In this episode of How People Work, Jordan and Jason discuss leadership, the gamification of work, and the importance of celebrating the small wins at work.
As a leader, it’s important to recognize that failure is not the end of the world — it’s actually an essential part of the learning process. By giving your employees room to fail, you’re encouraging them to take risks and explore new ideas, which can ultimately lead to innovative solutions and increased productivity. When employees feel free to take risks without fear of punishment, they’re more likely to experiment and come up with creative solutions that can benefit the entire team.
Gamifying work can mean using game-like elements such as points, rewards, and competition to motivate employees and improve performance. When work organically feels more like a game than a chore, employees are more likely to be motivated and invested in their tasks. Additionally, gamification can foster a sense of friendly competition and collaboration among team members, leading to increased communication and teamwork.
Jordan and Jason also discuss why celebrating small wins is an essential component of building a positive and productive workplace culture. When employees are recognized for their achievements — no matter how small — it can lead to increased motivation and a sense of accomplishment. By acknowledging and celebrating the small wins along the way, you’re reinforcing the idea that every contribution matters and that progress is being made towards larger goals.
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How many hours and years of our lives do we spend on work? For nearly all of us, we spend 30 plus years and one third of our days in our vocation, more time perhaps than we spend at rest or at play. But this isn’t a problem. Why? Because work is good. Work needs to be integrated deeply into our lives and must be in line with our most important goals and values. And if it is, we have a far more complete and fulfilling life experience. Welcome to the How People Work podcast, where we explore the intersection of how humans think and act and how they apply themselves to their work. When you understand both of these things, you’ll be equipped to be insightful, compassionate, and compelling leaders.
Welcome back to How People Work. Let’s jump in. We — last week, we talked about work as play. Jason and I talked a little bit about our childhood, some games that we played, some dreams that we had about the future. What did we want to do when we grew up? Started to jump into this notion of how do we translate childhood play, board games, video games, sports, whatever the thing is into how we work, how we work today as adults, and how we take some of that drive and that competition and that will to win and bring it into the workplace and bring it into our adult lives and what we spend 8, 9, 10 hours a day doing now. So here we are back — how we work, Jordan Peace, Jason Murray. And we’re going to jump right into this topic. So Jason, I guess the question we want to ask to kick things off is are there examples that you’ve seen in the workplace, in your own personal workplace, in the workplace of your peers or people that have told you about certain things that they’ve done that have brought play into work? And then I think from there we just explore what are the outcomes of that? Yeah, what comes to mind when you think about this question of bringing play into work?
Well, there’s a couple things that come to mind. One thing that comes to mind immediately is I think there’s a cheap version of play at work that we probably want to avoid, which is, let’s do pizza parties. Let’s impose fun with air quotes here onto the work that maybe itself isn’t actually fun, but we’re just going to try and dress it up as fun and kind of rah rah. And maybe it just isn’t, it’s you’re in a bad job. You work at a bad company, there’s just not any way to really recover that.
No amount of pizza is going to solve the problem.
Yeah, exactly. Right. In fact, too much pizza is not a good thing.
It’s going to add to the problem.
It’s going to add to the problem. So that comes to mind right away where it can’t be artificial, I guess is what I’m saying. And then on the flip side of that is really trying to draw out, well, what is it within play itself? And maybe we’ll go back a little bit to some of the analogies of what it felt like when we were kids, but what is it within play itself that we can maybe draw out as principles or values that we could then say, well, these things that are true about play, that makes play fun and meaningful and feel valuable. Can we take those then and apply them to how we think about our work? How we design our work, both as individuals, like how I go about my work day to day. And then also for organizations, how we think about setting up the work or setting up teams. And so I guess as you think about it, maybe from your childhood or maybe with your own kids, because we both have kids that we play with, are there maybe values that come to mind or sort of principles that come to mind that you think are sort of orienting or unifying principles around the play?
Yeah, I was thinking about when you were talking about play with my kids, and we play in all sorts of ways. It might be a board game, it might be a video game, but it might be something we just made up on the spot. We got a trampoline for Christmas. Since then we’ve come up, I mean, I’m not exaggerating with 11 or 12 different games that we’ve invented on the trampoline. Just different things that you can play based on where you stand or where you jump or who falls down or who gets opened, the crack the egg type of stuff. And there’s a bunch of kick balls on the trampoline and just basketball hoops and there’s all sorts of stuff. And one thing that I notice about kids that I don’t see from adults so much in a work context is they just jump in.
