Weeknote 1/2024: A new beginning

Wow, that was a bump. New Year celebrations over, a day off for the public holiday, and straight back to work.

After a lot of uncertainty in December, I’ve been keen to get stuck in to something valuable, and I’m not breaking any confidentiality by saying that my focus right now is on refreshing the collateral behind Node4’s Public Cloud offerings. I need to work across the business – my Office of the CTO (OCTO) role is about strategy, innovation and offering development – but the work also needs to include specialist sales colleagues, our marketing teams, and of course the experts that actually deliver the engagements.

So that’s the day job. Alongside that, I’ve been:

  • Avoiding stating any grand new year resolutions. I’ll only break them. It was literally hours before I broke my goal of not posting on Twitter/X this year. Though I did step away from a 453-day streak on Duolingo to focus my spare time on other, hopefully less gamified, pursuits:
  • Doing far too little exercise. A recurring health condition is impacting my ability to walk, run, cycle and to get back to Caveman Conditioning. It’s getting a bit better but it may be another week before I can have my new year fitness kick-start.
  • Eating badly. Logging everything in the Zoe app is helping me to see what I should avoid (spoiler: I need to eat more plants and less sweet stuff) but my willpower is still shockingly bad. I was also alarmed to see Prof. Tim Spector launching what appeared to be an ultra-processed food (UPF) product. More on that after I’ve got to M&S and actually seen the ingredients list for the Zoe Gut Shot, but others are telling me it’s not a UPF.
  • Redesigning the disaster recovery strategy for my photos. I learned the hard way several years ago that RAID is not a backup, and nothing exists unless it’s in three places. For me that’s the original, a copy on my Synology NAS, and copy in the cloud. My cloud (Azure) backups were in a proprietary format from the Synology Hyper Backup program, so I’ve started to synchronise the native files by following a very useful article from Charbel Nemnom, MVP. Unfortunately the timestamps get re-written on synchronisation, but the metadata is still inside the files and these are the disaster copies – hopefully I’ll never need to rely on them.
  • Watching the third season of Slow Horses. No spoilers please. I still have 4 episodes to watch… but it’s great TV.
  • Watching Mr Bates vs. The Post Office. The more I learn about the Post Office Scandal, the more I’m genuinely shocked. I worked for Fujitsu (and, previously, ICL) for just over 15 years. I was nothing to do with Horizon, and knew nothing of the scandal, but it’s really made me think about the values of the company where I spent around half my career to date.
  • Spreading some of my late Father-in-law’s ashes by his tree in the Olney Community Orchard.
  • Meeting up with old friends from my “youth”, as one returns to England from his home in California, for a Christmas visit.

Other things

Other things I found noteworthy this week:

  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg scissors or the blister-pack?

Press coverage

This week, I was quoted in this article:

Coming up

This weekend will see:

  • A return to Team MK Youth Cycle Coaching. Our local cyclo-cross league is finished for the 2023/4 season so we’re switching back to road cycling as we move into the new year.
  • Some home IT projects (more on them next week).
  • General adulting and administration.

Next week, I’ll be continuing the work I mentioned at the head of this post, but also joining an online Group Coaching session from Professor John Amaechi OBE. I have no idea what to expect but I’m a huge fan of his wise commentary. I’m also listening to The Promises of Giants on Audible. (I was reading on Kindle, but switched to the audiobook.)

This week in photos

Featured image: Author’s own
(this week’s flooding of the River Great Ouse at Olney)

Game on at #TFTLondon: level 3: the four Ms of gamification

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Yesterday, I wrote about the ubiquitous gaming culture, the second in a series of posts from The Fantastic Tavern (TFT)’s gamification evening. Now we move on to the final level – examining the 4 Ms: of mystery (easy learning), mastery (hard learning), membership (making it social) and meaning (a story with a beginning, middle and end).

