I am tired of hearing about how lazy the kids of today are.   I honestly believe that they are the hardest working generation ever.

If I were to let him, my 14-year-old son would spend 16 hours+ a day hunched over his computer, foregoing nutrition, singularly focused on his job. He even puts his work before his social life, jumping on the trampoline, and booting around the acreage on a quad.   He gives his work preferential treatment above almost all other activities.

When he fails at his work, he doesn’t give up, rather he immediately tries again. When he gets really stumped, he calls a friend for help.   When he is prevented from working (internet goes down) he mopes around the house at loss of what else he could possibly do.

There is, of course, one problem with his work.   He doesn’t get paid to do it. His work doesn’t add any value to the community, any firm, or me. In fact, he pays to do it.

By now you may have already deduced that my son plays video games. Anyone that has children sees the hold those games have over kids. What is it that game manufacture’s do that make the video games so darn compelling? I wonder if those same techniques could be employed in the workplace?

Imagine what would your firm look like if your workforce worked at their job with the same commitment that teenagers worked their video games.

So why is it… that we can captivate the interest of kids (and many adults) with video games, but find it hard to motivate employees to stay focused at work? What is it that makes video games so darn addictive? Can the characteristics of video games be incorporated into the workplace?

While the game environment changes constantly, the activities associated with the game stay the same. Each player is operating a complex joystick with any number of controls and buttons on it. The games start relatively easy and continually progress in difficulty and complexity as game-play progresses. In fact, most players could not skip more than a few levels before the challenges of the game would overcome their ability to compete. However, that games forces them to complete each level before moving on.

The player is given a steady diet of feedback (badges, awards, scores, visual and audio cues, levels, achievements). They are never seriously beat up, mocked, given derision, or made to feel like a loser.

Most games work towards an overriding goal (even if the goal is meaningless) and continually gauges the player’s success against that goal. Each player is shown their progress and, most to the time, can monitor their status against their peer group.   Peer comparison is not used to “beat up” poor performers but rather used and inspiration and motivation. (How they do this is the topic for another blog.)

What is amazing is that nothing the games does is beyond what great leaders can do in their own organization. It doesn’t require special equipment, tools, programming or complex systems.

Great organizations:

  • Can create a work environment with regular increasing difficulty and complexity.
  • Can create a work environment where failure is not punished and yet success is celebrated.
  • Can provide regular feedback to employees (system or leader generated).
  • Can provide an overarching goal and show individual progress towards that goal.

Many people insist that the next generation is lazy and do not want to work. Maybe the problem can be solved, not by expecting them to change, but by changing how we lead them.

Great organizations create great people. We only need to look at the video game developers to figure out how to do it.

~Wouter d’Ailly