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When games go wrong

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When games go wrong

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The past few years have seen a massive jump in the amount of work going into intrinsic motivation.  The theory is that financial carrots and sticks do little to encourage the higher parts of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, therefore we need more fulfilling things in order to drive us to do wonderful work.

Gamification fits into this field nicely by giving us both feedback and recognition regarding our performance.  Except it doesn’t always work out as intended.  Some research from the University of Washington earlier this year highlighted some of the adverse affects of gamification.

They found that employees often resort to gaming the system (or at least trying to), whilst people who had achieved strong performance before the scheme was introduced suffered a 6-8% reduction in performance afterwards.  The suggestion is that they were demotivated by the presence of an award scheme to promote behaviour they already exhibited.

The researchers believe that the award program actually ended up decreasing productivity by 1.4% rather than improving it.

FieldsThe findings were replicated by George Borjas and Kirk Doran in their study into the impact of the Fields Medal on productivity.  They found that mathematicians who win the prize before their 40th birthday publish fewer papers after the award than before it, by an average of 1 paper per year.

The researchers suggest that approximately half of the productivity fall is due to resting on ones laurels after receiving the award, with the other half being accounted for by branching out into new areas, which inevitably requires time to learn.

It should be said of course, that this is not always the case.  When economists win the Clark award, research has shown that their productivity rises after receipt of the prize.

This finding may provide the key to success, because the Clark award is widely seen as a precursor to a Nobel Prize, therefore there remains plenty of motivation for the individual to continue their strong work in the hope of winning an even more prestigious award.

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