At TFT, four speakers each gave a lightening talk on one of the Ms so, here’s each in logical (not chronological) order…


TFT’s founder Matt Bagwell (Global Creative Director at EMC Consulting) started out by describing some characteristics that might describe mystery in gameplay: Where am I? What is the story? Make it compelling by building in reward/failure – make us feel on the edge, in flow (one of the tenets of happiness) and compel us to play.

Matt told us that, for mystery we need:

  • A goal.
  • Rules.
  • Increasing difficulty.
  • Voluntary participation.

Golf is a simple game – the goal is to put a ball in a hole. Add some rules and increase the difficulty hitting the ball with a club and putting the hole a long way away. Then introduce elements such as other players, handicaps, etc.

Mystery is about the goal. But some games are actually about working out what the goal is! Mystery is about the player, their role, and what they are trying to achieve. Why are you here?

In short, mystery is about creating new worlds for us to discover; designing in some flow; and make us work hard to unlock it.


Richard Sedley (Commercial Director at Foviance) took this topic, explaining that games are about engagement; capturing moments of attention and elongating them; repeating interactions to strengthen involvement.  The aim is to achieve flow – to match skills and satisfaction.

There are various game mechanics but rewards alone don’t make for engagement. When people use a wastebin, they like to toss it in – to make it a challenge, some fun – that is mastery.

Richard outlined three techniques to make mastering a challenge both fun and engaging:

  • Set a task – collecting can be fun and motivating. An example is the Get Started page for Dropbox, which allocates additional storage space to users who have carried out all of the activities.
  • Create hurdles, obstacles and enemies (but not brick walls) – build on levels.
  • Reward randomly – build in variable reinforcements but don’t use a fixed interval – use variable intervals and rewards.


Tom Hopkins (Strategy Director at Fortune Cookie) explained that, to understand membership, it’s often useful to look at the opposite: exclusion, alienation, being an outsider and how the resulting feelings drive human behaviour.  Clicking to sign up for something, or Liking something or someone on Facebook is not membership. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and belongingness.

Social identity theory shows that we define ourselves through membership of groups; and we may have multiple group memberships.  We need to consider both inside and outside the groups – what do the groups’ enemies look like?

An example is the Mac and PC advertising that Apple used for a number of years – it creates vitriolic feelings between members of the two groups. Generally people are either in or out of groups like these [I’m unusual in being in both groups]. Another example is the Stanford Prison Experiment – proving that artificial tribes can be powerful (even if they are arbitrary).

Ultimately though, Tom concluded, membership must confer some form of identity.


Alex Lee (Creative Partner at Kempt) gave the talk on meaning, starting out by describing different types of games:

  • Core games, like Street Fighter, are typified by being difficult. They require the player to acquire skills and they punish – even the language is punishing with “lives”, “continues” and “game over”.
  • Casual games are becoming dominant – things like Angry Birds and Farmville. They generally don’t require skills, but time (and maybe currency)

Some games are about status – they reward everything so that the player earns more of something, has new opportunities, and can progress through the game. Alex gave an example that involved breeding celebrity puppies but I prefer the example of the pottery game that my children play on my iPad. They make pots, sell them (virtually), earn credits, buy more colours and patterns, and make more pots, to sell, etc.

We can gain meaning from slight of hand – a feeling of success – or by rewarding – rewarding failure as well as success.

Even health apps like Nike+ [or Runkeeper] are games that provide meaning when we’re exercising – they don’t chastise us, but talk in our ears and reward us for small achievements.

Another real-world gaming example is Weight Watchers – allocating points to “spend” on food, rewarding with real results – and now it’s gone online.  Movember is another example, growing a moustache, but having fun at the same time (and with meaning).

Alex left us with some food for thought on gaming and meaning: how do people feel about Just Giving? When you donate, how do you feel about the value of donations either side in the list?

Wrapping up

That’s it for this series of posts – if you want to read more about the science of gamification, check out my post from Michael Wu’s talk at Digital Surrey – and if you’re interested in future TFT events, find out more at The Fantastic Tavern site (or @TFTLondon).

