April 8, 2014

Changing the World Is One Big Game (Part 1 of 2)


This is the first episode in a two-part series. In Part 1, I talk with Nicole about her background, her mission, and how different types of fun (did you know there are different types of fun?) factor into successful experiences.

We enjoy advising on different gamification platforms because we truly believe that gamification can improve our world. I recently had the chance to talk with Nicole Lazzaro (who we named one of the top 5 women in gamification) about how changing the world is one big game. She’s got some pretty interesting stats to back that up, too.

Nicole is the CEO and founder of XEODesign. The seed was planted in 1999, as she stared at a board game while visiting ancient Egyptian landmarks near the Nile. In that moment, she says, she began to wonder what people would have thought about these games 2000 years ago. More importantly, she asked herself what games she would want to play in the next years.

Looking back now, Nicole realizes that gaming as it was understood then, in 1999, had to change – and it did, due in large part to her. She wanted to be, in her words, “a fulcrum to launch the mother ship,” to make as large an impact as an individual could.

To that end, Nicole has impacted 1 billion people through the work she has done.

There may be those who scoff at the idea of changing the world through gaming, but you won’t find the federal government among them. Nicole has advised the White House on implementing gamification and game-like elements into various programs. Part of her work was with the Forest Service, in an effort to increase and encourage the use of national forests.

She claims that’s she’s never met something she couldn’t turn into a game, though there are certain things you wouldn’t want to (she was once wisely told that anything can be turned into a drinking game, for instance). We shouldn’t outright dismiss anything because it may not readily appear to lend itself to gamification. She gives the example of surgery.

Most people would agree that surgery itself should not be made into a game. However, Nicole sees great potential in a “warm-up” game, such as a simulator. She speculates that this could improve surgery by reducing error and time.

Her company works with existing businesses much in the way she worked with the White House. Their mission is to “unlock human potential through play,” by helping companies reach their objectives through incorporating game elements into their products and strategies. They’re even helping slow down global warming. Yes, really. Listen.

The key to unlocking potential is through play. Through research, Nicole (who’s educational background is in psychology) and her team identified the “best moments” of play.

From these moments, they broke fun down into four essential elements.

The first is curiosity, or “easy fun.” Easy fun includes experiences that are enjoyable for their own sake. Exploration is a large part of this. Nicole uses the examples of dressing up Sims, driving your car in reverse, or trying to launch that car off of the freeway. There isn’t a sense of accomplishment as far as advancing goals, but there’s a sense of enjoyment in just having done it.

This is balanced by the second element, hard fun. Hard fun represents the sense of accomplishment when we do advance a goal. Typically, we think of this in terms of completing levels in a game. The difficulty involved is what makes it rewarding. A successful game has elements of both. In basketball, easy fun is dribbling the ball. It just feels good to do. Hard fun is making a basket. You advance towards the goal through the completion of a difficult task.

When we agree to play something we view as a game, there is an expectation of both. That challenging element of hard fun is desired. However, we have the mindset that improved experiences should be easier and simpler. Nicole points out that we push a button on an elevator, and get to the floor we want. We push a button and a document prints. While there is convenience in this, there isn’t a sense of accomplishment. You can’t push a button to put together a strong presentation and feel that sense of accomplishment.

She backs up this claim with science – neuroscience, specifically. There’s evidence that the brain thrives in a place between skill and difficulty, which is what games stimulate. There’s a huge rush felt in succeeding after having tried and failed multiple times. This doesn’t mean all work should be hard fun -it’s just one element of it.

To help companies bring fun into the workplace, Nicole and her team run “play shops.” They encourage the members of the companies to brainstorm, which brings them into a positive brain space.

If you want to hear what that brainstorming can lead to, and hear the next half of the four keys to fun, stay tuned for part II. In the meantime, download some of XEODesign’s gamification research from their site. In the meantime you could also listen to our third episode where Chuck Coonradt, The Grandfather of Gamification, shares with me how to increase productivity using gamification. By the way, I mentioned during this interview we like to play table tennis. In fact we are seeing if it can be used in the hiring process.

The Takeaways:

  • 1 billion people have been impacted by Nicole’s work
  • The key to unlocking potential is through play
  • The key to play lies in elements of fun
  • There are four types of fun, and each plays a role in a successful game
  • Gamification uses these elements to increase productivity and success in the workplace

Do you think gamification can change the world? Send me a voice message here, or share your comments below.

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