store was giving an optimum time of how long it should take to scan in the checkout.  For example measurements were taken of how much time it took to scan a pack of gum followed by a piece of clothing or even a TV.  This was done on every item in the store.  As a cashier scanned items, the system simply showed a green light if the item was scanned in the time allotted or a red light if not.  This simple mechanism created positive reinforcement, and it actually increased morale in cashiers by giving them the feeling of beating the system or achieving a high score.

Why does this simple engagement activity work, let’s take a very brief look into the science of psychology.  By simply swiping an item on time shows a great example of tapping into a person intrinsic motivation for wanted to beat the system.  This is accomplished by challenging the participant such as scanning items in and keeping the lights green, achieving success which then triggers Dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine release is at the heart of motivation, this fundamental triangle is one of the key concepts to gamification and engagement.  

Keeping your employees challenged and achieving in the work place is fundamental for engagement, if you have an engaged employee you have an employee who spends more time in the flow state, above the activation threshold.  It also means happier more motivated employees which leads to lower turnover, and higher productivity. Certainly if you have ever shopped in a Target around Christmas time (or any major retailer), you certainly can appreciate the higher throughput that this simple example of gamification has allowed. 

Gamification is a lot of hard work, retailers have 10’s of thousands of products, and that would lead to millions of scanning permutations.  But as you can see, with the right gamification design with the right game mechanic can increase engagement and productivity.  There is a lot more to engagement and gamification than this simple example, I can also say that this mechanic may or may not work in one’s own organization,  however, the take away here, is the holy trinity of intrinsic motivation, Challenge, Achievement and Release (Dopamine) .  Understand the issues you are trying to solve, understand the people who will be involved, and match the right gaming mechanic to the situation, will increase engagement. 

Want to no more, send me a Tweet @hb_jacobs ask a question, let me k now how I can help you solve an engagement issue.


G.A.M.E.R. Philosopy

I had a great chat with iGamify’s ( CMO Ben Bressington, He was kind enough to share his game/business/life decks with me.  We also chatted about what he was doing to bring process and procedure around Gamification in the work place particularly small to medium sized businesses.  However, after speaking with him for about 30 minutes I came to realize that his G.A.M.E.R. formula he uses to create “engagement opportunities” (I like this better than the world game) is more than just a process or a procedure, it is a philosophy to live by. 

Think about our adult lives, once we leave the parental home through to the time we retire we work approximately 2420 hours out of 8760 hours available to us through the years.  Of course some work more, some work less, but based on a standard 40 hour we work between 25 and 30 percent of the time.  Now for those who are in leadership positions within your organization, I ask are your employees happy and engaged? Do they come in everyday enthusiastic about their jobs?  As a person who is in a leadership position, if your answer is “I don’t know” to those to questions, I suggest that you may have an engagement issue, if you answered yes, I would challenge you to prove it, as I have shown in earlier blogs that only about 30% of the work force is engaged with their job.

Now I do understand that we do need a separation between work and home life, but does the separation of work and fun have to also exist.  Bringing fun into the work place does not equate to gaming.  Gamification as we know is not game, it is not about games, it is about game mechanics, and applying them to real word process or procedure.  By taking ahold of the G.A.M.E.R philosophy we can apply this to not just the work place, but our lives as well, (there is a life deck). 

First find the goal, describe the goal in terms of the future state, and secondly take a couple of minutes and think about the actions you need to take to achieve that goal. Along with the goal, we have to provide a purpose to what we are doing, giving it context.  For instance, if your goal is to increase sales, my first question is “for what purpose.”  Goals need to have a purpose, without purpose there is no direction.  The purpose of the goal will help us define the verbs which are “doing” words; they define some sort of call to action how can you take action if you don’t have a purpose. 

Along with our purpose we need to determine skills and resources needed to obtain these goals. You may want to increase your sales for the purpose of wanting to expand your product lines, however if you don’t have the skills and resources to towards the purpose you cannot succeed.   Next you’re your goal and purpose you begin creating a to-do list of action statements that will move you from your current state to the new state.  The statements will reflect those actions that include ensuring that you have the skills and resources needed to move towards the goal.

