Category: My Blog Posts

Thank You Honda

Dear Honda,

We don’t know each other but I love my car.  My 2007 Civic has been great to me and I suppose I’ve been pretty good to it too.  I’ve changed the breaks, oil, transmission fluid, steering fluid, a couple sets of tires, and that is about it.  Our car has given me 100,000 glorious miles together.  On our way down to San Diego last week we hit the milestone.  I’ve had a few cars before my Honda Civic but each of them was plagued with problems and were complete money pits.  I’ve gone through some rough financial times over the last few years so having a dependable car has been awesome. Here’s to the next 100,000 miles and learning from our mistakes.

What Office Space Can Teach Us About Gamification

When was the last time you had fun at work?  For many of us it has been a while and fun at work is usually something you do during lunch or around a watercooler.  Employees may view work as dull, boring, unimaginative, and very often we see employees who are completely disengaged.  Do a search for “employee engagement facts” and see what results you find.  If you think employees are actively engaged you may be surprised to learn that many employees are not only disengaged, but actively disengaged.

In the movie Office Space, Peter Gibbons hates his job so much he seeks a hypnotist’s help.  The hypnotist puts Peter into a state of ecstasy which transforms everything around him.  Few employees get to achieve the level of ecstasy that Peter does in the movie.  People have bills to pay, mouths to feed and bosses to listen to.  That doesn’t mean work can’t be fun and hopefully at the end of this post you will have some ideas for making work at your company fun.

In the clip below let’s look at what a typical day is for an employee at Initech and how Peter’s new state of ecstasy hilariously shows how many employees feel on a daily basis.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way, you can have fun with your coworkers and in return get more work done.  At least that is the hope with a new term called gamification which wikipedia defines as “the use of game design techniques[1] and mechanics to enhance non-games.

Typically gamification applies to non-game applications and processes (also known as “funware“)[2], in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used. Gamification works by making technology more engaging[3], by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors[4], by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, and by taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.[5] The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, filling out tax forms, or reading web sites.[3] Available data from gamified websites, applications, and processes indicate potential improvements in areas like user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, or learning.”[6]


Gamification 101

Most people who hear about gamification likely first encountered it via Foursquare or Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk (embedded below).  For me it was Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk which I loved.  If you have the time to watch the video just know for the first few minutes you are going to think she is out of her mind, but them you should start realizing she is onto something brilliant.

Going back to our Office Space comparison, any time you are forcing gamification onto someone it will rarely go well.  See the video below on the pieces of flare as an example of an organization forcing someone to take part in something they don’t believe in.  When you are looking at how to introduce gamification to your organization, it shouldn’t be forced.  The people engaging with the gamified application should want to play the game (use the app).

Non Traditional Gamification

Gamification tends to be associated with trying to solve things technically but it has been around for years but we didn’t have a term for it (or we didn’t call it gamification). McDonald’s has mastered gamification via the games they promote to us so that we in turn buy more products from them.  There are other companies doing similar things like club cards, memberships, travel rewards, credit card redemptions to name just a few.  I personally find what McDonald’s has done fascinating.  Starting with Happy Meals they condition kids to love their brand at a very early age via cheap toys (Cracker Jacks even before them). They have Ronald McDonald and a cast of characters into give their restaurants a fun and inviting place for all, but especially children.  If they can get children to want to go to McDonald’s the parents obviously need to come as well.  They have Play Places and although the quality of their food is always going to be public debate, nobody can argue with the success they have had applying game mechanics to promote their food.

As we grow up we still have a soft spot for these types of brands because they are brands we’ve grown up with.  Now as adults they can’t let you not stay engaged with the brand.  They offer promotions like Monopoly where each item has a Monopoly board piece to compete to win cash and prizes.  I challenge you to look around your day to day lives and document the game mechanics we have all around us that we may have failed to think about as “gamification”.  Then as you look to apply gamification to a technical challenge, remember to think about successful non traditional game mechanics.  Combine non traditional and traditional game mechanics to your application if you really want to take things to a whole new level (most people only focus on one or another).