Game on at #TFTLondon: level 2: the ubiquitous gaming culture

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week, I wrote a post about The Fantastic Tavern event on Gamification. That post was a bit light on details, so I’m now rewarding you with a move to level 2.

James Wallman from The Future Laboratory spoke about what they refer to as the ubiquitous gaming culture, starting out with a quote from Seth Priebatsch, CEO at SCVNGR and, as I hunted around for the source of the quote it seems he’s spoken about it at both SXSW and TEDx:

“While the last decade was the decade of social… where the framework in which we connect with other people was built…  This next decade will be the decade where the game framework is built.”

Remember 6 years ago when the first Facebook [or LinkedIn] invitations went out? The ones we ignored for a while until we saw that all our friends [and business contacts] were there… well, that social framework is in place now and, in an age with many messages, the way that brands will connect and change consumer behaviour is
game mechanics.

James broke his talk out into trend drivers, trend impacts, trend consequences, and trend futures so, looking first at the trend drivers – what is making this desire to gamify things happen?

To start with, gaming changes people’s behaviour. In trials with burns victims, it was found that gaming isolated the patient from real world (and hence provided pain relief) more than any other medium. Then, consider the blurring of work and play (“bleisure”) – we often check our email on a smartphone when we’re not at work? [go on, admit it]. The social game market has massive potentially monetary value (Inside Network says it’s a billion-dollar business) and John Riccitello, CEO at Electronic Arts is right on the money when he says that:

“Every new device ends up being a game device”

(in a market that’s grown from 200 million gamers, to over a billion.)

Moving on to the trend impacts – i.e. the implications of gamification – brands are incorporating game play elements into applications, products and campaigns.  Remember all those social networks that didn’t make it to the big time (Friendster?) – James suggests that today’s gamification is like those early social networks: an exciting, novel, concept.

From simple examples like the Braun/Oral B SmartGuide – a monitor with a display that changes according to how long you brush your teeth to the City of Melbourne’s interactive treasure hunt (to get people off the beaches and into the CBD) governments and commercial organisations alike are looking to gaming to control, nudge and monitor our behaviour.  Take, for example, Toyota’s A Glass of Water app – designed to improve our driving and reduce fuel consumption… or London commuters can play the game of Chromaroma through a link with their Oyster Card (the London RFID travel card), earning points for getting off a stop early, or using one of the many “Boris Bikes”.

Looking at trend consequences, gamification will change our social and economic structures – James cited examples like Macon Money from Macon (pronounced Makin’) in Georgia, USA – an innovative approach to community building that uses a local currency to build personal connections and support local businesses.  There’s even the possibility that people will pay to work (play + labour = “playbour”): Internet Eyes is one such example – a website where people pay a fee to watch live CCTV footage and are rewarded for spotting and reporting crimes!

So what trend futures does gamification offer? Research shows that a person’s behaviour in real life mimics their behaviour in the real world. This leads to the concept of “playfiling” – profiling through play.

James gave another example of gamification: New York’s Quest to Learn school. The school describes itself as school for digital kids – applying games techniques to digital learning. At work, when we don’t know something, we ask questions of our colleagues…. so why not at school? Quest to Learn works in 10-week problem spaces, with pupils co-operating as a team and playing games to learn. In terms of engagement, it’s now within the top 3% of schools in the United States.

James’ final example also came from New York – a clever foursquare hack called World of Fourcraft, that turns the city into a giant game of Risk – hopefully we’ll see something like this in British cities soon [are there some programmers out there that want to create a real-life game of Monopoly by mashing up Foursquare and Chromorama? I guess without the property purchases and the going to jail…].

