What Leaders Can Learn From Game Design

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What Leaders Can Learn From Game Design

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I first thought that my game design background and using brain science to thrive at work had little to do with each other. Wow, was I wrong! It turns out leaders have a lot to learn from game designers.

When I left my career in game development to found Happy Brain Science so I could spread the science of happiness, I figured I was leaving my game development background behind. But one of our newsletter subscribers along the way recommended I read the book Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound by Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan. Whoever you were (maybe someone in a class at Blizzard Entertainment?), thank you!

Glued to Games connected my worlds, and it can connect your worlds, too, if you’ve ever enjoyed a game and you work with others. Rigby and Ryan lay out a compelling, data-driven case that games are so compelling for so many of us because they do a great job of satisfying core human needs: autonomy, mastery, and relatedness.

Recommended training from HRDQ-U

Gamifying Your Leadership: Boost Employee Engagement, Productivity and Your Bottom Line

The Power of Autonomy

Autonomy at first seems straightforward: don’t micro-manage people and provide choices. But the research suggests delivering autonomy – at work or in a game – is more complex.

First of all, not all choices are created equally. Research suggests that, in some situations, the more choices you provide someone, the less happy they are with the choices they make. (For scientific sources, please see “Choose From Three” in this list of scientific sources for Choose Happiness at Work.) So, limiting the choices you provide may result in more happiness for the chooser; you might give the people you work with three, two, or even just one option.

You might be thinking, “Wait, one option doesn’t deliver autonomy!” But the research behind autonomy suggests you don’t actually have to provide choices to have autonomy. If you want to be doing what you are doing, you have autonomy even if you have no choice. This makes getting buy-in crucial, whether in the office or a game. By explaining the why behind our request, we can deliver our colleagues autonomy even if they have no choice about whether to comply. As Italian diplomat Daniel Vare said, “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.”

Learn More

To learn more about mastery and relatedness, how game designers deliver those, and how you can, too, please stay tuned. Or play Choose Happiness at Work to experience mastery and relatedness while learning about both.

As always, we would love to hear from you! Do you get enough autonomy at work? What happens to your motivation when you get it or you don’t? How do you deliver autonomy to your colleagues at work? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment on this post, our blog, Facebook page, or by tweeting to @ScottCrab.

Headshot of Scott Crabtree
Scott Crabtree

Scott Crabtree is the founder and chief happiness officer at Happy Brain Science. Scott believes we all have the potential to thrive at work. He empowers individuals and organizations to apply cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology to boost their moods and their brains on the job. He is also the creator of Choose Happiness at Work, which engages adult learners in a unique and powerful way. It is a powerful tool that engages learning, application, humor, and team building in a fun, facilitative experience and it teaches science-based tools in a way that allows people to safely raise and discuss issues, build trust, and boost engagement.

Scott’s recent clients include Microsoft, Activision, HP, DreamWorks Animation, Intel, Boeing, and Nike. His insights have been quoted in US News and World Report, Fast Company, Inc., InfoWorld, Fortune, and VentureBeat among other publications.

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.

Recommended Training from HRDQ-U
Gamifying Your Leadership: Boost Employee Engagement, Productivity and Your Bottom Line

Employee engagement is just like a great video game with Autonomy, Relatedness, Mastery, and Surprise: Learn how to add elements of games in business.

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