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As I learn more and more about project management, I am struck how seriously most of the sources sound, especially in their introductions. Most of them display statistics of failures and analyze why projects fail.
After turning many projects and activities — including the project management — into games for several years now, I’ve come to adopt gameful thinking more and more.
This kind of thinking lets you put the drama, the seriousness about what you have to do aside, and instead concentrate on excellence and success.
For example, if in a video game, you have a “hard” time managing a level, you do one of the following. You ask a fellow gamer to show you how she or he managed that level. Or you look up a video of that game and level online and watch what others do to finish it.
Then you have an epiphany, “Ah, you (he/she) went to the right side of that pit, and I was going all the time to the left! That is why that monster ate me, and you (he/she) finished this level!”
In real-life projects, when something doesn’t work, we search for the reasons (persons or circumstances) we think are guilty of what we believe happened. And we contemplate all that before we even think of asking others who succeed in similar situations.
In games (including sports) learning through techniques is very similar to cultural relativism practiced in modern anthropology, which I addressed in the post “GPM: Achieving Improvement Without Forcing It.”
In sports where you (or your team) perform at the same time as your competitors, such as football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, tennis, badminton, and other such a technique is simply achieved, especially if you record the game. That is because you can watch the recording and observe what the other team did to win the ball from you at any particular moment and how it differs from what you did
To achieve this in real-life projects might seem more challenging because you might perceive yourself (or your team) being alone with your task. That is because what others do in a similar situation might not be immediately visible or “recordable.”
Here is why a gameful approach to what you do is so helpful.
If you come to a habit of considering it as if it was a game, for example, a video game, of which you are both the designer and player, then you won’t be stuck in the complaint and despair for long.
Instead, you will think something similar to this, “I wonder what others do in such a situation (level) of my project (game)?”
Game designers often tap into anthropological (= non-judgmentally comparative) techniques, as well as positive psychology, which concentrates on studying success.
Many of the books on game design study success stories. They rarely start with failures. I think that is because they didn’t consider the discarded game designs as failures but simply as steps on the path to the successful ones.
The idea behind these is surely very well-meant. The authors and organizers of these try to help those having hard times to see that they are not alone and also to try to show the possibility of how to get out of a problematic “failed” situation.
However, I can’t escape the feeling that the illustration of and emphasis on failures or what we perceive as failure is as effective or as meaningful as to analyze in the previous video game scenario the reasons why you kept going to the left side of that pit until now instead of choosing to go to the right.
Making a choice is as mysterious a process as that of inspiration**. Every one of our choices can be supported by countless reasons, and it can also be supported by countless reasons why we shouldn’t have made it, even if we might not see many or any of these pro- and contra- reasons from the first sight.
Trying to hunt these down and prove them being right or wrong is not helpful in any way. You wouldn’t try that in a game, or at least not for long. So why do we keep doing it in real life?
Do we do it because proving our point of view to be right is a fun and rewarding process? I’m not so sure. Is it because we fear to be either criticized or supported and then discredited afterward for what we do? That is more like it.
But there are also real-life examples showing that studying success instead of failures can not only be empowering but life-saving too.
One of the self-gamification components is kaizen, the philosophy and technique of breaking any challenge, any path to goals into tiny, easily doable and digestible bits.
My favorite writer on the topic of kaizen is Dr. Robert Maurer, Director of Behavioral Sciences for the Family Practice Residency Program at Santa Monica, UCLA Medical Center and a faculty member at the UCLA School of Medicine***. One of the reasons why I enjoy reading his books is his interest in studying success. The title of his website says it all. He called it the “Science of Excellence.”***
In his acclaimed book Mastering Fear: Harnessing Emotion to Achieve Excellence in Work, Health and Relationships, Robert Maurer shared a story a book that inspired him to devote his career to the psychology of success. In that, he learned about how such deadly diseases such as smallpox, malaria, and yellow fever were cured.
He wrote, “Prior to my visit to the library that day, I had assumed, as perhaps you do, that the way we remedy disease is by studying people who are ill and, from there, brilliant researchers in top-notch laboratories develop the miracle drugs needed for a cure. This is not, however, how the majority of these horrible maladies were tamed.”
He further reveals that the clue that helped save many lives was not in studying those who were ill, but in “studying those who have stayed healthy in the presence of grave illness and discovering what was different about them.”
This discovery inspired Robert Maurer “to believe that more significant breakthroughs could be made not by observing those courageously struggling, but by looking at those who were succeeding and discovering what they were doing differently.” — Robert Maurer, Mastering Fear: Harnessing Emotion to Achieve Excellence in Work, Health and Relationships
And since then he could find many confirmations on that.
Gameful Project Management embracing anthropology, kaizen and gamification (see post 2) will help you stop struggling, and instead cultivate gameful thinking and anthropological studying as well as applying of success for yourself, those around you, be it at work or at home, and regardless the project you take on.
** “Inspiration is a feeling of enthusiasm you get from someone or something, which gives you new and creative ideas.” — https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/inspiration
If you want to learn more:
Check out my coaching and consulting services to work directly with me.
Take a look into my book Self-Gamification Happiness Formula.