Monthly Archive: July 2014

Gamification, Flow & Blue Collar Work


Gamification has been receiving a lot of attention. Its promises for a future that holds more rewarding and meaningful engagement in any social sector have been debated intensively over the last few years.

Closely related to the concept of Gamification (applying lesson learned from game to real life situations), is the concept of Flow. Flow is characterized by a state of active being during which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Although Flow can exist without Gamification, one of the key goals of Gamification is to bring people in flow to create an engaging an memorable experience. Here we will treat them in conjunction.

stock-footage-coal-miner-blue-collar-worker-actual-suit-in-kentuckyBlue Collar Gamification Blues?

But is Gamification applicable to all sectors and all strata of society? Surely obviously boring, repetitive and non-inspirational jobs will be just that: boring, repetitive and non-inspirational no matter what sauce you add to it?

In fact some of my Gamification colleagues have been suggesting that Gamification and reaching flow cannot really be achieved in blue-collar situations (e.g. assembly line work). They claim that blue-collar work situations are radically different from other (let’s call them white-collar) work environments. In their view blue-collar workers don’t learn anything new in the end and therefore you cannot Gamify their work, nor can these people really achieve flow. Their work is just too boring and monotonous.

Now, at first glance, the argument sounds logical. Since achieving optimal work experiences through flow depend mainly on the ability to invest mental or psychic energy into activities, it is hard to see how an assembly line worker could ever achieve flow (let alone that we can apply Gamification to his tasks).

People are Peopleimgbluecollar-300x230

However, a closer look at scientific proof falsifies this seemingly obvious assumption completely. Most notably, even without any externally devised workflow optimization scheme, around 40% of blue-collar workers report being in flow on the job more than in their leisure time. So, not only can you help blue-collar workers help reach very satisfying and memorable moments in their work, they are already doing this in droves themselves!

Just as white-collar workers report more satisfactory experiences when they are able to learn and employ newly learned skills to challenge new obstacles and challenges, factory workers experience the same. Denying this is not only unproven, it also would mean supporting an elitist viewpoint that blue collar workers are somehow fundamentally different human beings with radically different motivational triggers.

We know, however, that the amount of mental energy that can be embedded in an activity determines whether that activity is experienced as rewarding or not. The more an activity is dependent on external input (machines, engines etc), the less it leads to memorable experiences.

So how have blue-collar workers created flow and memorable experiences in seemingly repetitive, non-inspirational work? Has it been possible for them to input enough mental energy to make their jobs rewarding? Studies from the early 1970s already show that those who succeeded in their efforts did as follows. They managed to:

  1. change the constraints they were facing into opportunities for expressing freedom and creativity;
  2. discover new challenges: e.g. perfect what you are doing; do it faster; do it different; do it in different team settings;
  3. change the job itself until its characteristics were more conducive to flow: create more flexible challenges, clear goals and immediate feedback.
  4. develop new skills to complement or to supplement the new activity;
  5. develop new obstacles.

As you can see, these elements put together relate inter-alea to some of the key building blocks used in games: challenges, fun, obstacles, problem-solving. Moreover, since they are applied to a real world setting they in fact constitute (non-intentional) Gamification. Hey, Gamification and Flow CAN be reached in blue-collar working environment after all!

farmer-and-tractor-tilling-soilPreparing the soil.

Now, not everybody can easily attain flow easily, whether you work in a factory or in an office setting. Your (perception of) abilities to identify opportunities for action, hone your skills and set reachable goals is also important. If you feel that any new challenge is too hard for you, you will always feel anxious. If you feel that any increased challenge is still not hard enough, you will still feel bored and non-engaged. Influencing these perceptions seems often forgotten, but is as important as our Gamification framework itself. For seed to grow, we need to plough the soil first…

After that, make sure to include the foremen, and other bosses. They may be most concerned about speed, efficiency, and numbers and may be sceptical about creating more flexibility in operation procedures. Luckily there are many examples and success stories that we can use to show that people can be more content AND more productive at the same time. In fact, the one leads to the other!

Keep the faith.

World Cup Brazil: an Octalysis Gamification analysis


I have been a football fan as long as I can remember. My father and grandfather taught me the basic rules and the who-is-who of the game already in the 1970s. I will never forget watching the World Cup final Argentina – The Netherlands in 1978. I was 8 years old. The Netherlands lost of course, as we always do in finals and as was the case in 1974 and 2010.

 However, I never really grasped why “o jogo bonito” (The Beautiful Game as legendary player Pele christened it), especially when played in tournament settings, motivates so many people to watch en masse. Even people who normally do not care about football at all and do not understand the rules, go to bars, cafes and squares to watch. This World Cup alone, a stunning 50 – 60% of all Dutch people saw the Netherlands play in Brazil. What makes it so motivating? Let’s look at it through an Octalysis perspective. For those who have never heard of Octalysis (do they still exist?), please have a look at and Octalysis is the only actionable Gamification framework in the world.

