The “Drive” To Gamification: Motivation 3.0 and Game Mechanics

Dan Pink's Excellent Book "Drive"

Dan Pink's Excellent Book "Drive"


Gamification, especially as it applies to enterprise applications, is all about engagement, and quality, and helping people achieve their goals. Or, to put it another way, it’s about motivation. There’s another approach to thinking about motivation, especially of knowledge workers (i.e., those who work with enterprise applications), and that’s as exemplified in Daniel Pink‘s awesome book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. For the purposes of this discussion, we can summarize Pink’s main point briefly as follows:

We are in the age of “Motivation 3.0,” and motivation primarily is driven by three key dimensions – mastery, autonomy, and purpose. That is, if you want people to be motivated to do their work, they have to have or be working toward a sense of mastery. They have to feel they have some amount of control (or autonomy) over what they do. And the work they do has to be aligned with a higher purpose, it can’t just be “because.”

How does this idea of Motivation 3.0 apply to or intersect with gamification? Gamification is the solution to a lot of problems that especially enterprise software faces. In particular, gamification is intimately related to surfacing the components of Motivation 3.0 – mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

  • Mastery: Games are the best examples we have of reporting on a person’s mastery of something. Nothing else is as good. PhD dissertations are not that good, as we all know. High stakes testing is terrible. And so on. Games have this all over the place, with their points, levels, leaderboards, badges, etc.
  • Autonomy: One of the key components of autonomy is the “ability to get into a flow state.” And games, again, are among the best examples of this, and they certainly are the example of getting people into flow state more easily than any other activity. Even musicians have a harder time getting into flow than gamers do. Millions of gamers every day have to be dragged from their game consoles or computers after hours of playing because of the appeal of the flow that’s generated.
  • Purpose: One hopes in general that most peoples’ jobs provide them with a certain modicum of purpose, and that’s a fundamental assumption I make about gamification of enterprise apps – we’re not trying to solve the “purpose” part of the equation. But the work itself typically doesn’t help a person understand if what they’re doing is helping drive toward achieving the purpose. So, there’s a high level purpose, and we often have that in our job. But our day to day work may or may not be helping us achieve it. Games, again, are amongst the best tools we have for understanding if we are achieving our purposes. In games, of course, the purpose is much less compelling than a real life purpose (“Save The Princess!”) but because the linkage to making progress on the purpose is so strong, it’s enough to keep people engaged. Just think of the power we could have if the day to day, hour to hour work of a person could be seen, by the person, and in a legitimate, non-condescending way, to be aligned with and furthering the high level purpose. That could be ultimately compelling.

So, that’s my take on how the ideas in Drive align with gamification. What do you think about this? I’d love to start a conversation about this below in the comments section!

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3 comments

  1. I wish far more people interested in gamification would read — really read — "Drive". The issues around what he calls "Motivation 3.0" related directly to gamification, but I cannot tell from your post the degree to which you understand the underlying research.

    The science he keeps referring to in that book comes primarily from Self Determination Theory — the current leading overarching theory of motivation taught in universities today — and it makes quite subtle distinctions. For example, one of the three main components of intrinsic motivation is "autonomy", but autonomy does not necessarily mean "more control". It is about whether what you are doing is most closely aligned with your own sense of why you are doing this. It is more about whether you subconsciously feel controlled vs. in control, and that is why EXTRINSIC motivators can be so damaging to intrinsic motivation — they can trick the subconscious into a sense that we are doing something purely for the extrinsic motivator (rewards, outside approval/recognition, points/status, etc.) . The dangerous part of this is that it happens below the level of conscious choice, so if people who do something they enjoy (that meets certain criteria), and are THEN given an extrinsic motivator for doing so, their intrinsic enjoyment of the activity may then DROP. This is of course the opposite of what people intuitively assume will happen, hence Dan Pink's subtitle: the surprising truth about motivation.

    What surprised people is that there could EVER be a scenario where adding incentives DEmotivates.

