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gamified design thinking and sprinting for gamification

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 13 minutes

7 steps to improving your life through gamification sprinting

In the previous part of this two-part article, 4 points on how to improve your life with gamification, we looked at four aspects of gamified design thinking that could be incorporated into your daily life. These four elements are the starting point for getting you to consider how to approach aspects in your life that you wish to improve. In this piece, we will look at a design sprint process that you could use to perform the changes you wish to achieve.

As stated previously, the intent of the article is not to promote a catch-all gamification solution that solves every problem under the sun, but rather to illustrate another methodology that could be useful. It will require effort to make it work, but then again if it were easy, then everyone would do it. Hopefully though, the seven steps of a prototyping sprint outlined in this piece, along with the four points in the previous article, you will have a starter framework for enacting changes you desire in your life.

The sprint methodology that I’ve based this piece upon is the Google Design Sprint and the gamification variation created by Marigo Raftopoulos at Strategic Innovation Labs. As such, the combination gives us seven steps to work through to achieve the desired outcomes and changes that we wish for. For ease and understanding, I’ve kept the terminology the same:

  1. Objectives
  2. Brainstorm
  3. Research
  4. Problem Solving
  5. Platform
  6. Design
  7. Prototype

For this piece, we will simply be going through the basic principles of each step in a design sprint, but I do encourage you to have a deeper look into the methodology if it interests you.

1. Objectives

If you went through the previous article, you will likely have given some thought around goals and how to break them down into manageable chunks and milestones. Within a design sprint, the first step you must take is to determine the objectives that you wish to achieve by the end of the process.

Using the nomenclature of the sprint methodology, during this step you will determine and understand the project’s objectives, as well as the ethics and values inherent to working towards and achieving those objectives. This may be a little extreme if you are simply wishing to improve your fitness or learn a new skill like a language. Though for larger changes, such as lifestyle or career changes, it may require a deeper look at what your needs, wants and values are about the changes you desire.

Therefore, with the knowledge from the previous piece, determine your main objective(s) and start to understand and break it down into smaller parts. Let’s take the example of wanting to change your career, as this is often on many people’s minds.

The main objective then is to leave your current career, role, job and move to a new one, this could be in the same company, a new company or as a freelancer, outside contractor. How do we break this down into smaller parts? One method of doing this by coming up with certain questions to ask to help us break down the individual parts:

  1. Do I want to remain in the same company?
  2. If I want to go to another company, will it be in the same sector/industry?
  3. What sector/industry do I enjoy working in if I were to change?
  4. What type of culture do I enjoy working in?
  5. Do I enjoy working in teams or doing solo projects?
  6. Am I comfortable leading teams or being a part of the team?
  7. Am I a self-starter or do I need a deadline to motivate me?
  8. Do I want to be my own boss?
  9. What are my primary, secondary and tertiary skills, and at what level of competency are they?
  10. What kind of work do I not want to do?
  11. Who in my network is worth approaching?

…And so on. There are of course many more questions you can ask yourself, and you can probably get the gist of what they would be from the eleven example’s I’ve given above. Each of these questions will help you break down your main objective(s) into individual parts. You do not need to expand upon them just yet, as the next step will be focused purely on that.

I would recommend, at least initially, to spend between 15 and 30 minutes on determining the various parts of the main objective. Set your self this time challenge as it will help you to direct your thinking, you can always come back later to change aspects, but at least you will have something written down. Rather spending hours daydreaming and not getting very far.


2. Brainstorm

With the next step you will take the objectives and goals you decided on in the previous step and now determine and outline the motivations behind them, the methods needed and the outcomes of each of them in line with the primary objective, which in this case was changing careers.

In essence, you are now looking at the goals you’ve created for yourself, all of them, and establishing what your motivations and desires are behind each one. You will need to think about what you will need to do to execute and achieve one, as in what actions are required by you, and what the outcomes will be of doing those actions to achieve the goals.

A good brainstorming method and this works for teams as well if you want to use it for that, is to choose a leader or facilitator, as it’s only you, this is quite easy. Grab yourself a notepad or some sticky-notes and set yourself an amount of time; I suggest 10 to 15 minutes for this step. And in that time start writing down as many ideas as you can on how to achieve your main objective. The previous step of breaking it down into smaller parts will help you here, as the answers to those questions will support you in determining what you need to do.

Once the 15 minutes have gone by, spend at least 60 seconds in picking the 5 to 10 best sticky-notes you’ve written. Don’t pick more than 10 and try to pick at least 5. Next, find an empty space somewhere and stick those sticky-notes on it so that you have an overview of what you’ve chosen. If you are doing this in a team, then you will have a lot more than just 5 or 10 notes, and you will likely need to use a voting method to determine which notes are the most desirable for the group. This can be done with stickers, giving each person a set of seven or eight stickers to vote with. One method is to allow individuals to place more than one sticker on a note if they like the idea.

But as you are likely alone when doing this, pick the 5 to 10 and then spend a few minutes (10 is a good amount) prioritising the sticky-notes in terms of enjoyment, challenge, ease/difficulty and efficacy. Try to order them in a hierarchal priority structure, as illustrated below:

sticky notes

Having this structure will also aid you in shaping how your path to your career change will likely look.

3. Research

The design sprint descriptive terminology for this step is to determine the who’s, the requirements and the consequences of your choices. As you’ve chosen your top 5 to 10 notes, you will need to research how you can and will want to achieve your goals through the actions that you have listed.