Thirdly, when we start down the path towards are goals, we have to monitor the goals, what is the feedback loop we are going to use.  If we want staff to increase sales, then the staff needs to have feedback in order to know where they are.  If the goal is to increase a person’s sales by 10% per day, then they need to know what their average sales are for that day and then have the feedback to see where they are.  But it is more than that, if you did not tie this feedback to actions that give your staff the skills to sale add-ons or up sell, the feedback may backfire, so care must be taken in monitoring. 

Another factor is how we can add enjoyment to those activities that lead us to our goals.  As a business owner, do you take the time to create an engaging work place that taps into those motivations that align with the goals and activates.  We can create fun through some game like mechanics, such as competition, or perhaps something that gives someone bragging rights.  In order to deliver the right type of enjoyment, there needs to be an understanding of what enjoyment means, we all enjoy different things, so what motivates me may not be the same as another person.  Enjoyment needs to come from within, so while there is nothing wrong in building extrinsic motivations,  the need to look at those who are participating in your goals and determine what makes them tick is important so that you can speak to those internal motivations, the ones that give a person that feeling of a job well done.

Lastly in our G.A.M.E.R. are the rules of what we are doing, if the goal was to lose ten pounds, than a rule would be that eating 1500 Calories a day is how I am going to achieve that goal.  Putting it all together, the weight loss scenario is good.  The goal I would state as “I wish to lose ten pounds so that my blood pressure lowers and I will not need to take medications.”  Now list a few goals, I will buy a new digital scale, I will count calories, I will eat less and exercise more, I will eat health foods”.  Of course monitoring this would be counting calories and stepping on the scale. 

Adding enjoyment can come in many different ways, such as using a new app, to count calories, I have a great one I use called “Lose it”, I talk about this all the time.  You might want to try new recipes that use healthier choice foods.  Then take the time to brag about the recipe on face book.  Lastly the rules, such as how often you will get on the scale, maybe you want to eat at specific times.  I always run at lunch time, at work that is a rule my colleagues know I follow and therefore try to avoid scheduling meetings when I run.   I believe that if we add G.A.M.E.R. to our lives not only at work but at home, we will succeed in the goals.  In essence we are breaking down the components of success so that our goal is manageable and attainable.

The Adult Education Approach to Gamification

The Adult Education Approach to Gamification

By Harry Jacobs

Based on the work of Mario Herger [1]and Mauritz Johnson’s Curriculum Instructional Model [2]


As I continue with my adult education I find it amazing the parallels between Adult Education and the concepts of Gamification. 

Relationalship Model Gamification

In the above link, I have taken Johnsons Curriculum Relationship Model, and have mapped Mario Herger’s design centric frame work for Gamification.  What this suggests is that how we deliver Gamification is not unique, but born out of adult education.  Gamification is really just a mechanism that is designed to engage and motivate participants to a desired state.   When you think about the facilitation of adult education adult educators are playing a similar role, we are engaging and motivating participants to achieve success in learning a new skill or subject, so we are moving learners from one state to another.

One of the aspects of this model I like personally in the middle layer is the notion of value.  Posner and Rudnitsky (2006) state that value is “an ideal state of affairs towards which one or more persons has a high effective regard, for example, equality of educational opportunity.”  [3]One of the questions missed in some of the Gamification frameworks that exist is the notion of value.  What is the perception of the value of the ideal state you are moving towards not only from a participant’s point of view, but from a organizational leadership point of view.  Not only should we define who are users are, what the goal Gamification is working towards, but also a clear statement on the value of adding some sort of Gamification.  If nobody perceives there is value in the activity, then the change may turn out to be an object failure. 

The model that is shown above shows three distinct layers, the first layer asks the questions, of why, what and how. On the left you can see how this maps to Herger’s  frame work.  The second layer is the actual design and delivery of the content, the mechanics of Gamification, while not explicated stated I added that this is iterative. The content and delivery must be continually   be evaluated in order to fine tune and continue to deliver relevant experiences to the participants.

Lastly the third layer allows for evaluation of what we are doing, in order to definitively state that we succeeded we have to determine what KPIs we are going to measure.  The model breaks this down into three processes; evaluating the main effect of Gamification, this basically answers the questions of did we accomplish what we set up to do?  Secondly, where there an side effects to what we put into place, these could be unintended results that were not planned upon in the initial planning of the activity. Lastly evidence of the Gamification results, a clear evaluation plan is needed, as the evaluation plan should be used to evaluate are initial assumptions set at the beginning of the project.

