Jane McGonigal is a game designer whose SuperBetter app teaches you to “live gamefully.” Coming from a gaming background, she knows all about how exhilarating it is to take on an intriguing challenge and then win — after all, that’s what a player does at every new game level. In her Big Think+ video “Create Ownership: Help Your Team Enter a Challenge Mindset,” she talks about taking on a “gamer way of thinking.” She explains how it can transform the way in which team members master difficult work.
Challenge Mindset vs the Threat Mindset
One reason game challenges are so enjoyable, says McGonigal, is that we’ve chosen to play them, and we’re eager to do whatever has to be done to emerge victorious. According to McGonigal, this “challenge mindset” is a “positive way of thinking, a sense of self-motivation and optimism that only comes when you feel in control of a challenge that you’re facing.” Oh, also, it’s fun.
At work, though, a feeling of investment and control can be hard to come by. More often, someone else selects each challenge an employee is tasked with meeting, and the employee complies mostly out of fear of displeasing a superior. The employee’s resulting “threat mindset” is de-motivating, though. Especially when it comes, as it often will, with anxiety-inducing milestones that track progress at achieving a goal that, after all, isn’t really the employee’s own.
Gamify employee challenges
McGonigal suggests encouraging team members to select their own challenges. “Give people the chance to decide,” she says, “to make meaningful choices about which project or task they want to put their energy into.” Employees can be encouraged to pursue challenges that support the company’s mission and at the same time reflect their own “interest and curiosity.” The key is to allow them to make those choices.
In the end, her suggestion is to make work not so very different from what it’s like being engrossed in a great game, but with higher, and thus even more exciting, stakes. Having a choice of challenges leads to employee ownership, enthusiasm, and a mission worthy of their “A” game.