They don’t think ahead of time, is this a game that I am best suited for? And am I likely to be the winner? They go, that sounds fun. I’m in. And then they lose. And then sometimes they cry. Sometimes they cry over losing and they celebrate over winning. And maybe they celebrate a little bit too big over winning, which makes the other one cry or whatever. There’s issues once the game is played and somebody wins and somebody loses and that’s hard. But what I see from adults is so much worse than crying over losing. It’s an unwillingness to play the game because I might lose. Right? That’s the difference in the work context. And I think that what we’ve built in so many corporations is this paradigm where I’m just not going to play. If there’s a chance I’m going to lose because if I lose and people know that I lost and the loss gets pinned on me, then that might mean that I’m not able to advance. I’m not able to be seen in the light that I want to see. I’m not able to get the promotion. Whatever the case may be. And so we just don’t play. And actually until literally this moment in this conversation, I don’t think I connected the dots as to why it was so important to me when we were writing the values.
I was just going to bring that up.
We were writing the values for Fringe and the values, and one of the descriptions of the values about acting with courage is we will lose and learn from it. We’ll fail boldly, right? And these ideas are just, and I can tell when we hire new people and I read these things to them and I share these things with them, they’re just like, are you sure you mean that? I’ve never been allowed to lose before. I’ve never been allowed to fail before. That’s always been seen as a bad thing. Right? Let’s figure out how not to lose next time is the most positive reaction that they could possibly receive from their losing as opposed to praise for you gave it all you had, you had a great idea, you put yourself out there, you took a risk, it didn’t work. But good for you.
That reaction is so freeing. And that’s what I tell my kids. Yeah, that’s what I tell ‘em. You gave it all you had. You hustled, you trie,d your brother that’s two or three years older than you. He’s bigger. Yeah, he’s stronger. He’s faster. That’s not your fault, right? You did great. You played great. And it’s not so much focus on the winning. The focus was winning in the game, but it was okay to lose. And it’s just interesting that that’s just not a thing in almost any organization. There’s just no room for playing the game if there’s any chance that we’re going to lose.
Well, what I like about that is you wouldn’t encourage recklessness from your children, but you would encourage trying new things, right? And so I think that’s a delineation that we’re making. Cause I could imagine someone having an objection saying, well, it doesn’t make sense just to go fail boldly at anythingAnd that’s not what you’re saying.
The goal isn’t to fail.
Right. Well, and just go to the example of the game on the trampoline. It’s like we have some sense of, well, what the parameters of the game may be, even if we don’t know the totality of it or how it’s going to go or how good I’m going to be at it. But it’s like I understand something about it and I’m willing to try, understanding that there’s kind of a win-loss thing that might happen here. And I think it’s interesting what you brought up talking to candidates and the hiring process and things like that. And we talked about sports and the last episode is kind of a good analogy. And I feel like that fits here because what sports teach you as a game is that you will win and you will lose. And so the whole idea, I’ve kind of resisted with my own kids that, oh, everybody wins. There’s a participation trophy. I frankly hate that because it’s not how life goes. You don’t get a participation trophy in life. I mean, life just smacks you down sometimes. And so you lose. Yeah. And sometimes it’s not even your own fault, they just go get your teeth kicked in by sometimes crappy stuff.
Sometimes the other kid’s just bigger or stronger or a better shooter.
Or the circumstances of your life, or sometimes just get dealt a bad hand in cards, which is a game and applies to life and it’s like, hey, you just can’t win all the time. It’s learning through those experiences, how to approach life. I think you mentioned resiliency last time. So I mean, there’s a couple things there that I think come out sense of resiliency, being willing to fail, knowing that you’re not going to win every time.
We talk, I imagine our audience, I mean, we know a little bit about our audience. There’s a lot of people that lead people, a lot of people that they’re either people leaders directly or they’re executives or whatever. And what I would say to them is that this whole concept of work as play is not going to work for you. You could take every other piece of advice that we give or ideas that we have or things that we do personally, and you could throw it right in the trash if you’re not going to give your people the freedom to fail because they will not play.
Right. It’ll never feel like play.
