Competitive gamification is certainly becoming a hot, new business theme in modern corporate development these days. It has been demonstrated to be effective in sales, where game mechanics based on competitive models are used to promote a “competitive interest” in engaging customers and closing deals. Now management is exploring other business functions which might benefit from competitive gamification mechanics and techniques.
But competition may not be effective, or even desirable in the enterprise setting. Why? Because it tends to create an unhealthy environment where employees put self interests above corporate and even customer interests. Instead of working towards a win for the company, a win for the customer, the individual just focuses on beating the internal competition – his colleagues and fellow employees. (To win the brass ring; that cash award or trip to Cancun.)
Gartner has predicted that 80% of the current enterprise initiatives in gamification will fail by 2014, primarily due to do poor design. Melissa Visintin further expands on this by stating that companies are trying to force game mechanics based on competition instead of understanding each situation and properly designing solutions based on the most appropriate mechanisms. It is not enough to simply throw together competitive game elements and expect the result to be effective.
What Exactly Is Gamified Competition?
A Working Definition of Competition
Mario Herger from Enterprise-Gamification.com explored the nature of competition from a number of perspectives. Drawing from Wikipedia, he has defined it in terms of ecology and sociology as:
“a contest between individuals and entities for territory, a niche, or a location of resources, for resources and goods, for prestige, recognition, awards, mates, or group or social status, for leadership.”
Notice the emphasis on the individual (or entity), and the need to “contend” or “contest” for something; implying that there will be a winner, as well as a loser. Maybe many losers.
In the enterprise this implies that we will have people competing with other people within the company. OK, that seems reasonable. But Mario Herger points out that this is contrary to the essential meaning of the corporation; yes, the very nature of an enterprise. For corporations are formed to bring people together and pool their different strengths in a collaborative setting. The fundamental design of an effective corporation taps the talents of its constituents to build something greater than the component parts. And yes, even more competitive in the external environment – the marketplace, where it faces the challenges brought forth by the other companies.
So now, do we want to introduce an anti-collaborative element – competition among the internal players, and potentially reduce their effectiveness as corporate team members? Possibly for customer engagement, but only after thoughtful analysis indicates that the benefits outweigh the risks, and possible long term detriment to the employees and ultimately the enterprise.
In general, adding the additional stress of competition to the challenges that employees face on a daily basis, will only result in a deteriorating situation with increased probability of burnout and uneven performance. Employees will become more motivated – to look for new opportunities elsewhere.
The Different Types of Competition
One perspective that we can view competition from is that of whether it can be deemed as healthy versus unhealthy. Mario Herger distinguishes between a “good” adaptive competitiveness and a “bad” maladaptive competitiveness by a set of specific characteristics.
Adaptive competitiveness has the following characteristics:
- Perseverance and determination to rise to the challenge, but bound by an abiding respect for the rules.
- The ability to feel genuine satisfaction at having put in a worthy effort, even if you lose.
- The fact that you don’t have to be best at everything, just in the domain you train for.
- Being able to deter or discourage gratification.
- Being marked by constant desire to strive for excellence, but not for the desperate concerns of rank.
Maladaptive competitiveness in contrast, is characterized by:
- Psychological insecurity and displaced urges.
- A person who cannot accept the losing part of competition.
- One who competes when others around are not competing.
- A person who has to be best at everything.
- One who doesn’t stop when the whistle blows.
- An individual who drags others into competition.
- One who will resort to cheating when he/she can’t win.
How Winners and Losers React
Now that we see that competition can be thought of in terms of adaptive and maladaptive forms, how do we view the players in these competitions? What are the common reactions that “players” have? Herger cites two Hungarian researchers – Martá Fülöp and Mihaly Berkics. They found that there are four common reactions for winners and losers.
Winners typically can either show:
- Joy, expressed through gleeful enthusiasm.
- Satisfaction with ones own competence.
- Denial of the win as way of social cautiousness. Those players would feel guilty and fearful of the losers’ reactions, like retaliation, so winners would mask their inner joy and not express it openly.
- Narcissistic self-enhancement, where the winners would feel a malicious superiority over the losers.
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