While I am not going to go deeper into this model at this time, what I attempted to show is that an older adult education model clearly shows that Gamification is really a mechanism for adult education in some cases, and that as Gamification experts we need to be more than just gamers. We need to understand the concepts of education and how to deliver content to adults in a way that addresses all learning styles or risk having underdeveloped solutions. 



[1] Kumar, Janaki Mythily and Herger, Mario (2013) ‘Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software’. Aarhus, Denmark, The Interaction Design Foundation. ISBN: 978-87-92964-06-9. Book available online at

[2]Posner, G.J and Rudnitsky A.N. (2006) ‘Course Design: A guide to Curriculum Development for Teachers.’ 7th Edition Boston, MA, Person. ISBN:0-205-45766-5. P. 12

[3]Posner, G.J and Rudnitsky A.N. (2006) ‘Course Design: A guide to Curriculum Development for Teachers.’ 7th Edition Boston, MA, Person. ISBN:0-205-45766-5. P. 293

Intro to Gamifciation

The term gamification according to Werbach and Hunter (2012, p.35) was coined by a British Game designer by the name of Nick Pelling in 2003.  The term did not really catch on again until 2010 when researchers and game designers started looking at the potential of video games for more serious uses.  What exactly is gamification,   Detarding et. al. (2011) states that “Gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts”, but why would we want to add game elements or game design into things we do every day.  One great reason is because it adds a touch of fun into what we do, after all games can be fun, they can be playful.

One such example is of course the Piano Stairs, head over to and watch the video.  Exercise is good for us, and using the stairs certainly can add a touch of that to a person’s day.  What if we could make taking the stairs more fun, would people use the stairs over the escalator? By adding just a touch of fun to an everyday task, it is clear we can influence a person to do something that is good for them.

Piano Staricase

Figure 1: The Piano Stair Case[1]

Gamification of course is more than just getting people to climb up stairs, businesses use it all the time to entice you to use buy their services or products in what we term loyalty programs.   Here is a picture from my bank account telling me how many points I have accumulated on my credit card. All I have to do is use my card and I get points that I can spend or convert to cash. The premise behind Part of what Gamification does is to try to persuade you as a participant to do something or behave in a certain way whether that is to climb a set of stairs or to spend money on your credit card. It is a motivational device that taps into some of our most basic human traits in order to entice us to do better at our jobs, buy more product, be more creative, sale more goods, be more productive and many other actives.  This leads to the notion of what is referred to persuasive technology.

Chase figure 2

Figure 2: Bank Loyalty Points

Persuasive technology as defined by Fogg (2002) states that “Persuasive technology is broadly defined as technology that is designed to change attitudes or behaviors of the users through persuasion and social influence, but not through coercion.  B.J. Fogg is a professor at Stanford University who researches Captology which is the study of computers as persuasive technologies. “Captology looks at  “the design, research, and analysis of interactive computing products (computers, mobile phones, websites, wireless technologies, mobile applications, video games, etc.) created for the purpose of changing people’s attitudes or behaviors. BJ Fogg derived the term Captology in 1996 from an acronym: Computers As Persuasive Technologies = CAPT.” (Stanford Persuasive Techn Lab (n.d.)

Captology Figure 3

Figure 3: Captology

Persuasive technologies are a subset of what is termed Human Computer Interactions (HCI), which is a very broad field that looks at how humans interact with computers.  As you can see in figure 4, HCI is made of many different sciences.

HCI Figure 4

Figure 4: What is HCI?

Gamification has many components, rooted in many different sciences, in Figure 5. I replace the computers with technology/environmental, as we are no longer limited to computers as an interactive device in fact it could be anything that allows some sort of interaction with a Human whether it is technology based or something that exists in the environment such as piano keys on a staircase.   Gamification exists at the intersection where technology, persuasion and game design meet.  Gamification is more than an intersection; it is a layer that exists in the same space with Captology.   The Gamification Layer cannot exist without the Captology layer, as Gamification itself is just a set of tools to enhance the HTEI (Human Technology/Environmental Interface) experience regardless of the application.

Captology extended

Figure 5: Where Gamification Fits in.