They’ll pretend to play. They’ll act like they’re going to play. They’ll tell you they’re going to play, they won’t play.
Right. Or they’ll play only a game that they think they can win, which won’t be fun.
Which is not the game that’s going to help your business win. That’s not the game, especially right now in a recession and what we’re going through. You can’t just be status quo. You can’t just do what’s always worked. You got to be creative. You got to be innovative. Yeah. You got to try new things. And you must, unless you’re just the most brilliant person that ever lived on the face of the earth, you must fail in order to learn, in order to refine, in order to get better at the new thing that you’re doing that maybe no one else has ever done, or no one else that has ever done. Right. You don’t have the information, you don’t have best practices, you don’t know for sure. And if you don’t give your people the freedom to explore that space and to potentially, and I’m not saying they will fail, but give them the freedom to fail. They really can’t win in any sort of way that is significant enough to be satisfying to them and really do anything for you and for your business.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, there’s something there too. I was just thinking about — there’s some roles it seems at companies where it kind of feels like the only thing that could happen to somebody is for them to lose. The way that their work is set up. I feel like I don’t know. I think about people who work in maybe customer service type roles where it’s just like, man, the hammer of the company is just like, well, don’t screw it up. And there’s not, like, unless it’s done with intentionality, it would seem maybe that like, well, there’s not a game even to be played where there is winning because there’s no aim other than don’t screw it up. And that’s not very -
Jordan (12:33):Just don’t make anybody mad. Yeah.
That’s not very fun. It’s not exciting.
Just don’t get any complaints out there. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s just not, but it’s not true. It’s all about what you recognize. So I think about our own Fringe, we think about our own company and how often when we have our Friday afternoon meetings our “what’s going on” meetings, how often do we take, whether it’s something that Sheri did or something that Cynthia did or somebody on our team that’s in customer service that we have, obviously the copy from our conversations that we have with our users and that they just praised some of the people on our CS team that just said, wow, I got great service. I was so pleased that the reaction time was fast. They solved my problem for me. And yeah, you could look at it as a, well, good, all you really accomplished was not screwing up. You could look at it from that standpoint of it’s losing or nothing.
But that’s a win. And one of the things, and we’re not a perfect company and we don’t do everything perfectly, but one of the things that I think that we’ve done well over the course of time is that we’ve taken jobs like that where it’s easy to think of the job — HR is another job in that category — where it’s easy to think of the job as losing or neutral. There is no winning, right? But you can find a way to think to find wins, you know, you can define the wins and then celebrate those wins, right? And that just gives so much meaning to the job.
Well, and I think that comes back to something we’ve talked about that’s been kind of a thread throughout, which I think is what are you aiming for? And so if the company’s aim, say, is purely profit driven, well then the only thing that customer service is going to do is potentially lose you money. Right? Maybe save money. But a lot of companies that have that kind of mindset don’t think of it that way.
Jordan (14:34):Or all HR is going to do is spend money on people and benefits and this, it’s just spending, it’s just a cost center. As people like to refer to it as.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s a very great example. And so if you reframe it where the aim is, say the human experience in those interactions and creating the most positive human experience that you can, well, when you apply that to customer service, now all of a sudden that changes the framework that you are filtering it through or apply that to HR and people teams. Again, it changes the framework and then all the research that people have done on that kind of stuff shows that when you do that within say customer service functions, that actually delivers better results for the business to begin with. And so I think points to the fact that we ought to have a different way of going about thinking about designing for a human experience versus say just a business need or business outcome in and of itself.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think regardless of what the function is in your organization, you’ve got to find a way to point people towards what winning is. I mean, that’s what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about how do you bring elements of play into work. The core element of play is a clear definition of winning. You know, you have to know, we talked about it in the last episode. You have to be able to pull out that instruction manual and flip to how to win section. And it’s the first thing you read is how to win. So you cannot tell anybody in your organization, I don’t care if they’re on your legal team or your finance team or your customer service team or your HR team, and all the places that we see as playing defense. You have to show them. You have to show them what offense looks like.