Pieces of Flare: Badges

Gamification is often criticized because many view it as nothing but leaderboards and badges which are supposed to represent how engaged someone is with an application.  I personally like badges and leaderboards because I’m ultra competitive but some employees aren’t going to respond to that type of game metric.  I like the idea of using badges because if done properly they will represent expertise within your application, or if done really correctly, your entire organization.

In Office Space Brian is a waiter at Chotchkie’s who takes the “points of flare” to a whole new level.

Joanna, played by Jennifer Anniston on the other hand hates wearing her pins, or “pieces of flare”. Everyone is motivated by different things is the point here.

A Few Gamification Best Practices

Most companies are great at sprinting, but they are terrible at running a marathon. What I mean by that is many companies will dedicate a lot of resources and effort to an initiative but over the course of weeks, months, or years they can’t sustain the pace.  Many companies get tired after a very short time because they didn’t train themselves for a sustained effort.  Gamification can help with this if implemented properly.  Gamification in most instances makes an effort or an application fun to do so people will be more likely to do it.  Community is also something to consider because without a community, your users won’t have anyone to interact with.  Most companies want to focus on what tools to use for handling gamification but if you don’t also focus on internal processes to handle change management, you could risk success.

Setup your application with quick rewards to get your users off to a quick start.  If your gamified application needs training, consider if you’ve designed it correctly, and if training is necessary, whenever possible add it as part of the game so users hit the ground running.  Obviously people playing your game will need to start at “square one” so find a way for them to level up quickly so they don’t get frustrated with how difficult it is to progress in the game.  At the same time don’t make it too easy to level up or they will also lose interest.

Make it clear how to start and as you complete something it should be clear to those playing the game what the next step is.  I find many examples of companies trying to apply game mechanics to sites and as soon as I complete my first task it is not clear what I need to do next. However you apply game mechanics to what you are looking for your players/viewers/customers to do, make it fun.  Make sure it is something you would want to do, and do often, for sustained periods of time.

The Future of Gamification

I don’t have a crystal ball but I would imagine gamification is a term we will continue to hear for some time to come.  Currently gamification tends to stay with  leaderboards, badges, points, and I think all of that is great.  Most industries are starting with basic game mechanics and I think we’ll see those methods will help keep our users/employees engaged for a while.  Those types of game mechanics tend to be “Gamification 1.0″…sorry yeah I went there.  I think gamification 2.0 (yeah still going there) is going to be more about making all aspects of work fun, not just some parts of work.  Having people work without knowing they are working.  That might be a tall order, especially in some workplaces.  I think it will also be about playing actual games, not trying to implement a game inside of an existing process.  Some of the best companies are already starting to do that today.

Employee engagement and culture is immensely important and those who are focusing on it are likely seeing the fruits of those efforts.  Gamification will aid in retaining top talent, recruiting away talent, and your customers will appreciate it because your employees will become brand/company advocates.  Go to a competitor of your company, and compare your company’s employees to those of your competitor.  If you see passionate, knowledgeable, engaged employees, you will likely spend your money with that business.  Engaged employees are working, but you wouldn’t know it, and I don’t know if they know it either.  That is what all companies should want.  Most companies do some things well but we should demand better.  Demand change when necessary, even if it means employees need to interact or “play games” to get the job done right.

Let’s Wrap Things Up

If your customers/employees/viewers aren’t engaged and don’t already trust you or your company, the chances of them wanting to play a game or interact with you is going to be an uphill battle.  It isn’t as easy as throwing leaderboards and badges into your solution.  Look back at our McDonald’s example from earlier on.  They have commercials, signage / advertising, and find ways to make buying their food fun.  In the end there aren’t crystal balls, there isn’t a perfect solution to solve your problem, solving these challenges are incredibly difficult.

