What’s the Alternative?

Baselines matter, they establish what’s in and out of a target zone.  Ibaseball fouln baseball, the lines don’t stop a play and action. The lines determine if the hit is fair, and the player free to run to first base.

In other sports, base lines assert more control over the play itself.  In tennis,  basketball, hockey, soccer and football, play ends when a ball crosses a baseline (or boundary line). The lines redirect the play to the designated field and focus attention on universally agreed upon goals.

Settling in to work, play seems quite distant and opposite in virtue. After reading this post, I hope to change that perspective.

At work,  can you easily identify baselines? Do they reinforce, universally agreed upon objectives and rules of engagement?  Or do they substitute performance targets and fashion incentives that fail because they don’t line up with universally agreed upon objectives?

Copy the rules of any game without also marking the base lines is a recipe for disaster, as Bank of America retail account opening incentives demonstrated.  Goals and point scoring rules don’t do it alone, everyone uses baselines.

A few notes on Perception

Unconsciously, our brains rapidly match the sensory input to images/patterns in memory.  We perceive groupings before we recognize the elements or parts.  The outlying pattern, or frame acts like gravity and pulls our attention and settles on the best fit image/pattern we already know. This is how optical illusions fool us, and we are still able to make sense of unfamiliar places.  We can recognize the grouping without any knowledge of the specifics.

Our minds invoke a visual language that separates perception from reality, filling in gaps, recognizing shapes from a few features etc.  Steven Brady summed up the benefit of applying these gestalt principles in design: 

…if you want to change someone’s perception, don’t try to change it all at once. Find a way to get them to see an alternative. Then work to strengthen that alternative view, while weakening the original.

Groupings matter and persist in our memory.  Gamification at work to succeed needs considerable help connecting to the wider perception, or borrowing the visual metaphor, the generally understood field of play.

Work and play share many performance attributes. Play engages or involves people in activities grouped in our minds differently from work. It explains the longevity of games and sports, even when not everyone plays.  Note, its the group association not individual or personal competency. Sure individuals and sports heroes will always stand out, and unlike superstars at work, they are also more widely recognized.

In work settings, I’m not alone in my difficulty to embrace the gamification of work. In part because the scoring and overzealous focus on performance doesn’t always add up doesn’t easily fit into broader groupings.

Every sport. like every company has agreed upon rules. Competencies too are increasingly well established in both sports and different companies, as is recognition of individuals development level/ability.  Now translate the level of ability to the multiple levels of competition ranging from professional to novice.

Compare how a single sport supports and sustains your engagement, to what you experience at work or with an individual employer?

Create joy with the difference

The whole of sport behaves more consistently than the world of work.  The differences at the group level have forced us to view work as opposite of play, though individual attributes and activities prove remarkably alike.

Both require commitment, use strategy, inspire continuous improvement, agile development and celebrate success.  Rest overtakes us and purposefully stops us from pursuing much else.

If you think goals differentiate work and play, then I urge you to experiment.  Take a look at your goals what makes any of the associated tasks work and not play? How might you turn them into play lists?

Here’s a few starters, and I urge you to make note of your start and finish time.

  1. Turn your objectives into riddles.  At your next review, begin by asking the riddle and your presentation is  bound to be more engaging.
  2. Re-image your project plan as a more playful experience, such as a party honoring you favorite artist/musician, or a an adventure safari.

Note, I’d love to hear how  the experience goes? Did you notice the time pass? What did the experience feel like relative to your baseline?

If you are still dubious, suggest another alternative that offers a way to engage and focus your effort.  I can’t promise less stress, less anxiety or better quality. The suggestion seeks to change the associations with what’s possible, make use of capabilities that unconsciously were sitting on the bench waiting for the coach to signal them in to come and play.

For fun, pick any game that you may have played as a kid and take just 10 minutes, max to sketch out–yes actively scribble, your current processes/tasks as if you were playing that game/sport.  Even if the exercise was a bust, I”m betting that it changes your perspective just a bit for the rest of the day.

By all means let me know how it goes.


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