What Video Games Teach Us About ‘Flow’

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.”

― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In simple terms, ‘flow’ can be defined as the equilibrium between challenge and ability. At work, a task that is much more challenging than a person’s skill level will lead to frustration. And conversely, a task for which a person’s skills and abilities are much higher than needed, will simply lead to boredom and disengagement. In a world burdened with information overload 24×7, it can be a challenge for leaders to inspire their people to attain a ‘flow’ state.  However, it is certainly doable by taking a leaf out of how we interact with video games:

1. Set clear goals: Each ‘player’ should know the expected outcome of their actions and be clear on the end goal as well as the time and resources available to do it. For each larger goal, also create some milestones or ‘waypoints’ as the gaming industry calls them. Help people feel comfortable with their progress towards the overall goals by providing advance information about the waypoints.

2. Hand over control: In a typical role-playing game (RPG), the player is a part of the game and views the world from their own perspective. They make decisions and control how they navigate their surroundings and interact with them. The only direction given to them is to accomplish their goals within a stipulated time, to succeed. In a similar way, leaders need to empower people to be able to see work from their perspective and be accountable for decisions that help them in attaining their goals.

3. Provide consistent and timely feedback: Similar to a wise ‘sage’ figure who appears to guide the main character in times of need, people want feedback ‘in-the-moment’ so that they can improve their performance. Create opportunities to engage in regular dialog and exchange two-way feedback with your people. Follow the maxim of ‘feedback delayed is feedback denied’.

4. Build rewards and recognition: Games keep people engaged by providing opportunities for small rewards that can be collected and redeemed later. These could be in the form of coins for redemption or just shareable badges that can go on to social media. Taking inspiration from this, leaders can create a mix of surprise rewards/recognition as well as rewards declared in advance to engage people.

5. Challenge people: For high achievers, games provide bonus levels or extra levels of difficulty to ensure that players are not bored. The learning from this for leaders is to introduce ‘stretch goals’, which bring extra rewards and recognition and can motivate people to achieve more.

The most engaging thing about games is that they are fun and reward accomplishment. However, some workplaces disrupt flow instead of creating it by restricting access to social media or by complex rules and stringent policies. The key elements of a workplace that supports a flow state is where people feel trusted, operate with autonomy, feel accomplished, and have fun. Is that

something you are up for?

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