Lessons learned in 2018

2018 has been a year with steep learning curves for me personally and in business. When it comes to net results in annual reports terms the difference from the previous year was marginal with the 7th year of growth in a row, albeit just. From an experience perspective, it feels like we have turned a big corner and are finally reaping the rewards in terms of projects I have been working towards for the last few years.

So here are some of the biggest lessons of 2018 for me:

Stand your ground no matter what size of business you are up against

In business, you will have situations where the balance of power may be against you, whether it is due to size, due to manpower or due to financials or anything else. Accept it is likely to happen more frequently. Have a strategy on how you want to work and stand your ground to look for a workable solution that you can work within.

Very often the smaller player will back down and accept the terms the bigger one imposes or the behaviour the dominant player demonstrates. After having to take a client to task legally for non-payment of a contract they had entered and we had performed on, what I took from is that they hope they would get away with it because I was a woman with a small business. I didn’t recoup all the money owed to us, but I did make it clear that we didn’t just roll over and accept unacceptable behaviour.

It made me realise that sometimes you just have to fight for what you actually bring to the party. Sometimes it is knowledge and expertise, other times it is connections and business. When those contributions are not respected, walk away from the deal or the supplier and negotiate hard at the start to get the conditions you want or can agree on. If payment is late, chase it and take it legal if you have to, we have had to let go of people and freeze work as a result of late or non-payment (even after deposits etc.). I still don’t have the payment structure the way I ultimately want it, but applying my own knowledge to the process is having some positive effect.

Business needs to be win/win for everyone and it is totally right, even as a woman with a small business, to stand up for that.

Successful project delivery is a balancing act

I probably knew this in any case from previous work experience. One trait I think sets me apart from others is the persistence we work with to deliver no matter what. We had a few challenging projects where deadlines, committees, mismatching expectations and standards were core to how things were handled. In one such case, we managed to ultimately finish, in another, we didn’t get the chance to do so, but we would have liked to have done even if it meant an additional number of iterations. Overall out of the 20 or more projects we ran, only two real problem children is a rather positive slanted balance.

When it comes to gamification, we can’t assume people understand first of all what it means. If they do know what it means, their interpretation of what it should look like can be any colour of the rainbow. From an expectation management perspective that is one thing, you have to keep clarifying, no matter how well you think you explained it or they understand it. The other key thing is in these situations to have solid business processes that you can refer to when doubts creep in.

In all things project management, you never have enough communication. Address problems quickly as they pop-up, don’t let them linger or develop into something we don’t need. Always be aware that there may be other politics at play, which you may not know about. Looking for clarification and calling out unacceptable ideas is part and parcel of the work, even if not always comfortable. But then those who expect it to be comfortable may not have done very many projects.

Small tasks as a test for suppliers

In a business, where I rely on several suppliers at any given time from freelancers to platform or technology providers etc. It is vital for project success to know whether you can trust them to deliver when you need them to. In the past, I often handed out a whole piece of work and found out too late it hadn’t been done to our standards if done at all. It caused all sorts of unnecessary stress and complications.

What is working for me now, is to give new suppliers small tasks and test their delivery in this way. These can be small project related tasks or simply documentation in a timely manner. If they fail to deliver, cut them loose quickly.   Look for behaviours that can predict success or failure, my red flag list now contains the following: changing goal posts (agree one thing and then look for another), failure to deliver at first hurdle, rogue salespeople (they are indicative of what is tolerated from the rest of the business), excuses and reasons to not-communicate, deliver or other such things, going missing in action. I am pretty sure the list will continue to grow, and learning to cut people loose quickly has been one of the biggest lessons of 2018 even if at times it even hurt a little to have to do so.

Focus on what you can control

I am a strong believer that there are things you can’t always control such as other people, weather, traffic and other more random items. As the CEO however, that still tends to be or become your problem nevertheless. As I learn more and more what works and hasn’t, assuming responsibility can be as simple as working out how to prevent the same from happening again in future. Communicating about problems early once you know they can’t be retrieved has been positive for most.

Having a good sounding board, who has your best business interest at heart is proving to be very helpful for me. I am really thankful to all the sounding boards I have had over the past 12 months, some of you lent an ear when I needed it and others are solidly working with me regularly to keep this show on the road to greatness.

There were moments in the year that I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to turn around the negatives, yet each time I focused in on connecting back with those who had expressed an interest and asked if they wanted to move forward. Each time I did this, new momentum came out of it. If nothing else, this is probably the one behaviour that has given me the most results with the least friction.

