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Motivating Employees: The Lessons We Learn from Flappy Bird

If you have no children you probably know little about Flappy Bird, a supposedly insanely addictive app available for mobile devices which was removed from Google Play and Flappy BirdiTunes in February by the developer.  At the time of its removal the app had been downloaded at least fifty million times and was generating an estimated $50,000 a day (A DAY!) for the young Vietnamese developer who still lives at home with his parents!  Badgering complaints from the app’s many users over how the addictiveness of the game was ruining their lives is the primary reason he removed it.  But don’t worry about the poor kid; he is still making plenty of dough from all the ad impressions still generated by the fifty million plus users who downloaded it before he pulled the plug.

The ridiculous amount of money he is making and why he shut it down is not important.  Why people went so gaga over such a rudimentary game is.  The game’s objective is simple.  You control a bird as the name suggests and you must simply navigate your bird through a series of pipes that extend from the top and bottom of the screen.  Tap fast and your bird soars upward.  Tap slow and he plummets.  The graphics are about as advanced as what your 90s’ Nintendo system provided.  There is no sprawling 3-dimensional fantasy world or crime infested city through which to navigate.  Flappy bird uses no special weaponry nor does he possess any flashy powers.  He simply flies up or down across a 2D cityscape.

So why do so many people continue to play the game for hours at a time?  Because they Flappy bird game overhave a goal and that goal is to beat their previous record.  With each pipe through which your bird successfully passes, you get a point but if your bird dies you start back at zero.  As frustrating as the game is, users simply won’t put down their devices.  They are ensnared by a challenge and reward system.  When they break their high score their phone let’s them know it and they can show off their achievement to their friends.

What does any of this have to do with motivating employees?  Well, convential wisdom tells us that the more monetary incentives you provide the more motivated your workers become.  While cutting pay may de-motivate a worker, doubling pay has not been proven to improve motivation.  In fact psychology research shows that rewards provide only temporary conformity.  Teresa Amabile, a Harvard professor, has found through her experiments that a sense of progress is necessary to staying engaged.  An evaluation of the diaries of 238 workers across seven companies showed the following:

“….making progress in one’s work — even incremental progress — is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event.”

Now you get it right?  Flappy Bird is addictive because users have the chance to progress each time they play even if just a little.  That sense of accomplishment which often is absent in the workplace gives us a rush of sorts.

Amabile’s suggestion to help create a sense of progress is to provide workers with goals, necessary resources to accomplish those goals, and then support each worker with emotional support and respect.  And, I would add, create a feedback loop to provide workers with progress reports.

If you doubt this then explain why a kid with a $50,000 a day income and growing, basically quits?  The reason; he had no more goals, he had no emotional support and he received no respect.

About The Author

Ryder Cullison

Ryder has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4 he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter: @hireintelligent and @cullison1

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