In conclusion, James Wallman described a ubiquitous gaming culture toolkit for digital marketers:

  • Put game mechanics at the heart of the brand.
  • Consider engagement over time – get people to come back.
  • Combine online and offline activities.
  • Engage through the “4Ms” of mystery (easy learning), mastery (hard learning), membership (making it social) and meaning (a story with a beginning, middle and end).

My next post (“game on at #TFTLondon: level 3”) will take a look at the 4Ms of gamification – and if you’re interested in future TFT events, find out more at The Fantastic Tavern site (or @TFTLondon).

Game on at The Fantastic Tavern (#TFTLondon)

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

It’s been a long week… not just the normal work stuff but two great events meaning some late nights and I’m just not as young as I once was… in time I’m sure I’ll blog about Thursday’s CloudCamp and give some more details on last night’s Fantastic Tavern (TFT) but, for now, here’s the highlights on TFT.

Gamification. I wrote about that after a recent Digital Surrey event and it’s pretty big. Big? Hell, last night’s Fantastic Tavern needed a night club to house the 300 attendees – I only wish I hadn’t had to leave to catch a train home when the music started… anyway, if 300 people want to come along and learn about gamification, that gives some idea as to how hot the topic is right now.

Apparently, there are more than 10 million people in the UK who play games for more than 20 hours a week [they must be insomniacs, or don’t have kids/jobs with long commutes…] and some games are now so heavily played they feature rest rewards!

We all like the feeling of flow – that balance between skill and satisfaction that produces a neurological hit… so why is reality so dull? And that’s where gamification comes in, building out the game layer to cover education, leisure and work. Bringing in game dynamics and reapply them in the real world.

Last night’s TFT featured a talk on the ubiquitous gaming culture that is developing around us before we heard lightning talks on the four Ms of gamification (mystery, mastery, membership and meaning). Then, putting that into practice, we split out and brainstormed some topics to gamify Cancer Research UK‘s valuable work in a world where an increasingly cashless (and cash-strapped) society is giving less.

And just to prove the point, an old-school gamification method (i.e. a raffle) was used to get us to give up our cash for Cancer Research and win a Microsoft Xbox 360 system with Kinect.

I’ll write some more on the ubiquitous gaming culture and the 4Ms soon (I’ll try to line up some posts for next week, together with something on Kinect) but, if you’re interested in future TFT events, find out more at The Fantastic Tavern site (or @TFTLondon).

Should we gamify the workplace?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Gamification is certainly one of this year’s buzzwords and the science of gamification (i.e. the use of game mechanics/dynamics to drive game-like engagement and actions in non-game environments) is a topic of great interest to me at the moment.

But how can we use gamification in the workplace? And should we even try?

Whilst it’s true that there is a moral hazard to avoid, the trick to successful gamification is making sure it doesn’t feel like the target is being played. Let’s take an example that well established in the workplace: flexitime. The motivation is for an employee to accrue enough additional work time to “earn” a day off; ability is controlled by the rules that govern the flexitime scheme; and the trigger is the point where sufficient “credit” is available to take some additional leave!

I have to admit that flexitime is not one of my benefits at Fujitsu but for those businesses that have such as scheme, it has benefits in terms of employee flexibility and morale. And there are other examples where we can re-engineer our business processes and introduce some elements of gamification.

Take, for example, the idea of a results-oriented work environment. What if, instead of being paid a salary, or an hourly rate, employees were given the opportunity to pick and choose their work and remunerated accordingly? Critics may see such an approach as a return to factory processes and piecework. Others may see an opportunity to free themselves from their 9 to 5 (or 8 to 6, or 6 to 8 work routine) and work in a more flexible manner. My background is as a solutions architect. What if projects were to be crowdsourced so that a pool or architects to pick tasks from a list of activities? Different values could be attributed depending on the difficulty or time sensitivity of the task, with all architects having to achieve a minimum number of credits (but the ability to earn more if they so desired). I’m sure there many human resources issues to overcome but I can see this being the “normal” way to work in future.