Don’t be afraid to scrap something and start afresh

This year we entered an accelerator program called SetSquared and one of the exercises brought out that sometimes being willing to scrap something and start again is a way I have often taken to hit a goal. When we looked at it deeper, in fact, it also explained why some clients, suppliers and collaborators in the past may have been a bad fit.

To some people, this may sound obvious, but to me, this was a bit of an ‘aha moment’. Because I have had to scrap and start over a few times in life, I guess it has become a way of life. Not always the easiest route I may add, but often it has given me exponentially better results. It is also OK that not everyone can work this way, for me it is now clear that those people are not right to be involved in my business.

Travel to listen and learn

When I look at the rhetoric of many political leaders around the world, it is as if they have lost the ability to travel with an open mind and heart. I have travelled to many destinations this year and whilst at times it is exhausting, I have always come away with more insights than I came with. Sometimes they are small observations of how things work differently, other times much more profound stuff.

The one thing I find that connects all of us is that people the world over want to be heard and loved and respected.

Nobody wants inequality, war, unacceptable work practices, etc. and until as leaders, we get that balance right, there will always be work in our field for all the wrong reasons. I would love it to be different, which is why I support UN goals around inclusion and equality and actively work on implementing this in our projects and in our business.

Listening is the starting point always, after that open communication including asking what would maybe be a bit close to the bone or stating the obvious. To make a difference sometimes it is taking small steps to reach a middle ground and then work forward from there. Accept you will make mistakes, which means you have yet another opportunity to learn.

 

I guess we can conclude on that note, because it sums up nicely why I do what I do, in my mind at least. Knowing that I and my business can make a difference no matter how small sometimes is what makes the steep learning curves exciting, challenging and worthwhile all at the same time. I am looking forward to what 2019 will bring in business and life in any case!

 

The tools of the gamification trade

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Busy people get more done

Time challenge is a funny motivator. I think we have all been there in the lead up to a deadline or a holiday, that sprinting to the finish line makes us more productive. There are colloquial sayings that if you want to get something done is to give it a to a busy person. In gamification, we would call this a time scarcity technique.

From a motivational perspective, we have a desire to deliver on time or a desire “not” to be late or let people down. It is probably thought in most cultures that timeliness is a sign of respect and lateness a sign of disrespect. It is therefore not a surprise that we try to comply. The other factor playing in this equation is the potential guilt of not delivering or a feeling of incompetence or a combination of all the just mentioned.

If we wanted to voluntarily use the time scarcity technique to deliver at peak performance on a regular basis, we would need to be able to re-create the same conditions. A deadline where people are waiting for you, could be what it takes for some, which means having an accountability partner somewhere. Others are quite happy to use tools like for example Pomodoro where you work in focused sprints, typically 25 minutes with a 5-minute break at the end.

I like to group my tasks by the energy required and then have a focus hour. The energy for accounting is detailed, the energy for writing more creative, etc.

In a world where interruptions are built in by apps and continue to exist in open plan workplaces via colleagues, we have to find our coping mechanisms to stay performing. I always like to gamify my performance with mini-rewards such as a cup of coffee or a walk or other small items relevant to the size of the task or the resource availability.

The state you reach when your holiday is pending, and you have a full list of things to get through before heading out to go on holiday, tends to be the mental challenge standing between you and your flight. Re-creating that mental state when you aren’t actually going on holiday requires a bit of focus. In this case, it really becomes an internal motivator to want to complete things in certain time frames. I would call it the inner game of work productivity.

Most successful people in work have managed to work out, how they can work to their best ability. Whether that requires their tasks to be broken down into bitesize chunks and with mini-rewards or focused work timer fun, either way, they have found what works for them.

What is your inner game of work for productivity?

What should a call centre focus on in gamification for their employees?

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Is experiencing consequences the key to gamification design for learning?

As children, we learn through feedback and consequences from our environment. Putting a hand on a hot plate will teach you that this may hurt and hence is not desirable. As we grow up, much more rote learning is expected and information is given to us, but the experiential factor disappears over time. When we come to our adult life, we are assumed to be able to learn from all kinds of documents and information inputs even without any experience test or application.

Is this just a bad learning design?

I often wonder how we got to this place, where a lot of information transfer is just plain inefficient for a large proportion of the population. If you are tackling a brand new topic, it is essential to understand the basics and why the topic exists, what it can and can’t do. Then to embed or transfer it into our daily practice, we need to find ways to apply it and experience it.

A lot of the gamification we work on will take the base knowledge into an experiential realm. In most cases, it serves the purpose to give people confidence in applying their learning and at the same time giving them feedback on their performance.