Gamification is not a game, it is the addition of game like elements to an activity, in my opinion it is an enhancement that adds a touch of fun to an activity.  What that means is that their must be an existing platform or activity to add gamification too.  Gamification is  tool, to help increase engagement, it can help modify behaviors, but keeping in mind this has to be done in a good way.  Gamification can be used in just about any area if applied correctly, it is not something that you can build and they will just come.  It has to be well thought out, and must bring meaning and value to both the users and the organization that is using it.

[1] Vogelius, K.J. (n.d.). The Piano Staircase [online]. Available from: <;. [Accessed October 15, 2013].


Detarding, S., Dixon, D., Khalrf, R. and Nacke, L.(2011) ‘From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining Gamification.”[Online]. Avaiable at: (Accessed: October 17, 2013)

Stanford Persuasive Techn lab (n.d.) ‘What is captology'[Online]. Available at: October 18, 2013)

Werback, K. and Hunter D. (2012). ‘For The Win’. Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press. p.35

What is a Game?

“A game is a bounded, specific way of problem solving. Play is more cosmic and open-ended. Gods play, but man unfortunately is a gaming individual. A game has a predictable resolution, play may not. It allows for emergence, novelty, surprise.” – Shiv Visvanathan

Gamification is a subset of games, we play games from a very early age, and we play games because games can be fun, challenging, offer a break from reality, offer social interaction and a chance to complete with others.  Games can be simple and can take minutes to play, for example a game like tic-tac-toe, simple to play, easy to master and typically once mastered we get bored and move onto something else.  There are games that challenge us, for instance Chess, basic moves can be learned within a few hours, but to master the game could take years and even decades.  For the most part we play games because they are fun to play they occupy us a good game can make hours feel like minutes.

According to Gray, Brown and Macanufo (2010) who state that games can be broken down into some very basic components that separated it from other types of play.  As youth we went out and played in the yard, we ran around, we kicked the ball and interacted with our friends.  There may be little structure to our play; in fact play is very much freestyle, we run, we jump and may even kick a ball around.  As soon as we add structure we start playing a game such as boundaries, rules, objects, couple that with a goal and we have moved from play to gaming.

One of the components of gaming according to Gray, Brown and Macanufo (2010) is the notion of game space and that games take place within that space.  Zimmerman (n.d.) talks about the idea of a ”magic circle”, which is a concept first introduced by Huizinga in which “The magic circle represents the idea that games take place within limits of time and space and are self-contained systems of meaning.”  One of the fundamental notions of playing a game is that we enter game play freely; we cannot be made to play a game.  As well the game space is safe, we can engage in activities that normally we would never think of doing in our normal lives.  By entering the game space we also agree to abide by the rules of that game space and that we can leave freely as we entered. Game space consists of Boundaries, Rules, Artifacts and Goals.


Games have boundaries, when we enter into the game space there defined boundaries,  think about games we have played whether it’s a sports game like football, or a game like Candy Land, or one of the many MMOs (Massive Multi-player Online Games)  they take place outside our real world.  The reality of the game is created within the game space, whether you are a tycoon vying to bankrupt all the other players or a plumber saving a princess you play in a very well defined game space.  Some games have very linear boundaries, you enter the game, you follow the path that is provided, and eventually reach the end.  Within the boundaries of the game there can be one or multiple paths that can lead you through the game space.  This often gives the player a perceived notion of freedom of choice within the game space.

When we enter a game space we have to know how to interact with whatever may be in our environment.  These are what Gray, Brown and Macanufo (2010) term as rules of interaction.  These are an agreed upon set of rules that all players will follow within the game space.  These rules help define the things we can do within that game space.  How we move, what types of encounters we will have, the rewards we may give or receive, even how we may interact with other players who are also within that same games space.  Rules of games can be known or can be discovered within the game itself.

Many games have artifacts within the game space. These artifacts typically only have value within the game space itself.  For example Monopoly money is only good within the context of playing Monopoly it has no real value outside that game space itself.  Artifacts can be points in a game; they can be talismans to mark where you are in in the game.  MMO games have many artifacts that you can use within the game; money, weapons, followers and armor.  Some artifacts can even be traded or given away within that game space.

Lastly games have clearly defined goals within that game space, without a goal, how do you know when you have achieved the next level or when the game ends.  Some games like tic-tac-toe are quick, get three in a row and you win.  Other games are more opened ended, offering quests which are smaller goals that lead to bigger goals.  For instance the notion of questing in MMOs often lead to leveling (progression) within the game, as you level your avatar you unlock content which allows you to master new skills, new artifacts, new places to explore eventually leading you to what is called the end game.


