Universal Paperclips, engagement and visual design

I played a game this week, called Universal Paperclips. On the surface, it’s a simple clicker game. But through the course of playing it, I kept thinking about engagement.  What had me coming back to make more paperclips? What about this game was so irresistible?

There are an awful lot of articles and studies out there that talk about increasing engagement, and one of the strategies to do so is adding more visuals. Visual design is one of the main vehicles for communication. Some say, without visuals, experiences fall flat.

But Universal Paperclips isn’t much to look at.

It’s just text, a couple lines and buttons. As you play through the game, there’s a bit more complexity that is added, but there’s no color, and the bulk of the experience is text. So what keeps it so engaging? Here’s a few techniques that the game employs that reeled me in:

  1. It provides constant feedback. You always know how many paperclips you have, and if you click “Make Paperclip”, ta-da! Another paperclip. That instant feedback is incredibly engaging and kept me coming back to adjust, optimize, and buy in order to make that number go up faster and faster.
  2. There’s no rush. While you are timed (a little notice appears in the black bar with your time when you complete each phase of the game) there’s no countdown clock, no push to sort things out more quickly other than your own sense of urgency. If you walk away, you can come back later and make sure everything is running along smoothly, and then progress to the next inputs required from you.
  3. There’s no artificial pacing. There’s no mandatory tutorials or obastacles designed to slow you down- you can (and do) pick up the pace as you go.
  4. It keeps you guessing. Each time something new appears in the game, it presents more questions than it answers. As with a well-written short story, your creative mind will fill in the blanks, identify patterns, and develop a story that’s far better than anything more prescriptive.
  5. You have a clear goal. Throughout, you’re always making more and more clips. There’s various steps you have to take to achieve this (including spending clips!) but that number is always there at the top of the screen, incrementing ever upward.

These same techniques can be used in your learning experiences- keep those goals front and center and build in opportunities for frequent feedback!

 

 

Mindset and adoption of technology

Technology adoption.  That has been one of the biggest and most important challenges I’ve faced throughout my career. For nearly all of the enterprise problems I’ve worked to solve, the solutions incorporated some kind of technology- a software platform, hardware device, web application, database, automation, cloud service, the list goes on and on.

But the biggest challenges to overcome in effectively implementing these solutions tend not to be the technical challenges, but the people ones.  No matter how elegant the technology and well-designed the solution- if people aren’t using it, it can’t fully succeed. Resistance to adoption of technology can come from anywhere, and sometimes it’s not the people you expect that present these challenges. It can often be folks who have quite a lot of technical skill, but for various reasons are operating with a fixed mindset.  If you haven’t already been fully exposed to Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindset- here’s a video with some background:

Resistance can come from the user audience, from project stakeholders, contributors, but the most challenging resistance comes from people in leadership positions. When project leaders or sponsors aren’t embracing tech solutions, the obstacles grow to 10 times their height. Important to remember when you’re in a position of leadership!

So what can you do, if you are in a position of leadership and you’re faced with adopting a new technology you’re not quite ready to jump in with? Here are a few tips to help you build your own growth mindset and get ready to tackle your problems using technology.

  1. Recognize that you have a choice in your approach and actions. You can master new technology, you can try doing things you haven’t seen work. It’s your choice to build new skills or not. It may mean some temporary setbacks or failures, but ultimately you can (and should) embrace tools and technology that have the potential to help you reach your goals.
  2. Recognize when your resistance is holding you back. If you’re pushing for a “same-old-way” solution because you’re worried you won’t know how to function with a new tool- acknowledge that. You may find there are more supports than you thought for gaining the skills you need to adopt new technology. Remember, the cost of not changing is often higher, and there are so many resources to learn from!
  3. Change your inner monologue.  When you hear that inner skeptic going “sure, but I’m never going to figure out how it works”, start inner-talking-back to it.  “I can figure out how it works, I learn new things all the time, and skill comes through practice and effort”. With effort and time this will become easy!

Working through your own resistance will pave the way for your team to innovate and get better access to the competitive advantages that come from early adoption. As you begin to embrace the growth mindset and take on new challenges more readily, your team and colleagues will benefit, and follow your lead to success.

Reading List

It’s likely no surprise that I love reading.  I spend most of my time reading in some capacity or another (though I wish I spent more time reading books and less time reading emails!)  So it follows that I have a long reading list.  I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately and want to share my in-progress list here:

Recently Finished:

Badass: Making Users Awesome – Kathy Sierra

You are a Badass – Jen Sincero (I seem to have had a theme going on)

Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

In Progress:

Parable of the Talents – Octavia Butler

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin

Upcoming:

The Cluetrain Manifesto – Levine, Weinberger

The Girl with all the Gifts – M.R. Carey

Lots of interesting things on the go! This is honestly just a sampling- I have a bunch of books waiting in my library. What books are you reading right now?

 

Reflections on: Intersections between L&D and Marketing

It’s interesting- there’s so many professionals who shy away from sales and marketing, but somehow training is seen as totally separate.

Over the past few years, it has become very clear to me that sales and marketing skills form the basis of many things we do in business, but especially L&D.  It’s all sales really!

Marketing promotes products and services- raising awareness, the same way we might raise awareness in a wellness program or other training program. In sales, the key task is convincing someone to do something- buy a product, try a service, upgrade a subscription, etc.

At the core is influencing behaviour- the very same thing we do as learning and development professionals.  It’s the basis of learning, the basis of leadership, and the basis of overall human performance improvement.  Many of my colleagues are well tuned-in to this similarity and have been incorporating tips and tricks from marketing for a long time (and vice versa- many marketing departments are adding more instructional material to their content marketing strategies!)

Even with these clear similarities, L&D seems to rely a bit on “captive audiences”- they way you would with a mandatory compliance course.  If everyone is required to complete training, no need to influence them to do so.  Good luck if you want any of those new skills and behaviours to see the light of day though- your influence ends with that mandatory multiple choice quiz (80% or higher, please!).  This approach undermines the learning culture of entire organizations.

If as and L&D professional, you’re not paying attention to developments in marketing and sales, you’re missing out on huge growth potential.

Just like marketing and sales, learning and continuous improvement require ongoing strategy, analysis and engagement. We can all learn from each other and benefit our customers, organizations, and employees.  Start now- try the Marketing Foundations course on LinkedIn Learning, or check out great resources from the American Marketing Association!