We often are asked why do people retain more information in a game like setting and not in a traditional e-learning environment. My only plausible explanation is that people in a playful setting don’t mind trying things out and failing and then trying again. The fact that consequences are fully experienced, is the one thing that plays out stronger in a  game like setting.

A lot of gamification companies claim that repetition is key and whilst it helps to battle the forgetting curve, I think it is not the only thing that matters. I see feedback loops and win/lose conditions critical in how we learn. Most of us want to get things right and will do our best to perform to a higher standard.

In the world of corporate learning, there is often a hesitation around feedback about bad choices and also around losing in a game. On the way to building confidence, we do need to know what good looks like and by its very virtue it means we need to know what the flipside looks like too.

In the cybersecurity board game, we created the retention of scenarios was higher than the equivalent information from e-learning. Two reasons a group of people had to consider how to battle cyber attacks so the social discussion will matter and secondly when some groups lost the game because their business went bankrupt, they felt what could happen in real life.

When we did user research for technical roles for a client, the actual target users of our learning wanted consequences and serious one, so that they could feel what was important.

In my view, gamification design for learning needs to tap into the emotional journeys people go through in the process towards mastery. This includes both good and bad feedback to create an understanding of reality.

 

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Outstanding gamification awards at Gamification Europe

At the Gamification Europe event projects, individuals and companies were awarded for their efforts over the past 12 months (and probably longer). As a winner of the Outstanding Gamification Agency Award in 2017, I was also privileged to join the other winners, sponsors and more industry experts to judge the current crop of entries.

I know Dr Michael Wu spent hours trying to come up with an ideal format for this year’s competition and as he says it is a continuous improvement process to make the awards better over time. The criticism about the 2017 awards was that the popularity contest dominated voting, so the aim was to improve on this. As a first measure, the previous winners were taken out of the equation and levelled up into judging positions. Also each participant this year could only enter into one category and not just hedge their bets in all of them.

From the organisers perspective, they want to use the awards as a way to drive more community sharing as well as rewarding excellence. Hence the popularity contest element stayed and judges reviewed all of the entries to help draft up a shortlist of finalists. Judges also had a booster option to select one entry that didn’t make it into the finals and bring it forward. Then some additional game mechanics such as golden tickets and quantum leaps were added to give participants a chance to improve their position after the panel of judges had gone through a second review and detailed scoring on creativity, design and impact.

Below you will find the winners of 2018 with their award entry YouTube information. Congratulations to all and I hope it spurs your success on to the next level.

Outstanding Gamification for Inclusion and Diversity: Culture Shock

Outstanding Gamification Project in Audience Engagement: Siemens revolutionises selection process with Game-Based Assessments

Outstanding Gamification Project in Learning: Think Codex Customer Service Training Simulation

Outstanding Gamification Research: escapED

Outstanding Gamification Rookie: GamUp

Outstanding Gamification Software: Gamehill – Gamified Learning platform

If you also want to peruse the other finalists, then the best place to find them is the finalist listings.

My reflections as a judge

It took a lot of effort to review all the entries and without knowing exactly I would hazard a guess of over 20 hours of work was attached to give everyone a fair review. On top of a busy schedule no mean feat, but then all of us were in the same boat and I think it is also educational to see what people put forward. I want to make some observations in general, which I hope will help future participants.

In the original round before shortlisting, we saw a few I would say opportunistic entries where either no project had been completed yet or they just found themselves simply greater and better than everyone else. I am glad all fellow judges agreed not to put these forward. I was a bit bemused by these entries though. I personally didn’t understand why you would enter for an award when you had not completed or no evidence to back up your claims.

I liked the judge booster option to help in shortlisting one entry per judge that you felt was deserving and didn’t make the original grade based on grouped scoring of the full panel.

The one thing that varied significantly over all categories, was how the impact was recorded and demonstrated. In business, we are always asked about return on investment, impact, benefits and preferably as quantifiable as possible. In the entries, we had soft measures ranging from anecdotal feedback to self-measuring confidence, to more quantity-driven measures around hits, clicks and interactions and completions, which in reality are not an ideal reflection of impact. In a very limited few of the entries, we had a seriously meaningful impact on things like net promoter score, bottom line numbers, knowledge retention and confidence levels straight after and then 3 and 6 and 12 months later and significant sample sizes.

I think as an industry, the impact is what is important to our end-customer, so taking the latter measures as impact indicators will also help improve how we are seen as professionals.

What was difficult to judge sometimes is the actual solution design and visuals. For a lot of entries they were simply missing.

