Mary Poppins was full of crap

Ok, this has been bugging me for years. In Gamification, there are many things you hear again and again. It’s not about games, points are bad, intrinsic motivation is king. There are more, but the one I have an issue is a quote from that most famous of nannies (and most irresponsible in my mind) , Mary Poppins:

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and ‘snap’, the job’s a game.

This is where I cry “Bullshit!”

At the point she is singing this, she is trying to convince the miserable children she is looking after to do some tidying. Rather than creating a game of the chore, she uses magic to make stuff fly around and put themselves away.

Now, if I had magic powers, I could make pretty much any job fun – but it still wouldn’t be a game. I have worked in plenty of jobs that I hated. I don’t use that word lightly either. At least one of them was whilst I was a “Gamification Guru” (yes I dropped the double g on you). Trust me when I say, there was no fun to be found for me in that job – and I recognise the horrific irony there. Seriously, there is little motivation in being told that one of the reasons you are overlooked is because you are obviously unhappy in your job – even if you are nailing it in all other areas!

What she was doing really was distracting the children from the mundane nature of the job at hand, by adding new experiences to it. She was adding fun, not finding it within the job

So more accurately it should be something like:

In every job that must be done, there are things you can do to make it more fun. Add the fun and snap, it’s more bearable.

She even goes on to sing as much with:

A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.

I can hear the cries now though. “Ian, get over her, Andrzej just admitted it is all chocolate covered broccoli”, or “You just were not looking hard enough”.

Gamification is not about making activities fun, in the same way as it is not about creating games out of activities that are not games. Both of these things can be achieved and there is no reason not to strive for them, but the core reason for gamification is to try to improve motivation and engagement using game elements or game-like thinking.

If you can find something in an activity that is fun or engaging, then you should look to make more of that and surface it for others. If you can’t there are only a few options available.

  1. Redesign the activity so that it is more engaging
  2. Add things too the activity that make it more engaging

The first is the most preferable as it has the most chance of long-term success. The second is likely the most practical and ‘easiest’ in the short term.

So, stop trying to find the fun in things that are crap and instead, make them better.

In every unengaging job that must be done, there is an element that can be improved. You find that element and snap, you increase engagement, motivation, overall productivity or happiness.

Yeah, I know it doesn’t rhyme.

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