What if you could get the cheat code to successful entrepreneurship? Would you play to win? Or would you enjoy the journey and explore the side quests?
In this edition of Venture unscripted., podcast host Josh Barker sits down with world-renowned gamification expert, developer, and author Yu-kai Chou for insights on how to gamify entrepreneurship, what his journey has looked like over the years, and what advice he has for other entrepreneurs looking for their big break.
Listen to the podcast video below or keep scrolling to read the podcast recap.
The Origin Story
Yu-kai Chou’s story starts with video games, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2003, Yu-kai was a big gamer. He also moved around a lot, Yu-kai’s father is a diplomat which meant he had a worldwide childhood. He grew up in South Africa, Taiwan, Kansas, and then California.
“I was in this transitional period between quitting a game and starting a new game, and I just felt extremely empty,” Yu-kai explained.
He battled with the dilemma of having spent thousands of hours getting his in-game characters strong, leveled up, and with the best gear. But when it was over, that part of his life disappeared.
“I felt like I was the same loser in front of the computer after all those thousands of hours,” he continued. “So then I just started thinking about what kind of game everyone is playing that you can’t just quit?”
He started to brainstorm whether there was a game where the more hours you spend at it, the better your real life gets. This led Yu-kai down the path of thinking about what kind of game life itself would be and how to play it.
“I started treating my life like a game and started leveling up everything I do.”
Yu-kai’s ability to start leveling up his life led him to gamification. It showed him how successful he could be doing almost anything, and then spurred the idea that other people could be doing the same thing — whether it’s for school or for work.
“For example, most employees just work hard enough to get a paycheck and not get fired, right?” Yu-kai explained. “Then they stop. But when you see it as a game, you’re not going to do the bare minimum. You’re going to try and be the best possible.”
Yu-kai unlocked a new level to the “game of life” — people want to thrive, strive, and flourish. They even want to think about how to strategize a process to become a stronger or better version of themselves. Turning it into a game is the secret.
There are two kinds of gamification. The first is seeing the world in you through a gaming lens. The second is designing little games to get certain things done. Once Yu-kai figured that out, he was able to create a framework that better explains not only how to gamify, but how to address motivation, reward systems, and more.
It’s called the Octalysis Framework. It combines psychology, behavior science, and gamification to help design engaging experiences.
The Octalysis Framework consists of eight core drives. Among these are different types of motivation. Extrinsic motivation are the things you do for a reward, a purpose, or a goal, but you don’t necessarily enjoy the activity itself. Once you’ve got the reward or hit your goal, the activity becomes stale. Intrinsic motivation is the things you just enjoy doing to the point where you’re even willing to spend money to experience it. Even if you lost all your progress the next day — you’d still pick the activity back up.
“There is a sense of progression with extrinsic motivation,” Yu-kai explained. “When I saw my life as a game, I started seeing more progress and everything was intrinsically more enjoyable.”
After nearly a decade of this work and publishing a book on it, Yu-kai found himself in another period of transition. A lot of his life was changing, but was still intellectually curious. On top of that, the industry was growing, giving him a chance to expand his lonely passion into something else.
Longevity to Gamification
However, misconceptions, especially from the academia, enterprise, and software marketing world, were increasing. And while some in the industry were game designers, it was clear that many people had never been immersed in the world of gaming before gamification really boomed in popularity.
Many assumed that gamification was just adding points or badges in order to make something “a game,” but that’s not what makes games fun.
“When I’m playing this game until five in the morning and I still don’t want to go to bed, it’s not because I’m looking at these points and these badges,” Yu-kai explained. “It’s because of the strategy or the milestones unlocked, the teamwork. So I decided to write more about it and look into why some games are super addictive for a few months before everyone burns out.”
There are games that people can play for decades, like chess, but Yu-kai was starting to see patterns that continued to shape his framework. And then the Octalysis Framework took off.
What is the Octalysis Framework? How can you use it? Listen in to learn more.
Yu-kai found that chess is the strongest example of longevity in a game.
“Chess doesn’t need to add new content to stay engaging, because our brain is entertaining itself,” he explained. “It’s like being an inventor or scientist in lifelong experimentation.”
But look at games that rely on other core drives. The moment they stop creating weekly quests or releasing monthly heroes, people just stop playing. So, the question is, how can an entrepreneur utilize gamification to ensure that people are continually engaged with their company or product?
Gamification and Entrepreneurship
To better understand the link between gamification and entrepreneurship, you have to look at the four applications of gamification.
The first application is product gamification. You need to make your product engaging and exciting. For example, Duolingo gamified learning a language. The app used gamification to make the product engaging, as opposed to just the pure function of focus — it’s human-focused.
The next application is workplace gamification, which means companies can design games that allow their employees to work more creatively and retain more talent.
There’s also marketing gamification, which incorporates more storytelling to engage an audience and get the audience to participate in campaigns rather than just consuming them.
Finally, there’s lifestyle gamification, which uses a variety of techniques and mindsets that make life more like a game. That might include doing more exercise, taking medication, studying harder, and working on your career.
Want to hear an example of how gamification can be applied in the real world? Listen to this case study that Yu-kai shared.
Some companies are even going beyond point systems because gamification can do so much more than that. There will always be low-hanging fruit that doesn’t require software, but you can get really creative with different kinds of competitions. Yu-kai made it clear that the lowest-hanging fruit of gamification is making people feel as appreciated as possible.
“Almost everyone feels underappreciated,” he explained. “Whether they’re at home, school, or work. If someone goes where they actually feel appreciated, it doesn’t matter if it’s an online poker club or a bookstore — if they feel appreciated, they’re going to want to go back.”
As a company or organization, find opportunities for people to easily express appreciation for each other. People will feel happier in the environment and they’ll want to be there more often, work harder, and/or stay for longer.
Want to hear more about triggers used in corporate gamification? Listen to Yu-kai’s top-of-mind examples.
The Next Round
After everything that Yu-kai has learned, his next round will be the journey of writing a second book called 10,000 Hours of Play. It is based on the principle of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. In it, Gladwell writes extensively about how people who spend 10,000 on some kind of craft become world-leading experts or masters at it, especially if they did it when they were younger.
The premise of Yu-kai’s book is that if you gamify your life, those 10,000 hours won’t be blood, sweat, and tears. It could be enjoyment, fun, and gameplay and after 10,000 hours of this enjoyment, you automatically become successful. Yu-kai based the book on a six-step process that he followed to gamify his life:
Step 1: Choose your game — What is meaningful in your life? What are you going to spend your life pursuing and what exactly makes it meaningful?
Step 2: Understand your attributes — What are your innate talents? What are you good at?
Step 3: Choosing your role — Based on your talents, choose a role that makes the most sense.
Step 4: Figure out what skills will make you stronger — Figure out how to play up your strengths and what you can do to make it easier to improve your weaknesses.
Step 5: Build alliances — Find the people who are playing the same game you are and have complementary skills.
Step 6: Do the quests — Do the things that help you learn the skills you need, whether it’s reading a book, doing an internship, finding a job, attending a workshop — anything that helps you accumulate the skills and helps you get closer to beating your game.
In the book, each step will feature a historical figure, which Yu-kai calls OP Heros, that will help to dissect why each step was crucial for that person’s success. Along with his book project, Yu-kai is running three companies. He’s a busy man and is still getting new invitations to expand his game and to go on new adventures — which he can’t turn down in the game of life.
Listen to the full story and gain even more advice from innovative entrepreneurs by checking out the podcast video below.
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