What I absolutely didn’t agree with personally is that the quantum leap used by a participant could completely overturn the results in a category after the judges had cast their final round votes. First of all, not all participants understood the concept of the quantum leap and due to not receiving emails and not reading blog posts due to travel or access issues not everyone used it and secondly I felt it made a joke of my time spent judging. Why should a participant have the last word, when we are trying to reward ‘outstanding’ performance.

For me, the quantum leap option is an example of bad design. The placement of this, in the judging process is something to be revisited if used at all. If you use it, then use at the start. Most entries will know they have a weaker area and can put this forward from the start. The golden ticket, which wasn’t active due to time limitations, would have had the same outcome of giving those that understood how it worked unfair advantage over others because they could receive coaching and then re-submit their entry. Again at the beginning, if everyone knows how then yes this makes sense if used at the end, it makes a joke of the ‘outstanding’, because effectively you are giving the participants the rights and encouraging them to game the system.

I personally feel if we are looking to reward excellence then we should just have a panel of experts giving marks with clearcut criteria and keep it simple. I encouraged a number of clients to enter, but they didn’t because of the complexity of the process and not wanting to enter something they didn’t understand. I am not convinced encouraging community and participants participation throughout a judging process is helpful. I feel a community forum may be more useful if curated well and the tone kept encouraging for all and not just a show-off forum. Maybe a stack overflow style model of sorts.

I think it is great that there are awards and that everyone is looking to keep improving how they are run. So I am hopeful that the next iteration will once again be an improvement on the current version because I do believe this year was an improvement on the popularity-driven contest of the previous year.

Anyway, well done again to the winners and for everyone else, there is always next time.

 

 

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Reflections on Gamification Europe and the state of play in the industry

Over the last few days, I spoke and attended Gamification Europe in Amsterdam. In comparison to last year, the event was no longer two streams fighting for attention, this time we could all stick together and listen to everyone. I personally found the quality a little higher this year also, but maybe that is because I could see everything I wanted to see.

Day 1

The event kicked off with Marigo Raftopoulos reporting back on revisiting the people she originally included in her PhD research a few years later and how their enthusiasm had decreased significantly. Some of them felt gamification had failed, others felt too much hype had been sold as in overpromise and underdeliver, others again didn’t see gamification as the whole or only solutions and further professionalism had been lacking. I really liked the constructive feedback, which can only make us better in the long run.

For me, the top takeaways from her talk were the suggested actions for us as industry professionals to step up our game and really become more realistic in what we put out there, less hype more case study and research. To explain with honesty what gamification can and can’t achieve. Where possible to adopt an end-to-end solution for clients through partnerships or others, so that it is easier for clients to buy.

With Marigo as a good friend, we often talk about the gamification industry and how it is going generally. We both had a sense that whilst the interest, in general, is waning and for some people, it really hasn’t delivered, passing the hype cycle need not be a bad thing. I think it gives us scope to sell real solutions and to have mature conversations about what it gamification can and can’t do. Stepping it up a level as professionals, I think has been long overdue and some of us adopted this approach from the start and others are still learning to find their feet.

I was a speaker in the next block together with Zac Fitz-Walter and Melinda Jacobs. We had a fun time backstage getting ready for our talks, trying on some of the stage props. Zac kicked off our trio of speeches with prototyping and without seeling his full presentation nor coordinating presentations, it really was a great starter of the topic. Great advice to start with paper prototypes and then graduate to digital ones if you need a digital solution. My playtesting talk had similar advice on start with paper and then I took a deep dive into how to go about it, what you need for a solid playtest and what things to test for.

You can find the slides for my session here:

 

Melinda Jacobs then followed on with great wisdom about user experience and how to apply it well in gamification. We saw some examples of it done well and then tips to get it right.

After lunch on day 1, we started with a panel discussion hosted by Rob Alvarez with Juliette Denny, Will Stuart-Jones and Mun Choong Lam, who are all platform providers and their view on the industry in Europe. What I took away from it is that the industry is still doing well, the wording remains an issue but when providing value it really is about solving business problems and speaking the customers language.

Karen Sikkema followed with a talk about bringing physical games and narrative together for a game they did around history for the cities of Utrecht and Amsterdam. She also shared their learning model, but we didn’t really receive an insight into the detail of it. I understood white papers will follow. Manuel Pimenta then explaine the approach they took to create a thriving community for Worten and how co-creation was a large part of the engagement strategy.

