The other news is that I finished writing the Gameful Project Management manuscript and sent it to my editor. In the coming few weeks, I will post some of the chapters, which I haven’t published as blog posts yet.
To celebrate both great news and because of the holiday season, I reduced the price for the e-books on Self-Gamification as follows:
“Finally, voluntary participation requires that everyone who is playing the game knowingly and willingly accepts the goal, the rules, and the feedback. Knowingness establishes common ground for multiple people to play together. And the freedom to enter or leave a game at will ensures that intentionally stressful and challenging work is experienced as safe and pleasurable activity.” — Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
Voluntary participation is the most important ingredient in the success of any project and any game. Successful exit from a game that is not rewarding or a project that goes in the “wrong direction” can be meaningful too. (See also the quote on the fun by Ariel and Shya Kane in “Fun is Not a Bonus; It’s a Must for Success.”) Also, when you might decide to return to it later. All are the parts of your path unfolding in front of you toward known or yet unknown goals. That is why I have put the definition of this game component at the beginning of this post and not at the end s for the other three elements of games (and projects). See also “Approaching the Goals Anthropologically,”“Embracing the Rules,” and “At Least Four.”
As you see in the definition above, voluntary participation is closely connected to goals, rules, and the way the feedback system is designed. So, if you see these three components as part of your game and do everything as a designer and player to keep them fun and efficient, then voluntary participation in your projects will become effortless.
In self-gamification, voluntary participation is (at least) three-fold. It includes the will:
to see your projects as games,
to design and never stop developing these games (that includes the will to learn from other game and gamification designers; also those who practice self-gamification and approach among other project management gamefully), and
to play, in other words, actively engage in your self-motivational, that is, your project and project management games.
These three components of voluntary participation are essential for you to keep turning your projects (and life) into games if you wish to do so.
But there is also another, fourth dimension to voluntary participation in Self-Gamification and Gameful Project Management. I mentioned it above. “The freedom to enter and leave the game at will” is present in real-life projects too. It might not be as straightforward as it is in games, but each contract contains a clause of when a project is canceled.
Apart from that, you don’t have to close a project altogether to be able to “leave” it for some time. All of us have many projects we take care of. We go from one to another and later back to the first one. It is not very different from playing one game, leaving it for another (or something other than a game), and later coming back.
Moreover, if you stop recording points in your project’s feedback system (especially the additional one for fun, with points, badges, stars, or gems), then that is not a problem at all because it doesn’t mean a loss of something, or that your projects (or life) will take a turn for the worse.
After turning my writing into a game for the first time, I forgot about it but still felt its positive effects. I suspect that I turned bits of my writing process into a game without recording the points. After all, I did have a feedback system in the form of word count, and chapters reviewed and edited.
Equally for you, if you stop recording points, it doesn’t have to mean you will lose the fun you experienced in the projects. Even today, in some of my trickier projects, I use a simple feedback system (usually a scrap of paper) to get my work flowing, and as soon as it does, I stop recording the points and just enjoy the work on the project.
So don’t judge yourself if you notice that you aren’t following the plans for your games to the letter. You still have all four components of voluntary participation if you actively engage in what you are doing and have fun.
But if you notice yourself resisting and being “thrown out” of your game, then you can use the self-gamification tools in your always-available toolset to address the fear, resentment, anger, or anything else that hinders you in your project games, boldly, honestly, and kindly.
There is a clear benefit to turning our lives into games, which is also the reason I keep playing. The resisting thoughts and urge to procrastinate (including things we think we really want to do) will never stop appearing and becoming more sophisticated. That is probably why project management exists as an ever-evolving discipline.
These resisting thoughts might occur more rarely as we discover the fun in whatever we do, but there will always be a moment when our creative minds come up with some fretting ideas. In this case, Self-Gamification, and thus also Gameful Project Management, can help you turn the projects you fret about into Self-Motivational Games, in other words, real-life projects or activities that you love to engage in, both the design and the playing of.
When I got the feedback from friends who applied Self-Gamification, I realized something. Not only do Self-Motivational Games require voluntary participation for them to exist both in design and play, but playing them facilitates voluntary participation in our lives’ projects. It’s an utterly rewarding chicken or the egg causality dilemma, which helps us to experience the work on our projects as a “safe and pleasurable activity.” (See the quote by Jane McGonigal at the beginning of this post above.)
Here is where the synergy of anthropology, kaizen, and gamification embraced by Self-Gamification and Gameful Project Management (see “The Synergy of Three”) comes full circle.
So for your project management games to be successful, you must be willing to see what you do as games, design them, their rules, test the games, play them, follow the rules you have outlined, and through it all, be willing to have fun.
