When levelling up is your only option

In conversations recently around career and business, the conclusion people come to very often is that the only option is to keep levelling up. Whether that is through an inner drive to continuously improve yourself or more a societal expectation because you have been in the job a long time and you probably know most about an area or a company or when you run a business keeping growing is first a fun challenge and then once you have team members an absolute necessity.

The days of unadulterated free time are typically reserved for a privileged few, who may not even feel that they are privileged at the time and look for ways to engage themselves with meaningful tasks.

The conversations made me reflect that in most of our gamification designs and also in organisational and learning design, we structure progress in the shape of always levelling up. In one of the conversations I had the person said, it will be great to become boss but only if I can still keep doing my work. I totally understand where he came from, because I started this business with a love for gamification design, now that the business has grown I don’t get to do it very often, I see quality dropping in different areas and haven’t got the time to fix it. Personally I am challenged with tasks and responsibilities I never found much fun and they take the majority of my time. Count your blessings if you get to level up and keep your passions alive.

So how can we make it work that all of us can enjoy what we love doing? I haven’t found all the answers for sure. But as designers it is worth considering, how can we best tap into people’s passions and let them experience those most often. I am sure some people love being managers and that is their passion, others feel like they are obliged to take this path due to experience or by virtue of being good at what they do, being asked to step up. It doesn’t always work when the best worker steps up and becomes the manager. I also have been held back once, when I was hired to become the manager, because I was too good a trainer. I can tell you firsthand my motivation sank big time and my respect for the company management team even more so, talk about badly managing expectations.

Levelling up assumes we create a linear path. Growth for most people comes from a multitude of angles not just linear progression (even if that is what schools are conditioning us to expect). For example new experiences in different areas, new skills development, working with new projects, applying your knowledge to unusual situations, etc. Often a sideways move may be more satisfying. In career management terms this is often called job rotation or job enrichment and maybe the same value should be placed on people exploring these options as opposed to only rewarding the upwardly mobile with promotions. It often comes back to the old chestnut, what gets rewarded gets done.

Maybe a society where everyone has a guaranteed pay to get them over the threshold of Maslow’s bottom needs of physiological and safety, meaning that you are provided for with food, clothes and a roof over your head. It then requires confidence and a feeling of acceptance to go and do what you are passionate about. As an organisation, it is harder to create an environment where everyone fulfils their passion, but movements around freedom in terms of job design are rising up. Some experiments are already being done in education to let university students create their courses and paths based on their passions. Maybe we will get there in this lifetime, maybe it will take longer.

In all of our situations we do have other options, we can quit a game and start a different one altogether. It takes effort and having done this a few times, it is a steep learning curve and very rewarding when you start to master the new skill. You can choose new options within a game, maybe even create your own sideways path or new world.

How would you design for more routes than just levelling up in business gamification?

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