Gamification (revisited)

Last week I talked about gamification – and whether it could be used to help improve productivity

If you weren’t thinking about it then, I hope you are now – Ambient research suggests that game-based learning will grow from $1.5 billion in 2012 to $2.3 billion in 2017.  This is important.  I am regularly int  touch with productivity centres around the globe who want to educate youngsters about productivity issues - whilst they are still young enough to be positively influenced.  This is part of many national productivity campaigns.

Adding gaming elements to such education might work.

Let’s remind ourselves about what gamification means – and what it doesn’t. 

Asking the learner a series of questions, along with multiple options, is NOT game-based learning. 

Game-based learning is the application of gaming elements to a non-gaming context – such as learning or training … and by gaming elements, we mean such things as:

  1. Challenge
  1. Motivation
  1. Rewards
  1. Feedback

- the elements that ‘hook’ gamers and keep them coming back for more.  Build these elements into your learning and you might just ‘hook’ learners into your learning and their progression … and you might stand a chance of creating a generation informed about productivity before they enter the workplace.


Gamification and Productivity

We’ve heard quite a lot about ‘gamification’ recently – especially in the context of online learning.

I read the term many times before I sought to understand it … so I thought some of you might be in the same boat and would appreciate an executive summary’.

If I’m right (after several minutes of research), gamification refers to taking processes (such as learning) and applying games-related functions like repetition, competition, rewards and recognition to make them more engaging to the participants.

Many industries have had some of these elements for a number of years, but gamification seems to mean taking these things to a new levels and integrating them more thoroughly. Organisations like TripAdvisor which give you credit for reviews you write (and regularly remind you of the number of readers, especially those who ‘liked’ one of your reviews) are ‘gamifying’ their websites.

In productivity terms, it ties up nicely with a number of the tenets of the lean philosophy.  For example, visual management can provide information as the basis of competition between work groups, departments and so on – and as the basis for rewards and recognition programmes.  So, whether you are ready ot go full steam ahead with gamification, it might be worth considering how you can use the functions referred to above to better engage your customers or your employees

It was the right decision

Recently a colleague was bemoaning the fact that he had taken a bad decision. 

When I questioned him about the decision, and about the outcomes, I formed the view that he had taken a ‘correct’ (or sensible) decision given the information he had available at the time.

As an example, consider the decision to make a bid in a game of bridge or make a move in a game of chess.  You make your move based on the experience you have of likely outcomes from the state of the game (or the cards you have been dealt) as it lies when you take the decision.  What happens subsequently will then depend on a number of additional factors – including the relative ability of you and your opponent(s).  You may lose the game.  However, if the same decision has to be made in the future, the likelihood is that you will make it in the same way – unless and until the number of times it turns out to be ‘wrong’ becomes statistically significant.

The same is true in business.  You must not confuse the outcome of a decision with the wisdom of the decision you took.  You must continue to take decisions based on the information you have available (though you might want to find out more if you can) and the experience you have of similar situations.  Then whatever happens, happens.  The outcome might not be favourable because of prevailing conditions – or due to plain chance.  But the decision was still the correct one.

Does Germany need higher wages?

For about 10 years now wage increases in Germany have not kept up with the development of productivity, by a long stretch” said European Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag recently 

This, of course, makes Germany highly competitive compared to other European states.

Is this a problem?

Is this unfair?

If you are German, it might not seem like a problem (unless you think that those who have helped create the improved productivity should share in the benefits it brings).

If you are a European, perhaps it matters more fundamentally – a trading imbalance (and a competitive advantage for one state over others) harms the European economy.

Presumably it is difficult to ‘blame’ Germany for its good performance and its ‘prudence’.  We might urge them to take off the brakes and spend a little more …. but, much more importantly, we have to urge other European states to address their own productivity – and ‘fight back’.

Recognising the Counterfactual

When we make changes to (try to) improve productivity, we subsequently measure results and assess impact.  (Or we should if we want to evaluate our own performance and impact.)

However, in many complex situations, we cannot be clear that what we have done has resulted in the changes we observe.  What would have happened if we had not intervened?  This is the ‘counterfactual’.  How do we measure it – so we know the true impact of our changes?  Well, often, of course, we can’t.  But sometimes we can extrapolate from observations we made earlier – and make an informed (and hopefully intelligent) ‘guess’ at what might have happened.  

Sometimes, we might have a ‘parallel’ situation elsewhere we can continue to observe (rather like a ‘control group’).