Later in the afternoon Willem-Jan Rengers shared how templating makes it easier for teachers and people in organisation to replicate designs rather than creating from scratch each and every time. Bernardo Letayf from BlueRabbit shared his journey from teacher and player to gamification industry professional and his quest for continuous improvement. Then Michiel Van Eunen MC for the coference also had a chance to share his wisdom around experience design and how having come from a theatrical background helps them break through some boundaries when they create serious games and playful solutions.

Day one left us with many talking points and great interactive discussions at breaks. It was fabulous to see how although we work in different companies, they general approaches are quite similar, the journeys of individuals and their projects is always fun to hear and inspires us to reflect on how to do things.

The day finished with the Awards dinner and I will dedicate a blog on Friday to this purpose and my experience as a judge.

Day 2

Day 2 started off with Steve Bocska from PugPharm and his vast experience in creating blockbuster video games and how he evolved with building a gamification platform. He took us through his dislike that we probably all share about points, badges and leaderboard and how this achieves mainly short term engagement even if they can have a place in a game, they are not what drives long term engagement.

Having worked on proposals with Steve and his team, I know what he has achieved and I really like their platform, it has  much more focus on quests, collectables and fun mini-games to build longer term more sustainable engagement. His engagement score formula is also a useful to take a further look at when the whitepaper comes out. I just wish he had shown a bit more about the work the platform can do maybe with a deep dive into a project. Either way it was great to finally meet Steve in person after all our time meeting on Google Hangouts.

Juliette Denny from Growth engineering gave us burst of positive energy around learning related gamification and how they effectively use gamification for their clients. The impressive examples and comparisons between what they do for L’Oreal and others and the differences in rolling it out for good business and cultural reasons I found truly refreshing. She also showed how the traditional mechanics of points, badges and leaderboard do work for some of their clients when it fits the profile.

Because I know both people and their paltforms relatively well it was fun to see the different approaches and how they can work for different purposes.

Next up was Andrzej Marczewski, who strayed from his usual inspirational and evangelising best practise approach to much more corporate practical on how to work within limitations and constraints such as time and money, which is reality for all of us. He took us through a case study and what was included even within the limitations of the project. Bart Hufen took us to the lunch break with his personal story and continuous improvement loop to keep making your work better.

The afternoon started with a panel on research and what I took away from it is that the world of research and the world of business should be more connected. I think true value exists in the crossover and how research can be applied for improvement of our solutions. In one of the discussions over breaks we also felt that if a useful repository of relevant research would be accessible to all of us in corporate that would probably help too. If someone has the time and willingness, I know a few us interested.

Samantha Clarke then spoke about mystery boxes and to instill curiosity in higher education and learning. The use of props and narratives were key to engagement. She was followed Pau Yanez Vilanova with his case study of PlayVisit where they used beaconing technology and gamification to encourage more exploration in tourism.

The final session included talks from Will Stuart-Jones, Mun Choong Lam and Dr Michael Wu. Judging from the Twitter feed they were again great hits and full of knowledge.

After the coffee break, I teamed up with Marigo and Melinda to do our debrief over some Jenever slurping. Our cup was well and truly full to the brim and we were fading fast, so fresh air and a bit of a boost was on our menu.

Reflections

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the two days and felt the quality of conversations and presentations was higher than the previous year. I enjoyed the networking conversation where I could connect with old friends and colleagues and many new ones. As a travelling speaker and business owner, some of the people in this community are now extended family and friends, which I personally find enriching on many levels.

One conversation saddened me a bit in one way, a lady who was looking to create gamification for a large network of women had approached many of the male speakers and when she asked how they saw differences in gamification for women and men, most of the time she received the answer that there wasn’t any or it was minimal. It saddens me that this thinking is still around. Gentlemen please speak to your lady friends, partners and colleagues and listen to hear how they perceive games, competition and business reality. You will be surprised to hear it is more than subtle or non-existent. For me it means that my message has not been heard and my work of sharing research and findings from reality is not sticking. So there is more work to be done.

From a pure business perspective, I felt the fact that we were willing to look at wasn’t working and how to remedy it. Sharing the good the bad and the ugly is a sign of an industry maturing and wondering what develops next. I thought it was seriously positive to see different perspectives and some great examples. Let’s hope we can all take our lessons and build out what we have. I am sure over the coming days, when we all let it sink in, there will be interesting thoughts and maybe projects or collaborations to build on from this event.

Thank you to the organisers for pulling the event together and thank you to all the people I spoke to at various breaks, it is these seamingly small things that really make a difference in what we experience. For me it was lovely to meet old friends, solidify some relationship and make new ones.

 

 

 

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