Saturday, March 17, 2007

Step on a Crack

"Step on a crack, break your mother's back."

...a productivity game for walking to school.

Few kids walk to school anymore, so this game is probably less popular than it used to be. Just like Ring around the Rosy, there is an unfortunate history behind this one. (you'll have to do your own research)

An interesting observation about this game, in the context of walking to school, is that depending on the size of the kid, or more importantly, the length of their stride, this can either be an aligned game or an incidental game. An aligned game is one where the scoring is aligned with the goal and helps the player be more productive towards that goal. So a smaller child who must lengthen their stride to avoid a crack, this game helps me get to school faster and in fewer strides. If I am a tall kid, I might have to shorten my stride to win the game, and even though the scoring is incidental to my goal of getting to school, it is a fun game to keep me occupied during my trip.

In this case, to tell us about luck – but that assumes the game is not played to win – that it is "unlucky" to step on a crack, and not a deliberate action to avoid the crack.

Depending on how it's played, the "step on a crack" game could be an example of an aligned game or an incidental game. An aligned version of this game would have the sidewalk leading the way to school, and students playing the game on their way to school, increasing the speed or likelihood with which they arrive. An incidental version of the game has the game taking precedence over the route. Students go out of their way to find cracks to step on or avoid – independent of whether or not they are en route to school.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Games to Build Pyramids

One of the greatest testimonies to work and productivity is the ancient pyramids. There are many theories on how these great structures were built -- everything from slave labor to aliens. What motivated the workers to accomplish these tremendous feats?

Former President Jimmy Carter said, "I'm surprised that a government organization could do it that quickly."

The Great Pyramid has approximately 2.3 million stone blocks, weighing an average of 2.3 metric tons each. The estimate is that 35000 workers built these great structures. Originally, the theory was that it was slave labor, but archeologists now think it was a predominantly volunteer effort - farmers, masons, carpenters, masons and metalworkers – all contributing for the sake of national pride.

So the question relevant here, is, how did these people stay motivated? Did they use productivity games?

The answer is yes. (Otherwise, I wouldn't be writing this J)

Workers were organized into teams or "phyles" (tribes) - "Friends of Khufu" and "Drunkards of Menkaure", left and right, green and red, and the evidence seems to indicate that these teams competed with one another to improve productivity. Stones were tagged with color to indicate the team.


The workers were organized into competing teams," he explains, "which may have helped them psychologically. You know, 'Let's see whose team can do this job faster.'"The workers were organized into competing teams," he explains, "which may have helped them psychologically. You know, 'Let's see whose team can do this job faster.'"



So the phyles then are subdivided into divisions. And the divisions are identified by single hieroglyphs with names that mean things like endurance, perfection, strong. OK, so how do we know this -- you come to a block of stone in the relieving chambers above the Great Pyramid. And first of all you see this cartouche of a King and then some scrawls all in red paint after it. That's the gang name. And in the Old Kingdom in the time of the Pyramids of Giza, the gangs were named after kings. So for example, we have a name, compounded with the name of Menkaure, and it seems to translate 'the drunks or the drunkards of Menkaure.' There's one that's well attested, actually in the relieving chambers above the Great Pyramid, the Friends of Khufu gang, the Drunks of Menkaura gang, and then you have the green phyles and then the powerful ones. None of this sounds like slavery, does it?

And in fact it gets more intriguing. Because in certain monuments you find the name of one gang on one side of the monument and another gang, we assume competing on the other side of the monument. You find that to some extent in the temple, the Pyramid temple of Menkaure. It's as though these gangs are competing. So from this evidence we deduce that there was a labor force that was assigned to respective crew gang phyles and divisions.



Sunday, March 11, 2007

NCAA Productivity Games

Tonight marks the release of the 2007 NCAA Tournament Men's College BB field of 64 (women's is to be released tomorrow), prefaced by a host of articles on the lost productivity brought on by office pools.

Seattle Denver Philadelphia Fort Wayne Longmont

According to some studies, 23% of companies have office pools, and the cost of lost productivity is over a billion dollars. Several articles suggest that employers are happy with the "morale benefits", saying that it builds camaraderie and fosters closer relationships between staff members.

Perhaps the answer is to integrate the everyday tasks of "real work" into the fantasy of the office pool. According to one survey, employees spend over 13 mins a day checking scores.

Why not openly post results, but attach metrics and measures related to real work to the results of the pool?

For example, an insurance company might hold a contest to allow claims processors to fill out one bracket per 10 claim forms processed. Highway patrol gets a final four pick for every 5 speeding tickets written J School bus drivers get an entry for every kid delivered safely to and from school.

The point of productivity games is to align the game with the goals of the organization, and if people are spending their work time checking NCAA results, then integrate that behavior into the task at hand.

This provides a brief opportunity to explain the difference between aligned games and incidental games.


Productivity games that are played while pursuing the goals of the task are called "Aligned" games. An example of an aligned game for a janitor might be to see how many garbage cans can be emptied in an hour. NCAA tournament picks that are awarded as a result of doing a task in line with company goals might be "aligned" games.


Incidental games are played during the course of work and do not contribute or directly affect the outcome or accomplishment of the task. Incidental games probably will help improve morale, keep people from straying too far off task, and may foster community. However, they do not directly relate to the goals of the job. An example might be a hotel maid who lines up pillows in certain patterns from room to room, or a truck driver who waves to Volvo wagons for the fun of it. These incidental games keep people thinking and minds working, but do not necessarily improve output. NCAA tournament watching - as it is today - is a great example of an incidental game.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

What are Productivity Games?

Productivity games, as a sub-category of Serious Games, are games and competition used to make real work happen.

Examples include McDonald's Billions Served, # days accident free signs on a construction site, etc.

There are three components of productivity

  • Effectiveness. the ability to produce a desired result
  • Efficiency. more useful output per unit of input – less waste
  • Reliability. the ability to repeat a task with the same result or goal

Each can all be addressed and influenced by game play and competition.

These games don't have to be based on a fancy UI or dramatic game design.

A simple game of H_O_R_S_E among dock workers lifting boxes - get a letter for losing a "unload-the-truck" competition - can provide a boost in morale and productivity.