How do you best reward knowledge sharing or learning behaviours? Be random!

How do you best reward knowledge sharing or rapid learning behaviours? Be random!

How do organisations create positive ‘compulsive’ behaviours? The type of behaviours that allow the organisational community to better sense their environment, anticipate needs, innovate and do this more quickly? For people involved in knowledge management or learning and development, this often centres around the grand old question, how do we get people to share knowledge?

Reward like Candy Crush!These questions quickly shift to talk of reward for positive behaviours. Poor thinking goes something like this: Want more knowledge sharing in your organisation? Consistently reward people for the behaviours you want to see and you’ll see more of it. The problem is that this form of reward has been demonstrated not to work, and yet people persist with it!

Leaders, talent managers and knowledge service managers in organisations could actually take a different route. One practiced by game designers. One based on randomness. One designed to stimulate compulsive behaviours. One being explored as a way to increase deep learning.

The secret is something called a Ludic Loop, which has two key elements:

1. Engineered randomness (variable ratio schedule of reinforcement) – in other words, reward cannot be predicted, as it is delivered after an unknown number of displays of positive behaviour

“Our response to unexpected rewards is hard-wired. Psychologists have long understood that random windfalls are better at making us compulsively repeat a certain behaviour than predictable ones” (New Scientist – 31 May 2014, p. 40).

2. A sense of mastery, brought about by a fleeting illusion of control

“Psychologists have long understood that a sense of mastery at some venture seems to be a powerful motivator, even when we’re not actually getting any better at it. Even a fleeting illusion of control puts us in mind of efforts characterised by setbacks and improvements, like tennis or golf” (New Scientist – 31 May 2014, p. 40).

The power of the Ludic Loop can be seen in the app store behemoth that is Candy Crush, a simple pattern building game (think a candy based version of Tetris or Bejewelled). The game is engineered on randomness, but people sense patterns that give them a fleeting sense of mastery. Here’s the rub, the game can be downloaded for free. How can anyone make money by giving something away for nothing?

The genius is in the design. Gameplay develops compulsive behaviour that borders on addiction. Clever gameplay design limits the opportunity to proceed (e.g., you have five ‘free’ lives, but every mistake costs you a life that takes 30 minutes to regenerate. Lose 5 lives and you have to wait 2.5 hours or you can pay a small fee to have your lives back immediately). This approach to in-play purchase, underpinned by a Ludic Loop, is reported to earn the designer around $900,000 per day from the 500 million people who have downloaded the game and the 7 million who apparently play every day.

If games like Candy Crush use Ludic Loops to impact human behaviour to such great effect and old, established, forms of reward are not working, then organisational leaders/talent/learning managers/knowledge managers should explore this phenomenon in greater depth. It works!

One thought on “How do you best reward knowledge sharing or learning behaviours? Be random!

  1. Thanks for this post. It’s interesting. I have not tried this.
    Some years ago I was in charge of a KM system in the area of sales management in a large multinational company. It worked during many years in 12 european markets, but with very different results.
    I had identified 4 key success factors. Contrary to our expectations, rewarding through incentives was not one of them (but it can help significantly in some countries).

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