Rewards, status, incentives…the words which are as synonymous with Gamification as peanuts and popcorn are with baseball. These are the things that drive us, that get us to do what we wouldn’t normally do, while having fun in the process. But what about the other end of the spectrum? Could the fear of shame and humiliation actually serve as key drivers to engagement? Well, without even knowing it, our CTO Allen Cryer put it to the test.
It all began over lunch at one of our favorite Mexican food restaurants. It started out pretty routine: a few baskets of chips, followed by a huge plate of enchiladas and tamales, and then everyone sitting around talking about how we need to lose weight. It was then that Allen laid out his proposition. He proposed a 60 day weight loss contest. When we asked what we would win, he informed us that there would be no winner…only a loser. This would be a good time to explain that our office building is connected to a high rise condominium building in downtown Dallas, wherein our office building, and the high rise overlook a beautiful 7th floor deck with an infinity pool.
Allen went on to explain that the loser of the contest would have to lay out at the pool for an hour, in a speedo style bathing suit chosen by the winning group (remember the movie Borat?). The initial reactions to Allen’s proposition was everything from excitement, to hesitation, to H#ll no! In the end, 6 of us opted in, and the First Annual MotiveEight Banana Hammock Weight Loss Contest was on!
Over the next 8 weeks, we would have official weekly weigh-ins followed by a week’s worth of bragging, ridicule and speedo jokes. The thought of someone else losing was way more exciting and fun than the thought of winning a prize, or even the status of winning (not to mention, the fear of losing kept me away from the late night brownies and ice cream, when before my willpower had been lacking to say the least). We talked about the contest all the time (maybe too much) but had a blast.
And isn’t that the point of Gamification? Make something fun, create an incentive (even if that incentive is the fear of losing, and what comes with it) to achieve a desired result? In the end, I can tell you that I’ve been in contests before, but can never remember one that created such engagement.
And why did it work? Because everyone that participated opted in. Being open to receive the punishment of losing was a choice. We chose the fear of wearing the speedo in front of the entire office building as the ‘driver’ to push ourselves harder towards our goal of loosing weight. It’s what took the punishment from being cruel, to fun and exciting. In the end, I lost 14 pounds, had lots of fun, and DID NOT have to put on the mankini. I was going to post a picture of the poor soul who lost, but have decided to save him the humiliation.
But how far does this theory of negativity go in the world of Gamification? As I was writing this, I was reminded of my daughter’s volleyball team that I coach. When we scrimmage in practice, their favorite thing to do is play for ‘consequences’. This is where the winning team makes the losing team do something silly, or maybe not that fun, like doing 20 pushups, or hopping around the gym on one foot singing “I’m a little tea-pot”. Again, we only do this if everyone wants to, but having this consequence attached to losing actually drives them to play harder. So, the implications may be more far reaching than you think.
So the next time you’re looking for a way to motivate your team, look away from the tchotchke prizes, and ask yourself “Now, how can I humiliate these people?”
Enough talk, time for lunch. Enchiladas anyone?