You have to show them what a win is and define that for them. And sure, playing defense is winning too, right? Preventing things. But we have to celebrate those things. You can’t just go, oh, well, thanks HR, nobody sued us in the last quarter and not mention that. You have to mention that. You have to talk about how whatever it is you’re trying to avoid, whether it’s cybersecurity or whatever the thing is that’s going on in your company, you have to celebrate the not losses and celebrate the wins. And that’s what keeps people motivated. That’s what keeps people interested in feeling like I helped the company, I helped us win. If you don’t connect people to their function actually helps the company achieve its ultimate goal. Right? Then why would they stick around? Why would they take an interest? Why would this be something that would seep into the core of their being and what they think about and what they want to achieve in life? If it’s just a job, if it just do these tasks, get a paycheck, go home. So what? They’re going to be much more interested in the play in their lives, right? Which may be the sports team they follow or whatever, and that’s fine. But if you want them to really be their mind to be set on the work and the company and achieving success together, they’ve got to feel those play elements. They got to feel like they’re winning. Yeah.
Well, I think what’s nice about that, that can kind of exist at all levels of relationship, if you will. So for me as an individual, I can design or gamify my work even. And we talked a little bit in the last episode about flow. I’ve been reading a book by the author who originated, or the psychologist who originated the concept and has done all the research around flow. And he found that even workers in manufacturing plants doing what you might consider to be very mundane and repetitive tasks could actually experience flow. And some of the ways in which they did that is they would gamify their experiences. Somebody you had a job that might have been very mundane and repetitive. There is a particular guy he talked about who he had to replace a particular screw on a piece of equipment that was coming down a manufacturing line, but he just turned it into a game where it was like, well, how fast can I get it this?
And how efficient can I make it? And so on and so forth. And so that little game in and of itself brought some semblance of purpose to the work itself that gave it a little bit more meaning. And that’s really small kind of microcosm. But then you can start to extrapolate that to other things to say, well, at a team level, how are we doing this as a team? What are we agreeing upon together? Is the game that we’re playing to unify the task or the purpose that we’re working towards? And then as a company, and then you could even take that to as a family, as a community, as a society, it kind of works at all levels there.
Yeah, it reminds me of in college, and I come home from college and I used to work for my uncle’s brick company here in Richmond and just worked as a laborer. I didn’t have any particular skills. I didn’t know how to lay brick or stone or block or anything like that, but I could mix mortar and carry bricks, climb a scaffold and whatever. And I remember so many times where the day would start, with just brick layer A and brick layer B, and they’re laying two sides of a wall. But over the course of the day, they’re sitting back, they’re looking and how high that guy’s gotten on the wall versus that guy’s gotten on the wall, you’re sitting there at your lunch break, they’re checking, and now they start talking about it. People start talking about it. By the end of the day, it is a full out competition.
There’s cheering, there’s people taking bets, it’s become a thing. The play gave the mundane work of just lay bricks from the floor to the ceiling became something incredibly fun, right? And you would pick teams, and I might help this guy a little bit more and I’d mix his mortar and make sure it was nice and nice consistency a little bit more than that guy, because I had a bet on this guy, whatever the case may be. And we turn anything into a game if we can help it, because it gives it more meaning, whatever the thing is, it makes it more fun. It’s communal, it brings others into it. There’s cheering involved. It’s just, you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter what the thing is. And I feel like sometimes in this corporate white collar kind of buttoned up weird software company experience is like, we just forget to do that.
We forget to have fun with that. Yeah. We forget to see that the work that we’re doing could be so enhanced by having fun with it and bringing that game element into it. And as leaders, honestly, we just need to do a better job of it. We just need to bring that to the table in an authentic way, not in a just, ah, we’re going to have this cheesy competition because we want to motivate everybody to work, motivate everybody to work harder so that the executives make more money. I feel like that’s kind of the fear. That’s kind of the issue. And that’s the thought that people have is like, ah, another cheesy competition. But if it’s an innate part of your culture that you gamify the work experience and you play and you win together, and sure you compete against each other sometimes, but a lot of times it’s cooperative at the same time.
But it just sort of happens.
Yeah. It just, but if it’s part of your culture, it happens and it’s okay that it happens and it becomes really fun.
Well, and it has to be something that it feels like it has to be something. Anyways, that’s kind of bottom up. Something about the story you shared about the guys laying bricks and stuff like that. Could you imagine that same scenario if the boss in the corporate office came out and was like, Hey, what we’re going to do today is have a bricklaying competition and I’m going to need you guys to work real hard and you’re going to compete.
The eyes roll back immediately.
