A brave new world


Popularly considered a digital marketing tool, gamification is breaking ground by creating tools to help us acquire skills for our working life. 

 Play matters. It is “the work of the child,” according to Maria Montessori. Play was also Plato’s preferred method to “keep children to their studies.” And Carl Jung noted that something new was better created by “play instinct” than by intellect. 

Thanks to gamification in the digital era, play is once again in fashion. But it may also be that play has never been more essential to us as a society. 

Juho Hamari, Associate Professor at Tampere University of Technology, and possibly the world’s most prolific researcher on the subject of gamification, believes that in this post-industrial era it is more critical than ever to be aware of how we develop as individuals and that we do things that motivate us. 

“Take a look at the TED Talks,” says Hamari. “A great portion deal with how we can increase our intrinsic motivation.” Hamari draws attention to the sharing economy, fragmented working lives, situations where we are constantly required to be our own managers. “This kind of new work culture requires new tools.” And this tool is gamification — aspects of games applied to other fields.

But gamification, he cautions, is more complex than just creating an app. “Gamification is not only about software and system — it interacts with human psychology. It usually tries to influence human behavior.” 

According to Hamari, when gamification is done well, people will go to great lengths to acquire skills necessary to achieve goals. “I admire gamification where the learning is invisible.” Hamari cites World of Warcraft (WoW) as a case in point. “People spend a lot of time with that game developing skills of logical thinking and leadership, skills that are directly transferable to a work context.” Indeed. Publications like the Harvard Business Review and Forbes have reported how WoW and similar games allow enhancement of a skill set useful in business.

When robots rule

Jussi Räisänen, co-founder and CEO of Hintsa Performance, offers two observations. “We are increasingly unable to differentiate between our professional and our so-called other life.” Second, he says that “as robots and AI take over mechanical tasks in both our work and private lives, the capabilities that are unique to humans – creativity, problem solving, interpersonal skills – will become a powerful competitive advantage, and they depend largely on holistic wellbeing and fitness.” 

In other words, successful performers will understand that holistic wellbeing is a prerequisite for high performance. And high performance is where Hintsa has its roots, with Dr. Aki Hintsa working with Formula One drivers. 

In 2007, Räisänen was living in Singapore running a software company he founded. He wanted to train for a marathon together with a friend based in London. Since there was no virtual platform available, the two created one where “virtual encouragement” was a feature — two weeks before Facebook activated its “like” button. In 2014, his company merged with Hintsa and set out to scale operations and services to a broader audience. 

“I see gamification as a way to help people get the results they’re looking for,” says Räisänen. “It can give you the feeling of being rewarded, of tracking progress.” In many cases, a social element is added for encouragement. 

A very common challenge among executives is sleep, says Räisänen. “Top executives know exercise is important, but it’s an area you’re likely to find people who don’t know that a lack of sleep causes poor decisions.” 

Thus, gamification can be applied to improve sleep. What Räisänen terms the “entry-level program” is helping clients understand why sleep is important and its impact on performance. Subsequent levels offer rewards for actions that move the client in the right direction. “Digital products can be customised in a very personal way,” he says. “But what’s critical is to use technology to help create regular habits and not demand too much from yourself.”

Analog gamification?

Gamification isn’t just impacting the corporate world. It is helping the educational sector deal with societal changes, as well. For example, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are forcing the industry to rethink how it teaches. “The industry is asking itself if MOOCs are exposure or competition? And if content is free, then what should they sell?” says Eliza Hochman, CEO of World of Insights, a company that provides tools to help business reinvent itself and find new ways to engage with customers. 

Hochman views learning as a driver for business growth. To facilitate that learning, her company creates card games and board games. Since education is changing, the way teachers teach must also change. MOOCs have served to emphasize the shift in focus away from teachers transferring knowledge to creating ecosystems where learning takes place with active learners. 

Hochman says the board game connects those in the group through participants’ past experiences. “When people see the game, they smile. They physically relax and it suddenly puts them in a good place.” The game context enables the presentation of questions, even old questions, which generate new insights. “A good question in the right context slightly reshapes the way you see the world. People say, ‘That’s a good question!’ But it’s good context, actually. It’s a good ecosystem,” says Hochman.

Text by Scott Diel
Illustration by Anni-Juulia Tuomisto

This article was originally published in Finnair's Blue Wings magazine (October 2017).


Published September 25, 2017

Category: Collaboration