Gamification of the Innovation Process

by Michael Allen

Looking at gamification of the innovation process, a definition of gamification may be necessary:

It’s simply the implementation of game mechanics to non-game activities to prompt specific behaviors.

An example, take a process for instance, picking and packing parcels in a warehouse and encouraging an improvement in performance by applying points for speed, and or quality and points turn into a ranking, or prizes of some kind.

Sounds really obvious, yes? It does, but it would be naive to ignore that fact that one of the inevitable problems with the concept of gamification is that as soon as you talk about games, we probably immediately think about what our kids do when we wish they were doing the homework. We can’t dismiss the similarity because the reason they are playing the games rather than doing their homework is that the games designers are really good at engaging the player to keep playing by incentivising them with points and rewards and providing them with barriers to push through to rank-up which in turn gives them new challenges or privileges which in turn gives them more kudos amongst their peers.

Those incentives aren’t unique to teenage game players – we all like incentives, rewards, challenges, privileges and kudos. They are very human desires. It’s not as new as you think.

Like most apparently new fads, it’s not new at all – we’ve been doing it for ages, there just wasn’t a name for it. A great example from decades ago is Hard Rock cafe who profited massively from those really simple t-shirts they sold – all identical apart from the location name at the bottom. If you found yourself in a new City, it became fun and rewarding to go to the Hard Rock cafe to buy a t-shirt.

Frequent flyer systems are another form of gamification – as well as gaining points for flying they introduced the concept of breaking through barriers (like ‘ranking-up’ in a video game) meaning your miles earnt something extra (even if it for a limited time period ie. when business is traditionally slow).

Rewards for shopping in retail stores is another form of gamification. By offering an incentive to ‘play the game’ they can then incentivise you to do other things (like respond to limited time promotions).

Starbucks – one of the most innovative retailers around rewards shoppers with virtual points and virtual badges for visiting their retail stores. Like Hard Rock Cafe they incentivise people to “check-in” at multiple retail locations on their mobile phones and when the complete ‘quests or games’ like visiting five different Starbucks,” they earn extra points. The points have no redeemable monetary value, and the badges don’t have any real-world payoff, however it gives a fun incentive for people to visit their stores and buy more product.

Gamification, like advertising, taps into some basic human instincts and motivations.

People have fundamental desires for acknowledgement, status, achievement, reward, altruism and competition. By wrapping the appropriate set of game mechanics around your idea scheme you can create an experience that boosts engagement and participation.

In practical terms that means;

– Awarding points for activity – not just offering ideas, but also for helping sift the good from the not so good ideas by rating, or shaping ideas through commenting and collaborating on other people’s ideas. This can be extended into the process of managing the idea through the process of implementing it.

– The next inevitable step will be to publish leaderboards so that people can see where they sit compared to their peers

– Converting points into something tangible whether that is a financial reward or otherwise (I published a blog with ideas for rewards that don’t cost much here)

– Levels, like different classes in frequent-flyer programs, job titles or roles (like Six Sigma Black Belts) are an indication that you’ve reached a milestone, a level of accomplishment in a community, and should be afforded a certain amount of respect and status. Levels might translate into increased points so for instance a rating from a low level ‘innovator’ is worth slightly less than a rating from a ‘black belt of gold badge innovator’

– Rewarding certain levels of activity.

But there are drawbacks in the gamification of the innovation process. The obvious problem with gamifying the innovation process is the same problem with any type of measurement – that being that as soon as you reward certain behaviours, people will behave in that way. In other words, if you reward people for putting comments against an idea, some people will put mundane comments in order to win points rather than improve the idea. Your job is to balance the obvious benefits against those downsides.

image credit: paragonevents.com

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  1. These are exactly the kinds of ideas, strategies and tactics that we are addressing with Cdling (pronounced “seedling”).

    Head to our twitter feed to see the amazing innovators from over 80 cities who are joining everyday.

    Kind Regards,
    Michael
    @cdlingHQ

  2. Starbucks does not only have a gamified loyalty program, they also do have MyStarbucks Idea, a gamified idea submission (innovation management) platform. I collected quite a number of innovation managements platforms that use gamification for better outcomes and engagement here: http://bit.ly/1l7ruvb

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