Please note, I don’t mean that you should expect to have fun. It is easy to take suggestions from others and test out whether they are fun for us, with the intention of proving it one way or the other. But what makes a game or any activity enjoyable is first and foremost, the willingness to have fun.
That is the fifth and the most important feature of the voluntary participation in Self-Gamification and Gameful Project management. The will to have fun.
As we’ve seen in “Every Game is a Project; Every Project is a Game,” all the reports we have to prepare are feedback systems* in our project games.
In traditional games, there might be one feedback system, especially in board-games. In real-life projects, there are usually many.
I found there are at least four main types for each of us and in relation to each project we want or have to address.
I started calling each of them a “gamebook.” Calling them that way helped to change my attitude toward them. I began to enjoy maintaining them, which wasn’t the case before that.
Let’s take a look at these four types of gamebooks.
Firstof all, there is an “Appointments Gamebook.” That is usually a calendar, on paper, or digital, where we record our appointments with other people. How can you consider this type of recording being a gamebook? In other words, what’s the goal of this “Appointments Game”? The goal is to manage all or as many recorded appointments as possible. When you consider it that way, some of the appointments you might resent could become less daunting and appear like steps or levels in your “Keeping the Appointments Game,” and you might even observe yourself wishing to take part in those events.
The secondfeedback system is the “To-Do List Gamebook” or simply “To-Do Gamebook.” I also call it sometimes “Appointments with Myself Book.” You could name the game having such a feedback system, a “Strike-Through Game.” The goal in it is to strike-through or cross out all of the items on the list until the end of the game round. This game round could be a day, a week, a month, a year, or another entity, like a project or a work package. Other versions of such feedback systems are checklists, bucket lists, and similar.
As for the calendar with your appointments, you might have difficulties to see your to-do lists as a game token at first. But if you think of some of the board or card games, where each move consists of many steps, you might recognize that the sequences of these steps are like entries on a to-do list. That means that you can — if you set your mind to it — see your to-do lists as game-plans too. And bring fun into them. You just need to figure out how. It is always worth approaching it in a non-judgmental, one-little-step-at-a-time, and gameful way.
I recently realized that you could compare a to-do list at the beginning of a day as a hand of cards you’ve been dealt at the beginning of a card game where you need to get rid of all the cards in order to win. Whereas for the next type of the feedback system, you win if you collect as many (or a limited number) points as you can.
I use a daily calendar for my “To-Do List Gamebook” to share my to-do tasks among various days of the week and even different months. Inspired by an agile project management approach SCRUM, I move the tasks from one day to another if I see that it is not doable on any particular day.
In the course of designing my to-do lists, I tried many approaches: writing on scraps of paper, sticky notes, or in a notebook; several online and standalone tools; and even an electronic pocket organizer. I discovered that each time I found a method, and it seemed to work, I hoped that it would work forever. I became aware that I was putting too much pressure on sticking with the same method forever. But this is like trying to play just one game over and over and nothing else.
In Self-Gamification Happiness Formula, I call the thirdtype of feedback system in a project game a “game-only” feedback system. I referred to it that way because I record points, badges, and stars there as I make progress in what I set out to do during the day. I call a weekly calendar I use for it my “Points Gamebook” (other versions of that title are: “Points and Stars Gamebook” or “Points, Stars, and Badges Gamebook”).
From the first sight, you might think that it is something unnecessary, added “only” inspired by games. And the points, badges, or stars would take too much time to record. But that is not the case.
First of all, you might be using such Point Gamebooks already and playing, thus a collector’s game. You either need to collect the maximum number of points set or more than your competitors, or not to step over the set limit or the time set. Habit trackers, which can be found now in many commercial diaries, are nothing else but a commercial counterpart of my “Points Gamebook.” Or the steps on your step counter, giving you a point for each step. Or calories you count; they are points too. Another example of this type is a gratitude journal, where you list all things you are grateful for that day.
And here are more examples. If you chose a writing project, then you will have word counts as your feedback system, if your activity is to learn to play a musical instrument, it would be the number of songs or pieces of music you have come to perform. And so on.
And another great feature of recording points for each done task, especially the small ones, or ticking off each day you exercise or maintain another healthy habit is that with each point and checkmark, you take a little moment to appreciate your effort. We often rely on the appreciation from the others, but we won’t be genuinely able to accept the praise if we don’t appreciate what we do ourselves.
The fourthgamebook is the “Project Gamebook.” That is just a notebook where I record all my thoughts for that project or write excerpts for my new books. Later I put those handwritten notes into digital format, which in itself could also be considered as a digital “Project Gamebook.”
