Integrating Games to Change Behaviors, Part 2


Training people and introducing new ideas requires more than just clear, factual explanations or theorems. Brian Bozzuto explores how games, simulations, and other exercises play an instrumental role in helping people be comfortable enough with new ideas that they choose to put them into practice.

It’s Not a Game, It’s an Experience
In part one, I made the case that people behave based on their beliefs, which are products of their experiences. Therefore, it follows that we can help people change by giving them new experiences. Sometimes, new experiences can be prohibitively difficult, as we saw in the case of the snake phobic who would not initially go into a room with a snake at all. We see a similar dynamic in many large organizations where frequently we can’t get people to risk new behaviors on high stakes work at first, thereby preventing them from building the necessary experiences to embrace a change.

We can escape this catch twenty-two by using games. Properly designed, they offer us a low stakes and fun way to engage with people and help them create their own experiences so that they are comfortable enough to put new behaviors into practice. From this perspective, when we develop a game for a training exercise or similar activity, we need to pay close attention to the experience it is going to create. This experience is going to be the primary value delivered to participants. Let’s take a closer look at some guidelines you can use when planning to incorporate a game into your own sessions.

Have a Hands-on Activity
Regardless of the precise mechanics of your game, it should have a very hands-on and tactile component. People can be folding paper, building objects using LEGOs, rolling dice, or doing some sort of activity that is engaging and enjoyable. A growing body of research shows that getting people to engage with a problem with a physical medium engages the motor cortex, allowing someone to process an idea with multiple parts of the brain, more than if someone were to think about the problem alone. By processing the same idea through different mediums, individuals are more likely to produce insights and solve problems. Logistically, this will also help you ensure everyone is involved, as the physical activity reduces people’s disengaging and sitting off to the side while others take on the challenge.

Frame the Game with a Story

People think and communicate in stories, and good games should play to this. The point of your game isn’t so much to fold origami hats and boats, rather, the point of the game is to run your business in the boat-and hat-folding market in order to run the most efficient operation. You are the ambitious new manager there to help the team achieve breakthrough performance. This may sound silly, but that is the point. A game’s key element is that it be a fun and engaging experience. Looking back to our survey of psychological characteristics impacting people’s ability to change, putting people into a happy state will go a long way towards opening them up to receive new ideas.

My colleague Mike Dwyer developed a game to demonstrate the mechanics of Scrum. He created a back-story and a company called “Marble Movers,” and the point of the game was to build ramps for marbles. My favorite recollection was that in his training deck, when he got to the marble movers game, the formatting changed, as if he were presenting on behalf of this fictitious company. There was a corporate logo, and he even regaled the audience with tales of the company’s past achievements to create a history and engage people in the upcoming challenges they would face.


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