The Power of a Nudge?

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes nudge 1I’ve been working on my talk for the EdTechTeam Calgary Summit featuring Google for Education (#gafesummit) and I’ve had a couple of AHA moments regarding gamification.

  1. I hate feeling like I’m being manipulated – and this seems to be a big part of what “driving behavior” is about in gamification.
  2. I don’t have a problem with badges per se; the issue I have is with badges (or any kind of “reward” really) that represent minutia.

The Power of a Nudge—Part 1: A Stronger Behavior D… – Lithium Community.

On Manipulation:

I know some people say they don’t care – some even like it. Turns out these are probably the extroverts – they are more easily driven through external motivation and introverts are more driven through internal motivation.

Extroverts Brain: Scientists Find Their Processing Of Reward Differs From Introverts

Presumably then, the bulk of the gamification being implemented in business is targeted at extroverts. Apparently about 1 in 4 people are introverts, so this means that these tactics will fail to work for about 25% of the population. If these tactics are used in your business on your own employees, there is even the possibility that you will drive the introverts out. This can be a problem because there is a link between introversion and creativity. Do you really want to distance this group of people?

In a way, manipulation involves providing the appearance of choice without actually providing genuine choice. This gets at the core of the kind of gamification I’ve been doing – my Practical Gamification is really all about providing genuine CHOICE.

On Meaningless Badges:

 I’ve talked about badges before. Like I said above I don’t have a problem with badges per se, my issue is with badges or stickers, or, prizes, ….)  that are given out for minutia. These sorts of badges can actually drive people away. I went to a conference some years ago that had gamified their conference registration / scheduling system. I got badges for the lamest things – like registering. EVERYONE who registered (which was, everyone going to the conference) “won” this badge, so it was meaningless. I felt no sense of accomplishment for most of the badges I had “earned”. Eventually, I ended up avoiding doing things because I didn’t want to get another one of those dumb badges.

Badges are fine if they commemorate something real, but some people are actually turned off (introverts again?) by trifling praise and recognition. Not everyone is interested in showing off their accomplishments. Turns out that what is “normal” for Americans is often not normal for anyone else in the world.

 Choose metaphors carefully.

UHC2-2013-12-10_14-09-38_wmOh, and by the way, most critters would move to the high ground if placed on an uneven surface. I find it amusing that the metaphor meant to illustrate a “nudge” would actually fail – in fact it would have the exact opposite effect. It’s natural and they all do it. When I am trying to pose my rabbits for pictures and they are leaning to one side, I can usually get them to straighten out by gently pushing them in the direction they are already leaning. They will almost always lean into my hand rather than away from it.

If you’re going to use animals to illustrate a point, make sure you actually understand them.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The creative personality. Psychology Today, 29(4), 36-40.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and brain sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83.

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