Gamification has the potential to greatly optimize the way humans are connected to and go about their work. Like social media, and usually closely integrated with it, gamification is an emerging new field that's still difficult to broach in many management circles because of its perception that it's not an appropriate or serious enough business topic. Yet a growing number of impressive outcomes as well as a burgeoning set of supporting tools and technologies are making it increasingly likely that gamification will find its way into a workplace near you over the next couple of years.
In fact, as enterprise platforms -- particularly internal social networks -- open up to embedded third party applications (such as OpenSocial) and business applications themselves add gaming features, the decision point on whether to apply gamification strategically is approaching for many organizations.
On its face the case for gamification, which is defined here as adding game-like activities to improve non-game contexts, is a strong one and easy to state. Namely, if properly situated in business processes, the incorporation of game features in work activities can reward desired behavior, create more intensively participative processes, track group progress, establish feedback loops that reinforce and accelerate sought after business outcomes, and more. Why does gamification do this? The belief is that it taps directly into the cognitive and psychological predispositions of humans to engage in game-like behavior that they find interesting, engaging, and rewarding. And fun.
But fun isn't something that's generally regarded as very important in the workplace. However, meeting deadlines, accomplishing objectives, overcoming and solving important challenges are widely valued by businesses. Yet that's precisely where gamification and work overlap. The reality is that a lot of modern careers, particularly those in the service industry and knowledge work, often consist of repetitive drudgery -- filled with seemingly endless routine tasks and rote processes -- that can sap the motivation of even the most well-intentioned employee. The premise then is what if such tasks, which are often at the very center of what a company needs in order to operate and compete, could be made more productive and efficient by making them more engaging to the humans that use them?
A combination of design thinking, which is rooted in empathy for the context of a problem, and user-centered design, a philosophy and process in which the wants, needs, and limitations of end users allow for the creation of more effective products, gamification has the potential to greatly optimize the way humans are connected to and go about their work. In other words, if you want work to get done in the best possible way, then it should be designed for the way humans actually work best.
So, in the consumer world, games have long been designed to enthrall and captivate their users for as long possible, providing loosely structured encouragement to reach new heights and achieve intensive, team-based cooperative objectives with a single-mindedness and purpose that all-to-often missing entirely in garden-variety business processes. We are just now fully beginning to realize it's now both 1) possible to achieve and 2) an increasingly well understood discipline to design business processes in the same way.