Rini Das, CEO, PAKRA

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Playful curiosity leads to better learning and faster change adoption. Conversation with Michael Hugos, Gamification and Lean expert

As an Agile and Lean expert and a Gamification pioneer, Michael Hugos writes and speaks passionately about Game mechanics that help enterprises achieve their goals and adapt faster to new processes, new initiatives and new technologies. He is the managing principal at SCM Globe and CIO at large at the Center for Systems Innovation.

RD:> We engaged in a conversation via LinkedIn, and I read your book, Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business. How do you learn?

MH:> I approach a subject with playful curiosity. This works extremely well for me. There are different ways to approach, such as grim determination, rigid discipline — or you can flee in terror after the first try. If you approach it with playful curiosity, learning retention is better and faster.

RD:> How did you gravitate toward Games, as not only the way to improve business performance, but to sustain those improvements?

MH:> I was trained as an architect. I came to Chicago to be among architectural masterpieces such as  Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings within the Loop and Oak Park. During my work as an architect, I took up computer modeling, which led me to become very interested in designing simulated complex systems. In the early ’90s, for a multi-billion-dollar company, we designed a sales-enablement system using Game mechanics, Game metaphors and simulation techniques. This project exceeded the expectations of the executive team. And it made me realize this is the best way to engage salespeople, teach and change behaviors. It led to faster adoption of behavioral changes and to sustaining those changes.

RD:> Your architectural background came through in your book.

MH:> Thank you for saying that. It helps me find the vulnerabilities that lead to a better design.

RD:> How would you measure the worth of a digital bit of information, (a) for an employee, and (b) for a business?

MH:> I think we must keep it simple. To an employee, the leadership should communicate 3–4 important objectives of the company. These objectives are typically business-performance metrics. In this context, the value of information from a digital bit is how effectively employees can achieve the performance targets by using the information. By the way, this is where real life provides design ideas for an enterprise Game.

RD:> In your book, you discuss voluntary participation and feedback loops. Can you discuss the importance of “roles” in Game design?

MH:> Roles define the types of actions a person can take. The designer needs to balance between flexibility and easy logic. If the roles are too narrowly defined, the behaviors displayed are too rigid, and the players will not get the nuances of a complex problem. If the roles are too broadly defined, it introduces unnecessary confusion. Also, allowing the roles to evolve over time is a good design principle to consider.

RD:> How can a Game design/incentive design prevent “gaming the system”?

MH:> You start with the assumption that everyone will game the system. Because we all have our own agendas in real life, and that behavior will be seen in all Games. To address it: First, unite players to a common goal via voluntary participation. Second, have rules that allow good and bad behavior. Third, have transparency and visibility of those behaviors and actions. Those who do not want or like transparency will not like that in a Game. Sometimes, there is value in having one’s own agenda and in not being transparent about it. But, most often for complex systems, transparency is the key to meeting the common business objective or goal. In a Game, emphasizing visibility of game-players’ actions should lead other players or coaches or leaders to correct those behaviors (i.e., a feedback system).

RD:> In Chapter 8 of your book, Driving the Great Game of Sales, you discuss how game-mechanics principles were used to redesign a sales process. What behaviors in a real sales process did you put in the Game design in order to encourage the salesperson — game-player — to learn and adopt those behaviors?

MH:> This ties back to the playful curiosity. You want to promote that behavior. Salespeople like that. They want to win. It is well-known they need to engage with the customer and find what the customer is doing, and communicate how the products or service can provide help to the customer. The thought at that time, when we were approached, was, “Oh! Let’s create a computer-based intelligent system that provides questions to ask.” The problem with that approach is you incentivize humans to become trained monkeys. Scripted responses and penalties for deviation lead to bad customer experience. A computer’s intelligence does not understand emotions or turns of phrase. Humans are far better at it. Computers should enable the salesperson and not be their surrogate.

In our design, we provided enough information, whereby a salesperson was incentivized to engage in “probing,” “solutioning,” proposing appropriate solutions and overcoming objections. The computer was a device in the decision-tree that provided information in a timely manner. It was also where the salesperson used technology to make that information relevant to the conversation. As the salesperson went down the decision-tree of the Game, more and more information was revealed, making it a perfect marriage between human intuition and technology. This was a very powerful message and learning.

The skill a salesperson acquired via this Game was learning how to meet sales-process goals (such as wins), and optimizing over the constraints of available resources (or information) and the customer’s own needs.

RD:> I am glad to hear this. I always ask about how often a salesperson loses a sale or a customer-service agent gives poor responses because they did not know how to click a button on their sales-enablement or CRM system. The answer is probably less than 0.01%. Yet large corporations and business-process outsourcers spend inordinate amounts of effort and real money in product and systems training and very little dedicated to “utilize playful curiosity” activities. Our sales and customer-service process Games completely use the design principles you mentioned.

MH:> You’re right. There is plenty of room to misapply Game mechanics. Game mechanics don’t help by themselves. They need to be introduced in a way that encourages human problem-solving and playful curiosity. That’s when Gamification leads to meaningful and measurable success.

RD:> What measurable results and KPI impact are you seeing/hearing from Gamification deployments? Which KPIs?

MH:> In the past few months, I have begun to see many examples discussing measurable results. Results include “meeting business objectives” or a creative solution to a social problem or an answer in a research question. Phylo comes to mind, where they helped researchers decode the genetic code. In the business-objective side, I am seeing reported data on faster applied learning and problem-solving.

I believe Gamification and crowd-sourced solutions will have a profound impact on the way we solve business problems. Goals, rules, feedback loops and roles, and voluntary participation will create solutions faster and help address previously unknown situations businesses encounter. The impact will be similar to how assembly lines made businesses productive in the early 20th century. They introduced a way of thinking in productivity improvement that is now a ubiquitous way of approaching efficiency. Gamification will be the new way to help businesses go beyond industrial-age productivity and become agile and adapt faster for how we work and we learn.

RD:> So, are you a gamer?

MH:> I do play Games. I have been developing and playing a supply-chain Game called SCM Globe. This Game provides an online course where you design and simulate a supply chain. Business schools and several universities here and abroad are currently using it to teach supply chain and Lean.


RD:> As you know, I came from the Lean Six Sigma world, and the pre-cursor to PAKRA was our success with a multi-player Game simulation called, “Where’s my space?” which taught Lean.

So, you betcha! I will check it out. Thank you so much Michael for your time and for sharing your insights.  It was great to chat.

MH:> Great talking with you as well.



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