More Reading

I love reading and following anything Mario Herger is working on.  He’s doing some great things in the gamification space with lots of enthusiasm.  I’ve met him for lunch here in the Bay Area and recently attended one of his workshops.  I don’t pretend to know even a fraction of what Mario knows.  Mario has been a great mentor for me and many others.  I recommend signing up for his gamification community to continue the conversation and learn from others who are trying to figure out this new trend.

Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham recently wrote a book called Gamification by Design.  To be honest it is sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read but I’ve heard some great things about Gabe and the book.

If you have other thoughts, please continue the conversation in the comments of this post or connect with me so we can connect offline too.  Happy gamifying your life…now if I can just find that stapler.  And can you put a coversheet on the TPS Report for me?

What can Office Space teach us about Gamification is the work, and many times, the applications we have employees use isn’t engaging or fun.  Make work matter, make work fun and better results will most likely follow.

Email: My Lessons Learned?

I decided to start using a Mac at work, one of the very few to do so where I work and rumor has it the first outside of IT (besides one department who has been using them for years).  I’m still learning how to get everything working on the Mac, I’ll probably have a few upcoming posts on that topic.  What I wanted to talk about tonight though is email.  Because I got a new laptop it gave me a chance to start fresh.  Start the new year with a clean slate.

Here is how I’m planning to manage email with my new life on a Mac:

  • I no longer have Personal Files (PST).  Once my trash/sent mail fills up, I empty/remove it.
  • If people choose to send me files via email I store them in project folders.  Still not the best way to manage static files but I have future plans for better managing them.  For now, they reside in project folders on my hard drive.
  • I read the email and try whenever possible to only touch it once.

I’ve realized there are 7 primary uses of email I’ve found:

  • File transfer (NO!!!!)
  • Task assignments (unless you have a task or project management system…NO!!!!)
  • Finding out who can help, locating expertise (unless you have an expertise locater…OK)
  • Calendar/meeting appointments (for now…OK)
  • Corresponding with external partners (for now…OK)
  • Correspondence chain AKA my “CYA” (I say NO to this one but am on the fence for how to best handle this)
  • Conversations (for now…OK)

What did I miss?  What email best practices are you using?

3,000 Posts

I started this blog on April 10th, 2008.  Technically it was a few months before that but due to some rookie mistakes for the first few months I finally figured out how to manage a blog without blowing it up.  Over the last 4 years I’ve had 465 comments.  That means for every 6 blog posts I get one comment, not too bad I guess.  That number is terrible if you were to compare to likes/comments on a Facebook posting.  Blog engagement/community seems to be dying.  Maybe it is just me.  People consume on blogs/sites and engage in social media.  At least that is my view.  I’m averaging 40 some RSS reads per day, is RSS dying too?  To date 256,199 people have visited my site.  I don’t have a blog for the hits, or for the comments.  I use my blog as an online brain, a place for me to refer to things I’ve thought, sites I’ve enjoyed, videos, pictures, things I want to share.  Thanks for hanging in there with me while we all figure this out.

I’m A Seeker

Try taking the Visual DNA test and see how closely it fits your personality.  I think it did a good job for me…

You’re a Seeker. You’re efficient and reliable with tons of energy for getting things done! Keeping all those plates spinning is one of your specialties. A sensitive soul with an expressive nature, you tend to be quite a romantic at heart. Sometimes you love nothing more than escaping into your very own dreamworld. Spontaneous new experiences can be really inspiring to you and you like exploring your creative side from time to time. Seems like you’re in a really good place right now, feeling happy, playful and full of energy. It’s great when everything in life seems to flow. Your natural tendency to look on the bright side definitely helps! A healthy relationship really is the bedrock of a happy home, but it also takes a lot of energy and commitment to maintain. Make sure that with all the other distractions, your love life doesn’t end up at the bottom of the list. It’s important to remember to tap into your inner strength and to believe in yourself. Take on new challenges and stay stimulated so you remain enthusiastic and inspired by life. As a Seeker, you get excited by new ideas. You like adventure and original experiences that stimulate and challenge your status quo. Stay inspired with a rich mix of activities, and find time for hobbies that allow you to explore your creative side. Learn to recognize when you need variety in your life, and then incorporate it into your daily plans. Having a loving relationship is one of the biggest blessings there is. A solid home life is an immense source of strength and support. Make sure you don’t take your partner for granted. Carving out some regular special one-on-one time is always worth it.