 For those that have some Octalysis knowledge, let’s only recap in three sentences: people are motivated in their actions by intrinsic (integrated, longer term) motivators as well as extrinsic (external, shorter term) motivators. Some of these core drives behind human behaviour are connected to your left (rational) brain half, while others are connected to your right (creative) brain half. Also some core drives can give you a negative push to do something, while others are more benign in the way you experience them. OK, are we ready?

Core Drive 1: the World Cup’s Epic Meaning and Calling (Epic Meaning & Calling is the Core Drive where a player believes that he is doing something greater than himself or he was “chosen” to do something).

p1-w1-wcstadium-a-20140613When watching their nation’s team at the world cup a lot of people do not just think of the match in terms of a game with obstacles (time, an opponent, a confined pitch), but it is much more. Winning in the World Cup, yes winning the Cup itself is a quest where players and supporters have joined a quest for near immortality. Whether this is realistic or not, the World Cup sometimes feels like it is bigger than real life. It’s epic and inspires emotions of heroism that transcends normal life.

Core Drive 2: its feeling of accomplishment and progressschema

(Development & Accomplishment is the internal drive of making
progress, developing skills, and eventually overcoming challenges)Just seeing your national team progress from group stages, to next rounds, in the newspaper or on your laptop screen, gives a strong feeling of accomplishment and progress. “You” (in fact your team) are making progress and you see the result of overcoming challenges in progress charts (like below). This represents your Progress Bar and Game Map.


louis-the-gameCore Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is when people are engaged a creative process where they have to repeatedly figure things out and try different combinations)Mmm, not much to see here at first sight. Spectators are non-active players who have no influence whatsoever in who plays in the national team or how the team plays.

However, the identification and involvement with the game is such that everybody has an opinion about how the should play and who should be in the line-up. If their stance gets ‘copied’ by the coach, people may experience feelings of getting feedback and many “I told you so moments”. A weak driver here but still a bit present. Look at the Gamification example below for an impression:

usa-fanCore Drive 4: Ownership and Possession (when users are motivated because they feel like they own something). We know that when you own something you value it more, so things like collections sets, self-build avatars etc (familiar ground for people who know Gamification or Game Design), bind you more into an experience. I just don an Orange shirt for occasions (even when I am alone, with no Dutchies around me), while some supporters go the extra mile:


Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness(incorporates all mexico suppsthe social elements that drive people, such as: coaching, mentoring, belonging and acceptance, companionship, competition and envy).

This is the drive that motivates even people who normally do not watch football, yes may even dislike it, to go and spend hours glued to LCD screens. The drive to want to belong to a group and to be accepted as such as a very powerful and innate motivator for all people. So you can imagine me hunting for other Dutchies on the island of La Madallena to watch the match together for example, while my family went on a trek to the mountains here ha ha.

30 days to goCore Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience(wanting something because you can’t have it or can’t have it yet). This drive is utilized by Gamification practitioners or social games such as Farmville where you have to wait for hours or even days until you can actually take possession of that special farm you have earned (but you can buy off your impatience ;-). Football in a World Cup can only be seen when the game is on, and sometimes you need to wait for days for your team to play again. This leads people (like myself) to go online and watch reviews upon reviews of goals and gameplay, just to get a hint of what you cannot have (yet).

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Uncertainty(drive of wanting to oh no brazilfind out what will happen next, which makes you want it more and makes you come back to check). Matches in World Cups are highly unpredictable (who could have predicted the massive 1-7 trashing of Brazil). Like gambling, they are therefore highly motivational or even addictive. And because you don’t know what the next match’ result will be, you will want to be coming back again for more. And again and again…

Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance (is when you want to avoid togo supportersomething negative happening).

In daily life a major factor why people even show up at work in order to avoid being fired. At the World Cup this is a very strong drive for supporters and it increases the further your team makes it towards the final. By that time you will have invested a lot of time and psychic energy in supporting the team, building yourself up for the match and celebrating or being sad with fellow supporters. If your team loses now, ALL of that will have been for nothing. So people become superstitous for example in order to ward off losing a match. They always NEED to wear the same shirt (which cannot be watched) or the CANNOT shave their beard for the duration of the World Cup for example.


Mapping done! Insightful isn’t it?

Have a further read at or email me at if you would like to talk about how we help individuals and companies understand how to motivate people in a world where most of us are continuously distracted. Gamification is not just about games, on the contrary it is about understanding human motivation and what drives people to do what they do!