Tulips, Truffles, Diamonds, and Speakeasies: How to Get Scarcity Right (and How to Get it Wrong)


This article was written by contributing writer Erik van Mechelen

Scarcity Done Right (and Wrong)

What do tulips, Truffles, Diamonds, and Speakeasies have in common? To me, they all involve scarcity (or have in the past, in the case of tulips).

We know Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience is a Left Brain Black Hat motivator. Too much of it in a design can lead to burn out.

But at the right quantities, it can help drive desired behavior. Yu-kai has talked about how he used scarcity for productivity on his book and we’ve written about why year-end goals are more interesting than New Year’s resolutions. These examples emphasized how scarcity and impatience could amplify an experience and lead to Desired Actions and Win-States.

Scarcity is good IF you get a payoff.

Sometimes, I wonder if scarcity can change its face and blink into the White Hat region. I want to be considered the best fantasy writer in the decade from 2020 to 2030. There can only be one best writer, so this position is scarce indeed. However, in Octalysis, this is positioned more so under Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment than in scarcity. However, like my mom used to tell me when girlfriends would dump me: “Sometimes it’s what you can’t have that drives you, Erik.” This dual feeling of knowing it’s really unlikely to happen but believing I can get there, to me, blends scarcity with accomplishment.

What if someone knows scarcity is a thing and doesn’t like that you use it? What response might they have?

Continue reading Tulips, Truffles, Diamonds, and Speakeasies: How to Get Scarcity Right (and How to Get it Wrong)

How to Implement Gamification at Work, Part 3/4: Scaffolding, Building Toward the Endgame

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen based on the ideas of Yu-kai Chou

Scaffolding workplace gamification

We recently asked you why you were part of the Octalysis Explorers Facebook group or joined the Kickstarter for Octalysis Prime. The largest segment of responses fell into this category:

I want to implement gamification in my workplace.

Maybe this is even a goal for you in 2017.

This is part 3 of a 4-part series (here is Part 1: Getting Buy-in from your Boss and here is Part 2: How to Onboard and 7 Things to Avoid When Implementing Gamificiation at Work).

Please note: I will reference the 8 Core Drives throughout this post: 

Continue reading How to Implement Gamification at Work, Part 3/4: Scaffolding, Building Toward the Endgame

How Zappos’s Culture Uses White Hat and Intrinsic Motivation


This article was written by contributing writer Erik van Mechelen.

Using White Hat and Intrinsic Core Drives in Company Culture

In November 1998 Tony Hsieh sold his company to Microsoft because it had a losing culture. What seemed like a success actually wasn’t one in his view.

What started as an exciting sleeping-under-your-desk startup in 1996 quickly grew to a 100-person company with a culture that had taken a turn for the worse. He even dreaded waking up in the morning and wondered if his employees thought the same.

Bad culture was Hsieh’s explanation for selling.

“We hired all the right people with the right skills and experience, but they weren’t culture fits.”

Tony Hsieh took what he learned at LinkExchange and approached Zappos differently. While other companies talk about work-life balance, Tony Hsieh focuses much more on work-life integration.

“With Zappos we wanted to make sure we didn’t make that same mistake again…so pretty much from the beginning paid attention to company culture.”

We know from Octalysis that the White Hat Core Drives are important for long-term engagement in work settings. Traditional hierarchical structures tend to layer bureaucracy and slow decision-making, removing creativity and meaningful choices from employees who might otherwise make great contributions.

In these settings, situations can develop where employees are motivated by loss and avoidance, scarcity, and money.

Smaller companies usually have the upper hand, more naturally fulfilling epic meaning, creativity and empowerment, and collaboration.

Hsieh understood the difficulties of larger companies, as evidence by a few of Zappos’s core values, which included:

  • embrace and drive change
  • adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  • do more with less

Tony Hsieh Gets Rid of Managers

This was the headline in 2013 when Hsieh rolled out his flat management structure. But Holocracy is a little different than removing management from a command and control system. Managers were out, but there were still lead links and circles and structure.

When Hsieh started to explain the how behind the system, people were forced to look more closely at how Holacracy, the patented model he’s using, actually works.

It turns out Holacracy is a little different than removing management from a command and control system.


This is from Holocracy.org (the system Tony Hsieh is using).

Holacracy is a complete, packaged system for self-management in organizations. Holacracy replaces the traditional management hierarchy with a new peer-to-peer “operating system” that increases transparency, accountability, and organizational agility.

This is easy to understand. Holocracy provides an alternative to command and control systems. Lead links still ensure progress within ‘circles’, essentially productivity units.

Through a transparent rule set and a tested meeting process, Holacracy allows businesses to distribute authority, empowering all employees to take a leadership role and make meaningful decisions.

This appeals to CD5 Social Influence & Relatedness by giving all employees leadership roles, CD4 Ownership & Development by increasing each individual employee’s authority, and CD3 Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback by increasing meaningful choices.

A lot of people got excited about it, even Ev Williams of Twitter, who tried it with his newer company, Medium, in the early days.

“In Holacracy, one of the principles is to make the implicit explicit — tons of it is about creating clarity: who is in charge of what, who is taking what kind of decision — and there is also a system for defining that, and changing that, so it’s very flexible at the same time.”

