Failure & Fear in the Gamification of Work


F looks at the meaning of Failure in my A to Z of Gamification, especially in the world of work.

To fail is human, but a well made game revels in the serving up of failure. It is not designed to be impossible, but just hard enough to make you want to try again. So that, whilst playing we are not freed from the possibility of failure, but from the fear of failure.

In the simplified game world, our efforts have been calibrated to matter.  Trying and failing is a dance that lets us know next time, just next time, we’ll do better. This is the mark of game we’re willing to play over and over again.

If we sense this balance between failure and success being slightly off, that the game is somehow rigged against us and unfair, then the game stops being fun. We no longer want to play. Creating an imbalanced game experience turns out to be what Einstein aptly defined as.

“Insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome.”

Freedom or insanity. This is what’s at stake between a bad gamified system and a good one, and there is no more obvious a place where we tread this line thinly than in workplace gamification.

The consultants have probably called it right about needing to do something about the world of work. Jobs that can feel like the endless treadmill of the same thing over and over again could be shaken up by the introduction of game elements and design.

Especially if that means creating workplaces designed to reduce the fear of failure. The mass of business literature, which has already identified the link between fear of failure and the lack of organisational innovation, raises up the urgency of fixing this same problem.

In our desire to be freed from the drudgery of work, we think injecting games into work will do the trick, but we forget that failure is rarely an accepted norm of work.

Introducing gamification to a work place without addressing or acknowledging that failure induces not playful fear but real ones, tastes like the sugar coating on top of the same helping of turd. You’re not going to swallow it.

You don’t have to get fired, although that might be the end result.

It’s enough if an organisational culture just doesn’t see the ‘epic fail’ as being creative, courageous or at the end of the day, something you and your colleagues can laugh about with you. The status lost or risk of being singled out in work environment as failing, is enough to turn any game-like elements sinister.

The premise of a good game includes the ability to fail without consequence.

To gauge the likely success of applying any Gamification to a work environment, look first at any taboos or fears around failure. If its not a safe space to fail, no amount of bells and whistles gamification solution will improve or change people’s motivations.

2 thoughts on “Failure & Fear in the Gamification of Work

  1. sugandha

    it took me a few minutes search to find what gramification is…interesting. Good post you have got here :)

    Visiting from A to Z.

    • AverageJoey

      Thanks! I had to look it up a few times at the start too and I think is still doesn’t have one single definition. Still a bit too new, but hope you enjoyed looking into it,

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