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Behavioural Design Digest
January 21th, 2019

Dear reader,  

Work always felt to me like a game. It’s a game full of achievements and challenges. It’s about unlocking new levels after mastering a previous level. 
It’s also often as frustrating as playing a well-designed game, like when you're being stuck on a tricky level. 

Even when the game is not unfolding like I want it to - which is actually the default when you're building a company - I never seem to get bored by playing the game. I think my partner Astrid feels the same about it. Whatever the reasons, I do feel it’s a mindset we have deliberately chosen for. And once we “tricked” our brain to look at work from this game-frame, we discovered that it changed the way we relate to it. There’s now much more playfulness in how we approach things than the way we approached things in the early days.

The Three Levels in the Great Game of Designing an Epic Company

In the Great Game of Designing an Epic Company called SUE, we have now reached Level 3. The first level of our game was to figure out how to create a viable company around Behavioural Design. This first level of a game is definitely one of the most difficult ones. Because if you want to win this level of the game, you need to be stubborn. You need to do something different than everyone in the market, while at the same time convincing the market that you’re offering something valuable today. I love this phase of the game. Every signup for the Behavioural Design Academy, every client who put their confidence in us to collaborate on a Behavioural Design Sprint is a dopamine rush, comparable with game achievements like saving the bridge, shooting the bad guy or filling a Tetris-line. 

The second level was the most exhausting one. Every company discovers once in a while that they need to pivot to stay on track. That's really a shitty level built in this entrepreneurial game. It requires that you need to be able to make a right analysis of where you made bad decisions, and it requires at a certain point to make a big gamble with all your game credits to place the bet that will keep you alive in the game. And once you made this gamble, you need grit and tenacity to keep going, even if reality doesn't reward you right away. We had our Level 2-challenge a couple of years ago. Looking back at it, I hated it when we were in the middle of it, but I now I feel I have never learned more about building a company then I did back then.

To play well in the third level of the game, you need to acquire a whole set of new skills to win. Actually, you learn to discover that the skills you had to earn to win in your start-up phase, stand in the way of getting good at level three. You need to replace your startup-skills with “growth”-skills. It really took us a while before we began to realise this. But the beauty of looking at work (or entrepreneurship) as a game, is that you get constant feedback that you’re stuck on a certain level. 

Taghazout, Morocco

Every level requires mastering new skills

I’m writing this mail from a balcony of a delightful hotel in the bay of Taghazout, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. While it’s freezing in our home town of Amsterdam, it’s 23 degrees over here. One of the reasons for sitting here is that Astrid and I decided to refrain ourselves from the behaviours that keep us getting stuck on the Startup-level of the game. Every day we’re participating in a Sprint or teaching at the Academy, we’re not developing the skills to win level three. Sitting here forces us to go through this - sometimes painful - process of mastering new skills. 

But the cool thing with being an entrepreneur is that you can practice these new skills right away and get immediate feedback on whether they work or not. Two months ago I prototyped a workshop on the Behavioural Design of Happiness on a rooftop in Marrakech with 10 entrepreneurs. It was awesome. One month ago, we took our team - again - to Marrakech and prototyped the Rockefeller Habits-strategy to learn if this could be the method for us to have fun while playing the growth-game. (I would recommend it to everybody). 

The three principles of a well-designed game

Our opening speaker at last years edition of Behavioural Design Fest was Willem-Jan Renger. He’s head of Innovation at the University of Applied Sciences at Utrecht and one of our intellectual heroes. His talk was about what we could learn from game designers to create immersive experiences in other fields like education, the workplace, public space, etc. His argument is that game designers - although they think they are in the entertainment business - are actually brilliant behavioural designers. They are masters in creating an experience that fuels people’s desire to master the game. 

Willem-Jan Renger argues that there are three ingredients in a well-designed game:
  • * M stands for Mechanics, these are the things a player can do to beat the game (like "collect ammunition")
  • * D stands for Dynamics, these are the challenges a player encounters while acting upon the Mechanics
  • * A stans for Aesthetics, this is the experience the game designer is trying to design for

A game designer starts with the aesthetics: What do I want the player to experience? Then he thinks about the dynamics: What are the behaviours that will lead to this experience? And how do I bring this to life with the Mechanics of the game?

Bad-designed games - a lot of schools and workplaces - lack a clear aesthetic

When you think about education for instance, then you could argue that education very often is designed like a crappy game. It’s all about learning the mechanics. When I wanted to learn to play the guitar, it took me two years of playing shitty techniques, before I was able to play something I really enjoyed. When I had to learn statistics, it took me 10 years to finally apply it to an interesting real-world problem. 

And I think the same goes for how we design work. The aesthetic of work has everything to do with thinking hard about the experience you want to create. Our Behavioural Design Sprint, for instance, has this beautiful aesthetic of collaborating intensely in a five-day time frame to develop, prototype and test ideas that are presented to the end-user on day five. The reward of discovering which ideas trigger the desired behaviour is thrilling. The dynamics of this design are the steps a Sprint-Team takes from going from finding Insight to choosing Opportunities. From exploring ideas to selecting the most promising ones. And from prototyping promising ideas to learning how people respond to it. 

The Aesthetic of working at SUE Behaviuoral Design

We also think hard about the aesthetic of working at SUE. Our mission - Unlock the potential of Behavioural Psychology to nudge people towards positive choices in work, life and play - definitely plays a role. Our ambition to create an army of Behavioural Designers to tackle the world’s most wicked problems also contributes to the aesthetics of the work experience. The dynamics of our game are the Rockefeller Habits, which is a system to focus everyone’s energy to complete missions that will lead to sustainable growth. Things like Monthly goals, Quarterly goals, Big Hairy Audacious Goals, etc. The mechanics are simple: doing everything we can to create amazing customer experiences. 

The thought of having to work at a workplace where everything is just mechanics (just do what you are told to do) and dynamics (reach your targets, or you will be fired) seems like hell to me. Because the aesthetic of this game is only to create value for shareholders. Who would want to play that game? That’s really a very crappy designed game to play. 🙂 


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That's all for this week, we hope to catch you next week!

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