The model didn’t work for Ev’s Medium, but Tony Hsieh hasn’t given up on the model that easily.

The Case for Holocracy at Zappos

Tony is confident that despite growing pains the model has enough benefits to play out favorably in the long run. If cities get more efficient as population levels increase, why don’t companies?

Perhaps this quote best explains Tony’s confidence:

“There is a quote that is often attributed to Darwin (whether Darwin actually said it is up for debate, but I believe the general principle to be true): ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ I believe the same is true for companies, and especially for entrepreneurs.”

Tony wants the type of people that are culture fits, and culture fits within Holocracy, to be with Zappos for the long term.

How Zappos is Using Holocracy (and a Timeline)

In 2013, Tony Hsieh decided to implement Holacracy with a pilot program.

Then he decided to implement across the organization, but the company missed its goal of integration by Jan 2015.

Hsieh later regretted not moving more quickly with the decision to roll this out to the entire company. He ended up making employees ‘the Offer’ to either stay or take a severance package in late 2015. About 18% of employees (260 people) took the deal, while 82% stayed. Hsieh mentioned he thought more would leave.

This decision was interesting. In Hsieh’s view, the transition to Holacracy had already taken too long. This ultimatum was a CD8 technique. Some employees did end up taking the severance package and leaving.

A Mirror of Hsieh’s Personal Leadership Style

For me, Hsieh’s decision to implement the Holacracy experiment for the whole company is in line with his motivations to try new things (and echoes his city planning and development ambitions for the northern section of Las Vegas).

It also seems to mimic his own preferred management and leadership style, which is hands-off and empowering of his team.

What’s interesting is how against the grain the empowerment and authority structures seem.

On one hand, the model seems to empower employees and let them develop outside of their conventional skill sets. (A lot of the people who left would have lost their titles or worked on something completely different to their work at the time.)

On the other hand, while the model suggests added flexibility and agility, there are still inherent structures through the Lead Links and Circle system. It will be interesting to see if Zappos’s quirkiness and fun (from its 10 core values) meshes with the new system, even after three years.

A quick look at the Zappos culture site demonstrates the rigor preparing for such a model as Holacracy takes. It’s something different, and it just might be a powerful way to empower employees in the long term.

Whether it succeeds or fails will make critics reconsider or add fuel to the arguments against the model.

What models do you prefer in management and company structure? What is your startup using? I’ll see you in the comments.


[Infograph] Creating engaging photos on Facebook

Engaging Photos on Facebook

[Infograph] Creating engaging photos on Facebook

Many businesses turn to Facebook as a means to attract attention to their products or services. What many people don’t realize is that they are more than likely making one very common mistake that is actually a detriment to these very goals.

Keeping in mind that people are drawn to visually pleasing images, the one thing that will make people click away from (or not click at all!) your page is posting images (or links, videos, etc.) that are blurry or grainy. Perhaps you think that since you invested in a high quality camera, your images should be more than sufficient. More than likely, however, you are making this very common mistake: you images are not correctly sized.

Indeed, if you ignore Facebook’s recommended dimensions when posting images, links or videos, your content may be pixelated or cut off. Here is how to avoid these pitfalls.

Facebook Profile and Cover Photos

Let’s start with the Facebook profile photo and cover photo, since these are arguably the bread and butter of Facebook. Facebook photos should be sized at 180x180px while cover photos should be 828x315px. What about images, links or videos, you ask? Indeed, these have their own set of recommended dimensions, which should be 1200x630px, 1200x627px and 1200x675px respectively.

Other Dimensions on Facebook

The dimensions for posts and ad dimensions will differ yet again depending upon the nature of the content. Images should be 1200x900px while links and videos should be 1200x628px and 1200x675px respectively.

Ensure that your text is not over 20% and that your videos do not exceed 4 GB. Thumbnails also differ in size. For page post images and links, thumbnails should be 254x133px. Thumbnails for page post videos should be 254x143px. Lastly, there is a set of dimensions that govern page post events or page post like ads. Events should be 1200x44px while event responses should be 1920x1080px.

Synergetic Motivations: How to Drive Desired Actions Using Combos of Game Techniques

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen with content provided by Yu-kai Chou. 

Synergetic Motivation

This article is for experienced designers already familiar with Beginner Octalysis and some Intermediate Octalysis who are looking to up their game on designing experiences. We are making the jump from identifying the 8 Core Drives of motivation to using them to build experiences. 

‘Synergy’ always makes me think of business school applications (I’ve helped a few friends edit theirs). But it is a real thing.

Google defines synergy like this:

The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

For Octalysis, synergetic motivation simply means any time multiple motivations–any of the 8 Core Drives–are at work at the same time.

As you build your own projects and products, or dissect what isn’t working on the same, we will want to pay attention to potential for synergies and drawbacks of them, like situations where our Player might have multiple motivations but we’re only catering to one of them in the design and thus failing to reach the Desired Action.

As always, we’ll use the 8 Core Drives in this analysis.

Continue reading Synergetic Motivations: How to Drive Desired Actions Using Combos of Game Techniques