The important point is to realise that in complex situations,we have to be careful about assuming (or claiming) that all change has resulted from our actions. Otherwise we can over- or under-estimate the impact we have … and subsequent decisions might be based on this imperfect – and incorrect – knowledge.

In control?

In my recent discussions with PAPA (the Pan African Productivity Association), the topic of the Ebola virus came up.  Just as Africa seems to have recovered from the great HIV/Aids crisis (having largely got the ‘epidemic’ under control), the continent is hit by another great health problem – likely to have severe implications for those economies where the virus is rampant. 

The developed world is only just starting to see this as a global concern rather than as a ‘local’ African problem – and we might now start to see real resources going into research into both containment and cure.

Situations where we lack control are real drains on productivity.  We have to do what we can to help Africa take control of this situation or the whole continent – and then the rest of us – will suffer.

A Balanced Report

Well, I’m here in Mauritius and I’ve been having an interesting time.

I spent a few days with the Board of PAPA (the Pan African Productivity Association) discussing the productivity status and opportunities in Africa. Many of the productivity centres and champions are working under a range of funding, cultural and political constraints but there was consensus about some of the big challenges and around some of the necessary infrastructure elements that need to be put in place to underpin productivity development.

This is something we should all watch with interest – Africa’s productivity is important to us all in terms of helping the world solve the 3 great problems of food security, energy availability and universal access to fresh, clean water.

I was then fortunate enough to attend a session led by the great Robert Kaplan, one of the creators of the Balanced Scorecard concept and model. Amongst other things, it was interesting to see the development of the model from measurement scorecard to strategic planning catalyst. Robert gave several examples of companies that have deployed Balanced Scorecard and used it to transform their understanding of the business and shape its future.

Importantly he cited the use of the Scorecard to support strategy execution and evaluation as key to longer-term success. My biggest, single ‘takeaway’ message was that ”Strategy is important, but execution is what delivers.”

Tomorrow, I am flying home – to more mundane (but no less important) issues, concerns, projects and activities.

Something in the air

The ‘something in the air’ i refer to in the blog title is … ME.  As you are reading this, I should be in the air (if I’m not waiting at an airport terminal) en route to Mauritius.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I make this trip regularly – I have been advising Mauritius on its national productivity strategy, working with the lovely people at the National Productivity & Competitiveness Council (NPCC) – one of the members of our Confederation.

This one is a ‘special’ visit for two reasons.

First, I shall be giving a keynote presentation to a meeting of the Pan African Productivity Association and I am keen to hear their views on Africa’s productivity future – and see how well they chime with my own.

Secondly, while I am there, NPCC have invited the great Robert Kaplan (of Balanced Scorecard fame) to give one of their occasional productivity days with a world-class ‘guru’.  I shall get to listen to Robert – and meet him subsequently.

Its not often you get a chance to meet one of your ‘heroes’  - so this is quite exciting for me 

And, of course, to do all of this in Mauritius makes it all even more special.  Sometimes you just have to say, “Lucky Me!”.

If I wake up from this dream, I’ll give you a report next week.

Is Big Data Useful?

Big Data in ‘in’ – its a fashionable topic, its ‘cool’ and exciting.  But is it useful?

What are the applications where it will ‘make a difference’ – on a global level.

Well, I’ve been doing some work in Agri-business recently…. and one useful trend has been to make data available (on yields, prices and so on to farmers so they can take better-informed decisions about when and how to harvest and sell what they produce.

Now, however, big data is moving up that value chain – by offering information to farmers – on soil condition, on weather patterns, on past production, on competitors’ production.

How do we get the data?  Well, farmers give it to us – it is anonymised – so they can share the data pool … and experiments are starting to send out drones to observe directly what is happening.  It starts out being small data but soon grow – especially when you do this over several regions.

So, big data can be useful – like most other fields, it just needs someone to work out how to exploit it for commercial gain.  When that gain has social benefits (in terms of giving farmers information which helps them negotiate better with the ‘middlemen’ taking produce for processing…. so much the better.

Do the measures matter?

I have been doing a little work recently in relation to productivity and performance measures.  The thought struck me after trying to construct appropriate measures for a particular organisation in a particular situation that the measures we use are not as important as the fact that we use measures to track progress against strategy and ensure we remain ‘on mission’.

Of course the measures must demonstrate progress in the right direction for our key success factors – but remember the Pareto effect – we can probably get 80% of the effectiveness of a measurement regime with 20% of the effort.

i am not advocating ‘abdication’ – just careful use of resources and broad targeting rather than surgical precision.  Get people moving against plans – in broadly the right directions and with some momentum and motivation – and the detailed results will look after themselves.