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Author's profile photo Janaki Kumar

Gamification: The Power to Transform Work

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on gamification.]

Recently I was asked to do a TEDx talk on the power of gamification to transform work. This topic is near to my heart. Last year my colleague, Mario Herger, and I co-wrote a book called Gamification at Work.


On the TED stage, I talked about my experiences growing up in Chennai, South India, where kids created playful “Tanglish” words by merging our native language, Tamil, with English. Our favorite English suffix was “fy,” which we could add to Tanglify any verb. So, a few years ago when I first heard the term “gamify,” it reminded me of my childhood.

Gamification is not the same as game design. It is about carefully selecting the elements that people love about games – things like challenge, connection, competition and feedback – and introducing them in a non-game environment. The underlying goal is to solve a problem or engage an audience. You can use gamification to inspire people to change their behavior through positive reinforcement.

Everyday life relies so heavily on the punitive angles. Do something wrong, suffer the consequences. If you drive too fast, you get a speeding ticket (or worse). But that’s not the only way to motivate people.

In Sweden, for example, the police tested a program that rewarded drivers operating under the speed limit. For their good behavior, safe drivers were entered into a lottery to win a portion of the money paid in fines by speeders. The carrot, rather than the stick.  

Of course, knowing something is good for us and actually doing it are two different things. Gamification techniques seek to motivate people to do what they otherwise might not. Fitness bands – popular to the point of obsession with some people – give us feedback in a fun way on how we’re doing toward exercise goals. You can set a positive goal and compete against yourself to meet it (and then set a new goal). It’s healthy and fun – a virtuous circle. 


Gamification in the workplace uses similar techniques to reward and incentivize employees, combining work and play in interesting ways. The pairing is a better fit than you might think. In part two, I’ll share a few ways we use gamification to boost engagement – a critical factor as we transition to the conceptual age.

Learn more by watching my TedX talk on gamification or by listening to a recent SAP Radio show, Game-On with Gamification!

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