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    ‘Gamifying’ the office? Don’t bother

    And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

    Ljupco Smokovski

    In recent years, management theory has latched onto a concept known as “gamification”—basically the idea that if you turn routine corporate tasks into games, employees will be more motivated to perform them.

    But not so fast! A new paper from a pair of professors at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania finds that most efforts at gamification fail to boost productivity. And when gamification is done badly, it can backfire, leaving employees dispirited.

    The researchers divided a sales force at a tech startup into three groups: One played a basketball-themed game in which sales leads were called “layups”; one had a leader board but no other game elements; and a third went about sales work in normal, routine fashion.


    The professors found that the game had no effect on individual sales performance. It did, however, affect the way people felt about their jobs, and not always positively: People who bought into the game reported feeling better about work, while people who didn’t began to feel worse.

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    Gamification—as a term and a concept—is of course ripe for skewering. Even 3-year-olds know that cleaning the playroom doesn’t become fun just because their parents call it a game. There’s also something especially depressing about being told by your higher-ups to regard something as fun when obviously fun isn’t the point, for anyone involved. If we’ve got to trudge through the sludge, we might as well be real about it.

    Extreme Lego

    “The Lego Movie” has won over fans with its playful, low-tech story of Emmett, a cheery, super-ordinary Lego minifigure mistakenly identified as the one person who can save the world. Aesthetically, the movie has fun with the look we associate with Lego: a sunny, slightly flat facsimile of real life.

    The mystical world of odan

    But Lego culture is a big place, one that includes dedicated adult hobbyists building intricate, moody fantasy worlds that couldn’t be further from the gas stations and heliports of toy-store Lego kits. One of the most extreme is “The Mystical World of Odan,” an online rabbit hole into a universe of enlightened clans, grand temples, and “lower vibrational civilizations” in need of salvation. Odan was invented by the New Jersey Lego artist Mike Doyle, and its centerpiece is a five-foot-tall fortress-like construction made from 200,000 Lego pieces, almost all of which are gray. Brown sells Giclee prints of the work, as well as custom Lego kits that let you build smaller parts of the larger creation at his blog,

    To create such a monumental (and monochrome) work, Brown used a specialist Lego retailer that lets the truly obsessive order pieces in bulk, by color and shape. The idea of breaking with the instructions is part of Lego’s appeal in the first place, but it’s hard to imagine its Danish founder realized quite how far off-script it was possible to go.

    Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at