You like to feel protected and cared for. It’s important that your partner is someone whose advice you really value and a loyal ally you can lean on through anything. As a Rock Steady, it’s important to you that your relationship feels secure. You tend to be realistic about what makes a lifelong relationship work and understand the value of forging a love based on friendship and respect. You believe that a true partnership is about sharing responsibility and being able to count on one another through whatever life throws at you. This feeling has probably grown even more since the kids arrived. Creating a true sense of honesty and support means your love will grow as the years go by.

Relationship tips:

So you’re a Rock Steady but what tips can we give for keeping the magic alive in your relationship?

  1. Rekindle the romance. Get up with the lark and meet at a local market to buy beautiful flowers and feast on a yummy breakfast
  2. Do something different. Take a cocktail-making class together at a local bar. It’ll be lots of fun with plenty of tasting to be done!
  3. Take it easy. Imagine you’re on holiday in your own city. Do the fun things tourists would do and capture it all on film with a disposable camera.
  4. Let your inhibitions go. If it rains, grab the chance to run wild in the puddles and have lots of fun getting soaked to the skin and then warming up afterwards!


You’re a techie, and you love to have the latest gadgets. If you get some money to spend, chances are it will go on something shiny! Your drive and motivation mean you know what you want out of life and you’re not afraid to go for it. You have a taste for the finer things, but you know they’re not easy to come by. You’re focused and determined, with the ambition to achieve your vision. Just make sure you take time to admire the view rather than heading as fast as you can to the destination.

Unappealing as it may seem, it would be good to try to be a bit more active every day. You might be surprised at how much you’d actually enjoy regular exercise. It may sound hard to believe, but endorphins are better than chocolate if you just give them a chance! You may even find that you’re in a better mood more often. Start off with something that isn’t too intimidating, like climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator. You might even consider signing up for a few personal training sessions in the gym so that you have a program that’s tailored just for you. You may need to think about making a few changes what you eat too. Maybe you could try making homemade versions of your favorite restaurant meals to reduce the sodium and fat content and eat healthier without compromising too much on taste.

If you took some time out to visualize your dream life, you could probably see yourself away from the rat race, chilling out on a beach. Nothing puts a smile on your face like waking up to sun, sea and sand without a care in the world. Fresh fruit, seafood and not a cloud in the sky…sounds like paradise!

You like to live life on the edge…of your chair. Laid-back and easy-going, you know how to kick back, put your feet up and watch the world go by or just chill in front of the TV and forget the world exists for a few hours. Life can be so hectic that it’s the perfect way to unwind. Don’t be afraid of granting yourself a little bit of downtime.

You’re active and like to get involved in life. If you feel great, you’ll look great, and vice versa, so you know the importance of taking care of yourself. You’re motivated and driven to succeed in all aspects of your life. For you, going running is a great way to unwind and get away from it all, and let’s face it, all those endorphins don’t hurt either! But why not kick back every once in a while and show off your athletic figure in some cool surf shorts? After all, you’ve definitely got the legs for it!

You’re inquisitive, open-minded and interested in history. You love to discover new things and experience new places. For you, the tourist trail is best avoided. After all, it’s the hidden gems that make traveling so exciting! You love to thoroughly immerse yourself in culture, so chances are you’ll end up in a museum or gallery at some point on your trip.