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.