    Also, mastery is NOT served best by games. Games often make excellent use of feedback, but it is the FEEDBACK in games, not that they are games, that makes them so good at creating higher skills. Feedback is an absolutely essential element for developing competence (and ultimately mastery), as virtually ALL learning and improvement happens as a result of high-quality, low-latency feedback. I suggest reading Amabile's "Progress Principle" for discussions of the distinctions between feedback and externally-regulated extrinsic motivation, and specifically how it applies to enterprise skill development and motivation.

    One big problem with enterprise gamification is that it often is in complete conflict with Self Determination Theory (and thus, the points expressed in "Drive", and also in conflict with what every good game developer understands: if you use "mechanics" to get behavior, you get "mechanical behavior." Most gamification is based entirely on external regulation / extrinsic motivators of some form, which puts it at the OPPOSITE end of the motivation continuum from actual games (and true mastery/intrinsic motivation). It is pure operant conditioning, and it is precisely the type of system Pink describes as being EXCELLENT and effective for rote, tedious, mechanical tasks but TERRIBLE (DEmotivating) for creativity, inspiration, innovation, passion, deep skill development, pursuit of mastery, etc. etc.

    Skinner did a fine job of giving us the tools to mechanically produce behaviors that can appear highly motivated (same system used in slot machines), but even he acknowledged that NO true complex behavior emerges in this system of reinforcement — only long chains of simple behaviors.

    Games and gamification could not be more different with respect to motivation, and especially the motivation described in Drive. Any attempt to use external regulation for anything that might EVER be intrinsically motivating is a dark path, and one I would strongly reconsider if I were looking into enterprise gamification. Gamification claims to be taking "what is good about games", but it is actually doing the opposite. What is good about games does NOT lie in the mechanics (look at the oldest game — one still extremely popular throughout much of the world — the game of Go. It has all the essential ingredients for Motivation 3.0, and almost none of the surface mechanics), but rather in the core experience which IS intrinsic motivation: it feels good to do it for its own sake.

    You did mention Flow which is a key aspect of game experiences, and a side-benefit of working toward mastery, though flow itself is NOT necessarily a path to mastery, though it can keep participants moving along a path and helps people stay motivated during the hard work — non FLOW work — that is required for developing new, deep skills. But that is a whole other (though heavily related) topic… In any case, I have a lot of serious issues with gamification in ANY context outside of NON-intrinsically rewarding activities. (I am a huge fan of gamification for things like fitness, health, or making tedious rote tasks less painful). But I am still happy to see someone even mention Drive and gamification the same context. It takes a deeper dive to really understand what "motivation 3.0" is about, and it starts with a much deeper study of self-determination theory. And that is just a start.

    • Kathy – thanks for the meaty response! I am totally with on board with your concerns on the potential dangers of gamification of enterprise apps. As the product manager for an enterprise app that I think would benefit quite a lot from some, let's call them "game mechanics" for lack of a more differentiated term the moment, as well as my experience with gamification of a) my bike riding, and b) my writing (both of which are intrinsically rewarding) I'm not completely with you on your "issues with gamification in ANY context outside of NON-intrinsically rewarding activities." And in fact I make that point multiple times in my series on gamifying enterprise apps – the key point is that you can't (and don't want to) use gamification to increase motivation, because that should already be there. But you can use some of the mechanics to help people "know where they are." To use an example from another domain, in agile we have the team velocity, which is clearly a score. And we have a lot of developers who are intrinsically motivated to program, to do interesting technical things, and to create something valuable – does the velocity score lower their motivation to do those things? I'd say it doesn't. What it does is tell them if the stuff they are doing, that they like and are motivated to do, is actually creating value for customers, and if they are being efficient and effective in how they go about doing it.

      (BTW, I'm a big fan! I still have Creating Passionate Users on my blogroll, as you may have noticed. I refer to the Crash Course In Learning Theory all the time, and I relisten to your old ETech, ToC, and SXSW talks often.)

  2. […] developers are motivated by what Dan Pink, in his awesome book Drive, calls the components of Motivation 3.0 – mastery, autonomy, and purpose. (The handy acronym MAP will help you remember these.) Of course, we PMs are driven by the same […]

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