Problems come when the gamification feels controlling and is associated with “Big Brother”. We have to accept that one size does not fit all – and there is a risk that employees may feel disconnected, or that they are being patronised. Most people are smart and can work out how to “game” the system – so the game mechanics need to be honed to balance motivation and ability, and to trigger employees at the appropriate times.

If we gamify the workplace though, it seems there’s a risk of destroying some of the other elements of successful collaboration. The workplace is far more than just a literal place to work. There are social and environmental aspects to consider too. If we create an internal market of competing architects what’s the difference between that and a group of independant contractors working on a project? At what point do people stop working for a common purpose (the company’s mission) and start working for their own goals? People can’t be our most important asset when we don’t have any people any more!

It may be that gamification is not appropriate for mainstream activities but can be used for those on the periphery – those that are considered extra-curricular. For example, whilst I’d like everyone to want to contribute to our Open Innovation Community, the reality is that people can opt in or out. What if we were able to gamify the innovation process with a system of rewards?

This post doesn’t really provide any answers – it does pose some questions though. How would you feel about the gamification of your work environment? And would you consider there are significant advantages to be gained, or is the risk of disruption just too great?

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and was written with assistance from Ian Mitchell and Vin Hughes.]

The science of gamification (@mich8elwu at #digitalsurrey)

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.



Based on the number of analysts and “people who work in digital” I’ve seen commenting on the topics this year, “gamification” has to be the buzzword of 2011. So when I saw that Digital Surrey (#digitalsurrey) were running an event on “The Science of Gamification”, I was very interested to make the journey down to Farnham and see what it’s all about.

The speaker was Michael Wu (@mich8elwu) and I was pleased to see that the emphasis was very much on science, rather than the “marketing fluff” that is threatening to hijack the term.  Michael’s slides are embedded below but I’ll elaborate on some of his points in this post.

  • Starting off with the terminology, Michael talked about how people love to play games and hate to work – but by taking gameplay elements and applying them to work, education, or exercise, we can make them more rewarding.
  • Game mechanics are about a system of principles/mechanisms/rules that govern a system of reward with a predictable outcome.
  • The trouble is that people adapt, and game mechanics become less effective – so we look to game dynamics – the temporal evolution and patterns of both the game and the players that make a gamified activity more enjoyable.
  • These game dynamics are created by joining game mechanics (combining ands cascading).
  • Game theory is a branch of mathematics and is nothing to do with gamification!
  • The Fogg Behaviour Modellooks at those factors that influence human behaviour:
    • Motivation – what we want to do.
    • Ability – what we can do.
    • Trigger – what we’re told to do.
  • When all three of these converge, we have action – they key is to increase the motivation and ability, then trigger at an appropriate point. There are many trajectories to reach the trigger (some have motivation but need to develop ability – more often we have some ability but need to develop motivation – but there is always an activation threshold over which we must be driven before the trigger takes effect).
  • Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is an often-quoted piece of research and Michael Wu draws comparisons between Maslow’s deficiency needs (physical, safety, social/belonging and esteem) and game mechanics/dynamics. At the top of the hierarchy is self-actualisation, with many meta-motivators for people to act.
  • Dan Pink’s Drive discusses intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose leading to better performance and personal satisfaction.  The RSA video featuring Dan Pink talking about what motivates us wasn’t used in Michael Wu’s talk, but it’s worthy of inclusion here anyway:

