Gamification vs. Gaming

Recently I heard someone say: “we’ll add some quizzes and skill games to our web site a user has to solve in order to come in”. That is Gaming but not Gamification.

These terms are often mixed up. Gamification is not about applying gaming elements to the work environment. It is about applying gaming mechanisms to none-gaming environments, to extract the motivational factors that make us play a game and improve our skills in it.

Two examples from the Internet:

  • Have you ever been annoyed by a progress bar in the profile page of your favorite social network that indicated that your profile is (only) 75% complete?
  • Have you already thought of purchasing a Pro Account so you can see who has visited your profile?

The second example – a Gamification approach called “Freemium” (“Free” and “Premium”) — solves a dilemma of the service provider: A social networking service has to be free in order to be distributed as broadly as possible. To earn money the provider has to identify features that are not crucial and that users are willing to pay for.

  • Good Usability of an application can also leverage Gamification

A good usability of an application can motivate users to use it in way it is intended to. I use for example a to-do app (Clear for IOS) that allows me to maintain my to-dos in a very basic way (no due dates, no alarms, no geo location …). It does this perfectly with very nice animations and sounds that make me enjoy to enter to-dos, to shift their order and even more to dump them.

That is Gamification. There are no angry birds around and there is no icon of a treasure chest hidden in the depth of a Web Site. It just addresses the right set of synapses and emotions in you to make you do what you are supposed to do.

As in real games, Gamification is based on the voluntariness of the goal it is applied to. IMO, it is not the tool of choice to reward someone just for doing their work.

A frequent misunderstanding of Gamification is to use it to buy loyalty (with rewards, rebates and badges) – as opposed to foster engagement. Loyalty is volatile, engagement is sustainable.

We recently evaluated a Gamification tool  that decorates users with badges that are visible on their profile. The tool is able to assign these badges based on the frequency of nearly every action a user can take in the system. Thresholds can be defined for different levels of achievements for these badges. Also limits can be configured in order to prevent “one-dimensional optimizations”. For me this looks more like buying loyalty.

On more point to consider in the work environment: no tool solves the challenge to gamify the right goals and thresholds that

  1. Are aligned to a company’s strategy and
  2. Are not too easy or too difficult to achieve (another rule from gaming) for every individual of a company’s heterogenous staff

Can we give knowledge away?

bretagneThere are a lot of articles and posts on the web written by experts about sharing Knowledge. These discussions are mainly pointing out the benefits and risks for individuals and companies and tools that support it. I found one aspect missing I consider as important for everyone who is afraid of or at least reluctant “to give his/her knowledge away”.


When I studied computer science a major part of my curriculum was math. I never questioned that fact at that time. Since then I haven’t used that knowledge often but I own it and at least I can share it with high-school students like my own children and also my friends’ children that are struggling with algebra at school.

One subject I had to learn was “Approximation Theory” and eventually the inevitable exam was coming up. As most of my fellow students I owned a programmable pocket calculator, the standard at that time was the “Sharp PC-1401”.

We were allowed to use our pocket calculators including the programmable ones during the exam. The only condition was that we had to write down not only the final result of each calculation but also all intermediate results.

In “Approximation Theory” you have to calculate the same steps over and over again to come closer and closer (but not exactly) to the result.

Early computers and pocket calculators where predestined for this type of calculation. So I programmed all like 10 different methods we had learned into my “Sharp PC-1401”. Of course I made sure that not only the result but all required intermediate results were displayed for convenient subscription to the paper. The program worked fine.

I discussed this with my fellows and we found that this approach fully complied with the given rules. Someone soldered a cable with which I “shared” my “Knowledge” to other calculators of the same type.

Needless to say, my exam went very well. All my results were correct and I finished ahead of time. Some of my fellows were also successful while others couldn’t use the program because they hadn’t understood how to operate it (i.e. how to make use of my knowledge).