Just be like, whatever. We’re going to build the shortest walls you’ve ever seen.
But because it just kind of happened organically. I mean, who knows, maybe those guys went home and were like, Hey man, this is the best day of work I had in a years. Who knows, right? So I think that that’s cool. Something else that came to mind as you’re talking about that was the sense of learning, being a part of the experience of play. And so when we’re learning a new game, or even, you know, you talking about the guys laying bricks just brought my dad to mind because he was kind of a blue collar worker, a lineman for a lot of his career after he let the military in. One of the things that always struck me about him and his work was he was always learning something new. He went from just being a guy walking around the street, reading the meters to becoming a lineman and learning all this stuff about how the grid works and repairing transformers and climbing the poles and all that kind of stuff.
And when he’d come over for dinner, we’d ask him, how’s work going? Or whatever. And he’d tell me all kinds of stuff I didn’t understand about how the poles worked and how you need to connect this and that, and why the power went out over there in that neighborhood and all kinds of stuff. And it was just really interesting to him and I think was part of what actually made the work enjoyable was that kind of aspect of learning that comes into it. And I think I find that to be true for myself. I’m most engaged and find things to be most enjoyable when I’m learning, when there’s some, a new experience that’s part of what’s taking place.
I think that’s so true. And when — I noticed when we are in a period of some sort of stress or some sort of imminent thing that we’ve got to achieve or avoid or whatever, we get so much more creative. And that’s what games do. Games create a, not distress, but a certain amount of stress on you to think, how do I win? How do I do this in a certain amount of time?
It drives creativity, problem solving.
Solving. And you learn a lot faster as a result of that because when you’re thinking creatively and you’re thinking in a little bit of a sense of desperation of just like, how do I do this and how do I get it done and quickly and how do I win? Or whatever. You’re not — all that stuff about, I want to keep my head down and not be the tall poppy and not be seen, and not — all that goes out the window. And you’re just thinking more like a kid. You’re thinking more of just like, how do we do it? Let’s get creative. Let’s find a solution, let’s go. As opposed to just like, I don’t know if we do that, then my manager’s going to think this and blah, blah, blah. You know what I mean? It’s just like, there’s a lot more willingness to take risk when there’s a clear picture of what winning is like and what losing is like, and let’s go.
I mean, the thing that’s kind of wild is psychologists that study child development, things like that, play — kids literally cannot thrive if they don’t play. There’s all kinds of bad things that happen to kids if they go through life without having play, playmates, that ability to go through the learning exploration. So I mean, in that research, what they find is it’s actually the learning that takes place. It’s the critical thinking, the problem solving, all those kinds of things. And then for some reason we shift away from that as adults. But seemingly, those experiences still feel good to us to have that challenge, to have that problem solving, to be faced with using some kind of critical thinking. So yeah, it’s just odd to me that as adults, that somehow kind of goes by the wayside.
I think we’re just scared. Yeah, I honestly think that’s what it’s about. It’s just this fear of losing. And I mean, I would love to hear from our listeners on this. I’d love to hear just some, we, we’ve talked philosophically, right, about how to bring play into work, and I think part of what we’ve shared is celebrating the losses, celebrating the people, having the audacity to just try and be creative and go for it. But I think some of the really practical ideas might come from our audience. So I, I’d love it if people would reach out. I think LinkedIn’s probably the best way to do that, assuming that you’ve got an account to just say, Hey, here, here’s a way we play at work. Here’s a way that we’ve taken, we’ve gamified, we had this competition, or we did this different thing to help us think differently, or whatever the case may be.
I think it’d be really interesting to hear about that, and maybe we could bring some of that to bear next time we record an episode. But we are about at time, which snuck up on me again, so I’m going to have to recuse myself from the rest of the half hour here because I totally forgot to use the word until right now. You almost got me on that one. I was lost in the conversation. But Jason, tell us what the word of the day is for next week, and hopefully I won’t get it at the 11th hour as I did this time.
All right, next week we’re going to have immaculate I.
Okay. All right. I feel like I’m going to be able to work that in more naturally than recuse — very legal.
Since I knew you were going to almost forget this one. I just wanted to lay you up with one a little easier.
Just got it all figured out. So this has been how people work. Again, your host, Jordan Peace, Jason Murray. Thank you so much for listening this week and we’ll catch you next week. Bye-bye.