  • In their research, John Watson and BF Skinner looked at how humans learn and are conditioned.  A point system can act as a motivator but the points themselves are not inherently rewarding – their proper use (a reward schedule) is critical.
  • Reward schedules include fixed interval; fixed interval and fixed ratio; variable interval; and variable ratio – each can be applied differently for different types of behaviour (i.e. driving activity towards a deadline; training; re-enforcing established behaviours; and maintaining behaviour).
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is famous for his theories on flow: an optimal state of intrinsic motivation where one forgets about their physical feelings (e.g. hunger), the passage of time, and ego; balancing skills with the complexity of a challenge.
  • People love control, hate boredom, are aroused by new challenges but get anxious if a task is too difficult (or too easy) and work is necessary to balance challenges with skills to achieve a state of flow. In reality, this is a tricky balance.
  • Having looked at motivation, Michael Wu spoke of the two perspectives of ability: the user perspective of ability (reality) and the task perspective of simplicity (perceptual).
  • To push a “user” beyond their activation threshold there is a hard way (increase ability by motivating them to train and practice) or an easy way (increase the task’s perceived simplicity or the user’s perceived ability).
  • Simplicity relies on resources and simple tasks cannot use resources that we don’t have.  Simplicity is a measure of access to three categories of resource at the time when a task is to be performed: effort (physical or mental); scarce resources (time, money, authority/permission, attention) and adaptability (capacity to break norms such as personal routines, social, behavioural or cultural norms).
  • Simplicity is dependant upon the access that individuals have to resources as well as time and context – i.e. resources can become inaccessible (e.g. if someone is busy doing something else). Resources are traded off to achieve simplicity (motivation and ability can also be traded).
  • A task is perceived to be simple if it can be completed it with fewer resources than we expect (i.e. we expect it to be harder) and some game mechanics are designed to simplify tasks.
  • Triggers are prompts that tell a user to carry out the target behaviour right now. The user must be aware of the trigger and understand what it means. Triggers are necessary because we may not be aware of our abilities, may be hesitant (questioning motivation) or may be distracted (engaged in another activity).
  • Different types of triggers may be used depending on behaviour. For example, a spark trigger is built in to the motivational mechanism; a facilitator highlights simplicity or progress; and signals are used as reminders when there is sufficient motivation and no requirement to simplify as task.
  • Triggers are all about timing, and Richard Bartle‘s personality types show which are the most effective triggers. Killers are highly competitive and need to be challenged; socialisers are triggered by seeing something that their friends are doing; achievers may be sparked by a status increase; and explorers are triggered by calls on their unique skills, without any time pressure. Examples of poorly timed triggers include pop-up adverts and spam email.
  • So gamification is about design to drive action: providing feedback (positive, or less effectively, negative); increasing true or perceived ability; and placing triggers in the behavioural trajectory of motivated players where they feel able to react.
  • If the desired behaviour is not performed, we need to check: are they triggered? Do they have the ability (is the action simple enough)? Are they motivated?
  • There is a moral hazard to avoid though – what happens if points (rather than desired behaviour) become the motivator and then the points/perks are withdrawn?  A case study of this is Gap’s attempt to gamify store check-ins on Facebook Places with a free jeans giveaway. Once the reward had gone, people stopped checking in.
  • More effective was a Fun Theory experiment to reduce road speeds by associating it with a lottery (in conjunction with Volkswagen). People driving below the speed limit were photographed and entered into a lottery to win money from those who were caught speeding (and fined).

  • Michael Wu warns that gamification shouldn’t be taken too literally though: in another example, a company tried incentivising sales executives to record leads with an iPad/iPhone golf game. They thought it would be fun, and therefore motivational but it actually reduced the ability to perform (playing a game to record a lead) and there was no true convergence of the three factors to influence behaviour.
  • In summary:
    • Gamification is about driving players above the activation threshold by motivating them (with positive feedback), increasing their ability (or perceived ability) and then applying the roper trigger at the right time.
    • The temporal convergence of motivation, ability and trigger is why gamification is able to manipulate human behaviour.
    • There are moral hazards to avoid (good games must adapt and evolve with players to bring them into a state of flow).

I really enjoyed my evening at Digital Surrey – I met some great people and Michael Wu’s talk was fascinating. And then, just to prove that this really is a hot topic, The Fantastic Tavern (#tftlondon) announced today that their next meeting will also be taking a look at gamification

Further reading/information

[Update 23:12 – added further links in the text]