  • As a result I had learned all the methods thoroughly because I had to break them down to a level a calculator at that time could process. I learned them even better than by practicing exercises.
  • My fellow students who also made it utilized my knowledge (I was their hero, at least for while). But did they really learn their lesson? No, not necessarily, but at least they learned to make use of “external” knowledge to succeed in a problem (the exam) they were confronted with.
  • Those that couldn’t use the program received the same bits and bytes of my knowledge as all of us had but unfortunately we unable to make use of it.
  • But most important:Two of them reviewed my code and came up with enhancements they shared back with me. The three of us learned from each other on how to program for faster execution, stronger “user guidance” and higher accuracy. :-)

In my opinion knowledge is that portion of our brains’ content that can be transferred trough a cable. It is pure data that you gained by learning it. You selected what source to obtain knowledge from, what knowledge to learn and you filtered it by what you needed or were interested in and transformed it the way it fits best into your brain. Learning Knowledge is sometimes hard work. It is like building muscles by repeatedly lifting weights. You cannot “share” that process nor can you share your ability to combine different pieces of your knowledge in a creative, innovative and maybe unconventional way in order to solve a new problem.

All you can share is the pure data that fits through a cable, in a post, in a speech or on a piece of paper. Then it will start aging and has to be kept up-to-date and to be validated permanently on both sides. “Nothing is as old as the newspaper from yesterday” is a German saying which holds true for knowledge, too.

Sharing Knowledge can give you recognition and reputation. You can pose with your (knowledge-) muscles. Your personal ability and effort to gain Knowledge and to leverage it to solve problems stays with you. Nobody can take this ability through a cable from you (a least not today) as nobody can capture your soul by taking a photograph of you!

Your value as an expert or even as a human should not depend on exclusively owning a piece of data or on an ability that a programmable calculator or a database has as well.

“Learning Organization”, “Knowledge Management”, … are just interim phrases the are used to illustrate new concepts in an easy way — like the “Horseless Coach”, today known as a “Car”. They will disappear as soon as sharing knowledge and learning from each other has become a self-evident part of our daily work.


Do you know the difference between an introverted and an extroverted IT guy?

==> The extroverted one looks at YOUR shoes while talking to you.

But seriously, this might help to understand each others better:

Do You Know What It Means To Be An Introvert?

Oct. 26, 2013

By Kate Bartolotta info

As someone who works with people all the time, you’d think I’d be an extrovert. I’m friendly. I’m not shy. But when I get close to my “people time” limit, it’s time to shut down, be quiet and hole up with a good book. I love helping people, but there’s a huge reason that I balance that type of work with work where I get to be quiet and dive in to working with words instead of being bombarded with interaction. Read on

How did I come to Social Collaboration?

I held this little personal and authentic speech as intro to a presentation.

When I was a boy back in the 70ies, I loved to watch US TV crime series. Like “Kojak”. Every time a murder occurred and the investigation got stuck, Kojak would say: “We’ve got to ask the computer!”. They would go into a computer room and would type in some clues of the crime like: brown hair, blue eyes, bullet between the eyes.

Magnetic tapes in racks would spin back and forth and after a while, the printer would start to rattle and print five or so names of suspects. Three of them would already have been in jail and one would be dead. Kojak would tear the paper out of the printer — he knew what to do next …

Of course, I was very impressed by the computers. One night I asked my mother, “How did the computer know?” To my disappointment, she told me that computers didn’t know anything at all; they had to be fed with information first. Her response bothered me. “How stupid can this be? I have to tell it the answers before I can ask for them?” My interest in computers vanished for a while.

In the 80ies, I bought some home computers including an Apple II and studied computer sciences. On my first assignment, I worked with PDP 11′s and VAXes. Ever since, I have been looking for a computer that would give me answers I did not have to enter in advance.

I know what some of you are saying right now: “That guy was looking for Google!”, or: “He is talking about the IBM Watson!” But no. I finally found my grail in social networking and collaboration. It gives me answers to questions like “Who is a recognized expert in topic X?” / “Where can I find information on topic Y that was also helpful for colleagues?

For methods that motivate users to contribute information and qualify it as a group, social collaboration is imperative. Social networking and collaboration offer techniques which have been proven on the internet and are absolutely integral requirements for companies today.

Using these facilitating networks gives the result as more than the individual pieces of information entered by each user.

– After the presentation i said:

If your boss ever gets murdered, Kojak might come over and check your Connections.