Lessons from Zynga and Facebook: Inspire Work With Play

Everyone's been dazzled by the success of Zynga and Facebook. But while all the heat has been around the astronomical valuations the companies have attracted, it's easy to overlook more profound lessons that they offer about motivation. The reason Facebook is so successful is because people want to interact with it continuously; the reason Zynga is so successful is because players get addicted to games like Farmville. In other words, both companies have cracked the code on getting users hooked -- and keeping them that way. So: what if you could use the same techniques in addictive game behavior to drive more serious activities? After all, if children learn through play - why shouldn't your employees and colleagues?

Addiction can be Healthy
Key to game design are the tiny steps which lure you in and then deliver just the right amount of challenge and reward to keep you hooked. It's easy to get started, even easier to keep going. That's a trajectory we'd all like to be on when we're doing something hard - like motivating people. So smart companies are applying the power of play to hard tasks like healthcare and morale.

Just this week, Rypple rolled out 'Loops' a new application designed to make the appraisal process quick, easy and up-to-date without interrupting business. "Everything about HR processes is usually dull, tedious, too slow and too late," Rypple's CEO, Daniel Debow told me. "We thought that if we could make feedback more like a game, involving the whole company, it would be more meaningful and more timely - but people would use it because it was fun." Rypple's software looks and feels like a game which is why, Debow says, it works.

In a fantastic feedback loop of its own, Rypple was approached by Facebook to deliver an app that could allow performance reviews at any time. Having built a product that was deeply influenced by Facebook's interactivity, Debow found himself developing it further for them. What that means is that the way Facebook deals with its customers is now neatly mirrored in the way that it deals with its employees. Everything everyone does is now aimed at continuous feedback of a kind that's easy and fun.

KEAS builds software games that companies roll out to get their workforce engaged in, and committed to, ongoing healthcare improvement. Using the standard features of games and social networks - quizzes, newsfeeds, goal setting and celebration - it aims to make getting and staying healthy fun. Simple tangible actions set 'players' up for success. Organizing into teams gives you social support for your diet or exercise programs -- but it also gives you a sense of social obligation not to let your colleagues down. Bonus points for those who live healthily, combined with the sense of delight that players can watch each other succeed, keeps them hooked. "We are trying," Keas's Lindsay Volckman said, "To change how people engage with their health. We want them to participate, to engage - not just to consume."

NISSAN has paid attention too. The instrument panel on their LEAF electric car features a tree. If you drive with greater fuel efficiency, the tree grows; if you don't, the tree starts to wither.

All three companies are learning from games to change behavior. And there is nothing harder, in business and in leadership, than that. It's an intriguing idea: that the way you make people work harder is by letting them play.

Further Reading

Making Performance Reviews Fun?
Break These 5 Rules Now
Easy Ways to Increase Productivity