Gray, D., Brown, S. and Macanufo J. (2010). ‘Game Storming: A playbook for innovators, rule breakers and change makers.’ First Edition. ed. California: O’Reilly.

The Prisoners Dilemma

It is worth talking about game theory, for a moment; if anything just to clear up any misconception let us take a look brief look game theory.  Game theory has actually very little to do with Gamification or game design in fact, it is about mathematical modeling that is used to predict outcomes “on the actions of more than one agent, as well as perhaps on other facts about the world. Game Theory is the study of what rational agents do in such situations.”(Weatherson, 2011).  Myerson (1991) defines game theory as the “study of strategic decision making. More formally, it is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.”

One of the most famous models that is often used is what is commonly referred to as the prisoners dilemma.  As you can see from the matrix below we have two men, both have been apprehended by the police.  If both remain silent (game theory calls this cooperation), they will only receive a one year jail sentence each.  Both are offered a chance to confess and send the other player to jail for 20 years (game theory calls this defection from a cooperative relationship).  If both players cooperate they would receive the best outcome, however, both are thinking that if they turn on each other, they may not do jail time and therefore will defect and confess to the crime.

PD Matrix

Fig, 1: The Prisoners Dilemma shown as a martix

Theorists tell us that the criminals will always confess as they will only act in their own self-interest, therefore leading them to both go to jail for 5 years.

This is the prisoner’s dilemma. Game theorists have determined that confessing is always the answer for both parties in this case. The reason for this is that each party must assume that the other will act with only self-interest in mind.   By listing the preferences of the choices we can predict what the criminals will do.

  1. 20 year term
  2. 5 year term
  3. 1 Year Term
  4. Get out of Jail free

PD Preferences

Fig, 2: The Preference Matrix of the Prisoners Dilemma

Looking at Player 1’s preferences in the first column we can see that the 5 year term is preferable over a 20 year term if he does not confess (2 is great than 1).  In Column 2 we can see that see that not going to jail is better than going to jail for 1 year, therefore, the best strategy is to confess no matter what his partner this does is called the dominant action. The prisoner’s dilemma is the simplest of the game theory models, as we add more variables and players the mathematics become much more complicated.


Myerson, R. B. (1991). ‘Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict, Harvard University Press, p. 1. Chapter-preview links, pp.vii – xi

Weatherson, B. (2011) ‘Lecture notes on game theory.’ [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: October 17, 2013)

The Five Ws of Gamification

I was thinking back to going to school years ago and having the teachers talk about the five Ws.  That is we need to look at the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.  While working on gamification project the other day, I was reminded that how important a frame work is to work with.  One of the issues, I think is that business today rush into things without thinking about what they are doing.  Before we adopt one of the many fantastic gamification frameworks that are out there, maybe we need to stop and ask a few questions before we delve into some gamification process before we go down a rabbit hole that does not produce the results we want.

At the very least if we can’t use a framework that exists, we can stop and ask ourselves the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How questions.  The first thing is the Who questions, if we want to add gamification to a process, who are our users.  Sit and think about the segment of the organization/business that you want to be affected by your gamification.  Secondly, ask yourself, what you are trying to solve.  What business problem exists, or what do you want to achieve?  Simple questions but most often overlooked, we want to plow ahead with adding Points, levels, achievements, badges etc. but we must keep in the problem or achievement you are working towards.

Where, If we solved the questions of who and what, the where question comes to mind, the where is the system or process you want to enhance, is it a social media site, or a business process.  If we want to do something we have to know where you are going to do it, as well where can mean the platform, are you going to do it in the cloud, or on an in-house platform.  The next question is when, what is the schedule, if we are setting a goal, one of the important aspects is to ensure it can be delivered and implemented in the time frame that is needed.

Why is next, like what, we need to know why we want to do what we are doing.  With what we looked at the business problem or what you want to achieve but I by defining why you are doing what you are doing is important how gamification aligns with your business goals or organizational goals.  There is no sense doing something if it does not align to your mission or vision of your company.  Lastly How, how do we implement, how do we know what rewards we need, how is a big question.  If you get to the How, then you are ready to talk gamification, in that case get in touch with a company or consultant that specializes in gamification. Gamification.