This will include figuring out what you will need to do, who you will need to aid and/or support you, what you will need to achieve it all and by when. This will require a fair amount of self-reflection and if you can, discuss your thoughts with friends, family, significant others, partners, co-workers, etc… As they will be able to give you insights on your blind spots. Even if it feels uncomfortable, I do recommend doing this, as the insights will always help you shape your perspectives in ways you wouldn’t expect.

The purpose of these exercises is to place or write down all the thoughts and methods that relate to what you have done so far and wish to do. For example, if one of the sub-objectives to changing your career was figuring out how best to leverage your network, then you need to audit your network. Whatever system you are using, LinkedIn or Xing, you will want to research each person and find who is relevant to you for the change you have chosen to pursue. From there you can determine the requirements of who is more pertinent than others and what actions you will need to take to approach them and what the outcomes will likely be from that. And how to prepare for it. A useful piece could be on how to gamify networking.

The actual execution of all of this planning will truly happen with the next step though.


4. Problem-solving

The problem-solving step is where you will create and decide on the method, or ‘design’ that will help you solve the problem of your main objective; wanting to change careers.

As this is the meat of the entire process, you will now be using everything you’ve defined in steps 1 through 3 to develop your plan, roadmap, strategy, etc… for achieving your main objective. And as obvious as it may sound, do this by actually writing it down and in full. If you are a visual person and artistically inclined then start sketching out a rough roadmap. Draw and/or write out a very, very basic path of how the actions and incremental goals flow into each other from the work you’ve down in breaking down the primary objective and the brainstorming and research around it all.

The unfortunate reality of this part is that you will need to put in the hard work of figuring out the best method of how your journey will work. What I would suggest is using the Pomodoro technique of working on your plan for 25 minutes and then taking a break and then rinse repeat for four more times. Once you’ve done that, take a much longer break or end for the day depending on your mental stamina. Review what you’ve done so far, does it make sense to you of how you go from here to where you want to go with the research you’ve done? Don’t worry if it doesn’t or it’s not perfect at the moment, just leave it then, come back tomorrow with a fresh and rested mind. Go do something else and let the work you’ve done so far percolate in the back of your head.

Your aim here is only to have a very crude outline of your proposed journey. The refinement of it all will come in step 6 when you start designing it properly.

As this is also a gamification effort, while you are developing your path, you may want to make it more fun and engaging, as those were also some of the criteria for choosing and prioritising the sticky-notes. As you develop your path for your career change, think about what kind of gameplay would work well for you, what mechanics and elements need to be in place to motivate you the most and keep you focused on the prize. If you need some inspiration then our GBLE Toolkit page can help you with this.


5. Platform

This is not necessary for everyone, but if you are skilled in a programming language, UX design, graphic design, Excel, or some other discipline that allows you to make something then, by all means, do use it. If what you can create can aid you in some way to achieve your goals, then you should surely use every opportunity at your disposal.

I will say though that you should be careful when creating something elaborate that for example tracks your progress, what you do not want or need is a tangential project that distracts you and takes you away from achieving what you want. The best scenario is that what you create will allow you to change your career and can be used as a portfolio piece to showcase your skills and abilities.

And if you do create something, keep it very simple, always imagine it as the paper prototype version, it doesn’t need to be flashy or perfect for it to be effective for you.

6. Design

For the design step, I do recommend that you do it visually, even if you are not artistically inclined, as having a visual representation of how and what you want to achieve can be a very powerful motivator for you.

As you’ve already written down or sketched out your path and had a think about gameplay and game mechanics, now actually design and draw out the journey in full, create a collage, a mood board, storyboard or whatever helps you to fully design the experience as it were. Refer back to the GBLE Toolkit page if you need to in this step.

An example of how the outline of your design for your career change path could look something like this:

design outline

Obviously, this is a very superficial outline in terms of what the content could be if you were to do this yourself.

7. Prototype

Finally, step 7, is where you will implement what you have been doing up to this point. Taking your design from the previous step you will use it and test it. But remember to not be precious about what you have designed, what you’ve made so far will not be perfect, and it likely never will be. And that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure it’s as good as you can get it to be.

It is worth remembering this all, as the goal of the ‘prototype’ step is for you to have something flexible and dispensable. You want something that you can change as you need to, to achieve what you want with it. Keep checking back to what you wrote down as your strategy, path, storyboard, collage, etc… to make sure it’s holding true to your main objective(s). And as you use the prototype, just keep a notebook for yourself, check your progress and alter what’s needed to keep your motivation on par and accomplish your overall goal.

The two main points you will need to keep in mind during this step and in the overall process are:

  • Be ready to throw away initial attempts
  • Fail, fail a lot, fail quicker and fail better

Doing these and keeping these points in mind will lead to learning more and learning faster, and hopefully, allow you to achieve your goals. A great illustration of how this thinking can work is with the example of 2 groups making chairs, 1 group spends all year making 1 chair, but the best possible. The other groups spend all year making as many chairs as possible. The second group eventually has a better chair at the end than the first group with only 1 ‘perfect’ chair.


Final Thoughts

It is worth remembering that this is an overview of the process and at some points, it may feel like greater depth could have been given. But the depth you are looking for is the work that you will need to put into developing your path and gamified experience. The purpose of this article and the previous one is to give you a new point of view of how you could go about bringing in changes that can improve your life. In the end, you will need to take the step forward and choose which method works best for you, whether it’s these or another.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts to hopefully help you on your way to finding the changes you wish for:

  • All things are temporary – use the experiences of past events and knowledge to move forward smarter.
  • Be ruthless – remain attached for as long as it is useful and discard anything that no longer servers as learning or allows you to move forward.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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