Why do I bring up such a detailed, and maybe a little strange classification of various ways we record what and when we want or have to do? I do that to draw your attention to how multi-faceted these project games are. Seeing your to-do lists, reports, Microsoft Excel sheets, road maps, your notes for the project, and the additional feedback system you might develop for yourself and your team members, like a multi-dimensional game (or even several games played at once), is a great key. This multi-dimensionality can add to the fun factor of each of your project games.
My recommendation is that you test various approaches and observe what is right for you at any given time in your life. And continue practicing to see your projects like games, and yourself as their designer and player.
You can add game elements, like color codes, stars, and so on, to various types of entries in your Microsoft Excel sheets, or even sound effects to your PowerPoint presentation that contains the road map. You can even lay a flow chart in a project out like a board game and make progress visible through moving figurines along the board.
Of course, you would also need to record progress in another type of feedback system (one you have agreed with your customer or boss), but if these additional playful feedback plans will benefit you, your colleagues, and the project, then, by all means, create them and use them for your project games.
An important note: Don’t worry too much about recording your points precisely. Remember that although points, badges, and leaderboards provide a fun and effective reporting system, their primary role is to increase the fun you experience (such as, for example, the warm fuzziness you feel), not to keep an exact account. Keeping a precise account and fretting about the score will tear you out of the game and the fun experience.
References and Glossary:
* “The feedback system tells players how close they are to achieving the goal. It can take the forms of points, levels, a score, or a progress bar.” — Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
Is there a project in your life, either work or personal, that sets ridiculous, in your opinion, requirements, or, in other words, rules*?
Most of us have (or used to have) at least one such project.
Let’s look at something else from a similar standpoint.
Isn’t a rule to hit a small ball with a club over a long distance to fall hopefully after not too many hits into a small hole, utterly ridiculous too? Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to take a ball into your hand, march straight to the hole and drop it in there?
Yes, it would!
And still, if you are a golfer, you would never choose the straightforward solution and instead will take your club faithfully and play by those, possibly strange to others, rules.
What is the difference between the rules in golf or any other game, in its classical meaning, and the rules in real-life projects? And are there more than one?
Yes. There are several. Here is what I discovered, looking at the games and projects anthropologically, in other words, non-judgmentally.
First of all, the rules in projects, have specific goals in mind that are different from just having fun (see the previous chapter on goals, “Approaching the Goals Anthropologically”). They serve a specific purpose since they are not always designed for entertainment (although they might, at least indirectly, be meant that way, as it is the case in the entertainment industry).
But the most significant difference is not in the goals, which is another game component altogether. It is in our resistance to embrace and follow the rules as if we have designed them (even if may have come up with the project and the rules ourselves), and they were our idea all along. In contrast to that, in games, we readily do so, which is often visible because we take on that game’s identity. For example, we become passionate golfers.
So, even if we sign the contracts and by that claim our will to engage in the project or job, we still resist the project’s or job’s rules inside us, judging them as bad, ridiculous, or impossible to function.
If a golfer on a course would put his or her arms crossed in front of them and start judging the inventors of the clubs and balls, he or she would completely stop playing the game and stop having fun.
What choices such a player has then?
These choices are at least of the following three types:
To continue complaining from their standpoint, which most probably will lead them to be left behind by their co-players.
Make a note (either mentally, on a piece of paper, or in an email to themselves) to check out which other models of balls and clubs are there on the market and order one or more for testing. Or check out another game altogether.
Make a note to create a new model of a club, a ball, or a new gold-inspired game after the match has ended, and then either send the suggestion to one of the golf-equipping/game designing companies or “play” with the materials to create these themselves.
We have the same types of choices with our real-life projects.
We can either continue suffering from the limits set by the project’s rules, or put our curious, studying, and designing hats on.
We could get more information on what else is possible for our project game.
And we could adjust the rules (and possibly also goals and feedback system) of the project in such a way that it becomes engaging, fun, and thus, provides the best possible outcome.
References and Glossary:
* “The rules place limitations on how players can achieve the goal. By removing or limiting the obvious ways of getting to the goal, the rules push players to explore previous uncharted possibility spaces. They unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking.” — Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
Goals* in games often pose a fun challenge. For example, save the princess, who is kept captive and guarded by hideous underworld dragons.
We rarely consider challenges in real-life projects as fun, especially in one that’s stalling or which doesn’t run as expected or preferred.
Apart from that, the goal is always clear and visible in a game. In a real-life project, we often get lost in complaints and forget why we started doing something in the first place.
There is another curious difference between how we consider — and treat — goals in games and projects.
In multi-player (and other) games, all players voluntarily agree to embrace the goals and the rules and have their score recorded in a feedback system given by the game provider. (We will consider rules, feedback systems, and voluntary participation in the following three posts.)
In contrast to that, in real-life projects, we tend to be quite resistant toward goals, rules, and often also reports we need to prepare (which are nothing else than the various types of feedback systems in your project). Even if we sometimes might enjoy filling in and formatting the report, we will complain at least out of tradition about having to do so, and we will feel compelled to feel along with that tradition.
Is it wrong that we don’t resist games as much as we resist projects and that we are more willing to be excellent and engaged in games than in real-life projects? No, it’s not. I’m not trying to blame us humans for taking lives seriously. We absorbed this attitude in the cultures we grew up in, from the generation coming before us and who historically had much challenging lives with significantly less opportunity and awareness than we do today. We absorbed these attitudes toward various areas of our lives as much as we absorbed and learned the language and the traditions of the cultures we grew up with.
So why is then all that comparison above? What I did above was an attempt to apply “cultural relativism, an approach that rejects making moral judgments about different kinds of humanity and simply examines each relative to its own unique origins and history.” — Cameron M. Smith, Anthropology For Dummies
In this blog post, the two cultures I consider non-judgmentally are “us in games,” and “us in real-life projects,” before we started turning our projects and project management into games.
As you see above, depending on the circumstances we are in (”games” versus “real-life projects”), we can become a different culture.
In fact, understanding that each of us is a culture of our own can help us perceive why each of us sees the goals, which are supposedly clearly defined in a contract with your customer or employee/employer, through very differently colored and patterned lenses. (Read also “GPM and the Synergy of Three”)
Where do all these different colors come from?
They might come from the secondary goals behind the real-life projects.
The primary goals both in games and projects are defined when you answer the question, “What do we what or need to achieve to win this game or to bring this project to a successful (= preferred) closure?”
The answers are often very clear: save the princess, design, and fabricate this product until the specific date and with particular quality criteria and satisfying or even overcoming customer expectations.
The secondary goal is defined by the question, “Why do we want to do that?”
[A side-note: The word “secondary” doesn’t mean here that the goal defined by it is less important than the primary goal. It is just not as immediately visible as the latter.]
The secondary goal in games, especially in those we play to make us happy, is to have fun and experience happiness while playing. We often greet games, and specifically new games, with a smile and curiosity and a question, “I wonder what playing it would be like.”
That is entirely different from how we greet the real-life projects. There we often expect “only” work. And the word “work” frequently has a bad taste.
Thus the secondary goals in a real-life project are rarely to have fun. It is often to increase productivity, be better than competitors, improve this or that. Here we come again to the pressure and the will to manipulate our current status into something different. (See also “Achieving Improvement Without Forcing It”)
So what is again the difference between goals in games and real-life projects?
The goals in fun games pose an exciting challenge, and they are both kind and honest. Here’s how. If you go on the quest of that princess and throw yourself into the adventure to fight or escape those dragons, you will be excited, maybe even laughing happily along the way, having success experience with each dragon you avoid or defeat. You feel elated each step of the way.
In real-life projects, there is often just one success. It is expected at the end of the project, if it is done on time, and in conformance with previously set criteria. The achievements in-between or with less than expected results are rarely celebrated.
So, how can we make the goals of your project games truly gameful in terms of self-gamification?
We need to approach them both honestly and kindly.
I don’t mean here to try to find out whether your goals are realistic. You can reach some unimaginable and unplanned goals starting at quite strange places, like the story I quoted about Richard Feynman in the References and Notes of the post “Fun is Not a Bonus; It’s a Must for Success.”
Realistic doesn’t mean that you are kind and honest. By trying to be realistic, you might try to suppress your heart’s desires both for yourself and your peers in the project. That is neither kind nor honest.
The advice to keep the goals concrete is measurable is helpful, especially because it urges not to jump ahead of us. But we still might resent those concrete and measurable goals and think that we don’t want to achieve them, that we only have to.
Are you curious about this project? No? What could make you curious (in case you need to address it because you committed to doing so)?
What could be fun for you in the challenge that the project already poses? What other fun features, challenges could you add to make it hard to leave?
What are you passionate about? Is there any connection between that and your project? Volunteer to do those parts of the projects that connect your passion to the project. So if you love using Microsoft Excel, volunteer to maintain project spreadsheets or something similar. That will increase your experience of fun.
You probably can see how you can develop this further. Yes, fun is your compass, and at the same time, measuring tool of your success.
What I often recommend is to always have your fun-detecting antenna on. Then you will be on the right track toward your true goals, those you want to achieve with all your heart, especially the true secondary ones, the ones that determine why you are working on that project.
References and Glossary:
* “The goal is the specific outcome that players will work to achieve. … The goal provides players with a sense of purpose.” — Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World