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This is the natural system that keeps our planet Earth alive and functioning. Gamification can learn from it.

For complex situations, we know that the systemic gamification design approach is most effective. And yet:

Everything has to go faster and faster. Simple. Immediately effective and, best of all, according to the 'fire & forget' principle. The more complex everything becomes, the more urgently everyone seems to be looking for just such solutions. While I experience this with the topic of gamification, other people have this experience with other topics. Design, innovation, transformation, new work, content marketing, and much more. This post can therefore probably be seen as representative for all other areas, as Gamification. Just decide for yourself to what extent it also applies to you.

Systemic Gamification Design

Everyone agrees that professional challenges are increasing, and yet it seems that there must always be a simpler solution. So for a complex challenge, there is a call for simple approaches. Or to put it another way: For multidimensional problems, people call for one-dimensional solutions.

If we were talking about complicated challenges here, then this would also be a realistic approach. Complicated situations can be broken down into smaller parts and tackled and solved one by one. This works especially well in linear processes. For example, like a production line. Here you can go through each part of the production line step by step, adjust it and then continue with the next part.

Unfortunately, the problems that gamification is supposed to address are rarely found in complicated situations, but rather in complex ones. And complexity cannot be understood linearly but only systemically. So not one after the other or step by step.

What does systemic mean?

For many people, the biggest problems in understanding systems arise from the fact that everything is interconnected and a change at one point therefore affects not only the subsequent part (as in a production line) but everything at once.

- Image: Leyla Acaroglu, Disruptive Design

Probably the most tangible example of a functioning system is our planet Earth. Here we have a sphere and within this ecological system countless species live together again as own systems. They share resources and each species has an influence on the others through its existence. Whether obvious or not. While our ecosystem Earth naturally describes a macro-level system, corporations are micro-systems in their own right, embedded in multiple higher-level systems such as economies, cultures, nations, markets, and so on. Everything is mutually dependent and must therefore never be viewed linearly.

What does this mean for gamification?

If you exclude the approaches that understand nothing else behind the term gamification than a simple reward measure for desired behavior, then gamification is understood as an applicable model to create general conditions for people.

General conditions?

As the name suggests, it is precisely this framework that has defined our playful behavior since the beginning of mankind. From today's perspective, it is this playful behavior in which we see elementary advantages when it comes to the challenges of the future.

  • Openness to creative thinking
  • Problem solving oriented action
  • Willingness to collaborate
  • Open to the new and unexpected
  • Perceive defeats not as failure but as learning and thus as progress

Now one probably does not need to make clear to anybody that there is no simple switch here which one can turn over, so that humans can put this special behavior simply in such a way on the day. Our thinking, our emotions and thus our behavior are influenced by countless elements, of which probably 80% (everyone can estimate this for themselves) are not determined by direct influence. Instead, this behavior is influenced by our current mood, the culture in the company, the sense we ourselves see in the current activity, and much, much more. These are the multidimensional influences mentioned above.

Let's go

In order to approach systemic (gamification) thinking, it is - in my opinion - very helpful to look at the three categories of Social, Industrial and Ecosystem to remember.

Category Social:

here we refer to the intrinsic needs of human beings as we know them. We refer here to the desire for autonomy, the desire for competency,, the need for sense of purpose in its actions and the social connectedness of our species. Whether and to what extent each of us is willing to live out this desire depends on the individual situation and assessment of each individual.

Category Industrial:

here are the products, tools, infrastructure and services we need to build the framework to make the category Socialultimately to promote. Here, by defining and providing resources, rules, aids, challenges, goals, communication opportunities, and more, we create the skills needed for people to act.

Die passenden Bedingungen zur geeigneten Funktionsweise der Struktur schaffen wir vor allem durch den Fokus auf unsere 5 Säulen: Informationstransparenz, Feedback, Ziele & Regeln, Entscheidungsfrieheit and Herausforderungen.

Category Ecosystem:

This is the natural system, which also keeps our planet earth alive and functioning. This system is designed for self-preservation and thus also long-term. Here you can also see the circular approach, which is the basis of a complex system. Since we humans tend to run our economic system in a linear way, a large part of our problems for sustainable action can be seen here. Systemic gamification design therefore focuses on the basic rules of a living organism in order to be used as sustainably as possible within companies. For this purpose, we have analyzed the most important basic rules of systemic thinking with our Gamification Compass and transferred them into our design.

For example, rule #1: Negative (balancing) feedback dominates over positive (reinforcing) feedback.


Positive feedback means that a system is accelerating in one direction. Regardless of whether this trend is considered bad or good. As a result, a system builds up until it collapses. In nature, there is no species, or event, that can move infinitely in one direction. What was still successful in one moment, leads inevitably to the collapse, if it cannot adapt and therefore the acceleration in one direction breaks off.

Negative feedback means that a system always experiences a countermovement and can thus assume a state of balance. This prevents a buildup of the system, which would inevitably lead to collapse.

With the help of this compass and its rules (whereby the rule #1 described here is probably the most important for us), we constantly monitor ourselves to ensure that our gamification design is given the longest possible orientation and can also adapt to new circumstances, especially through the ability of negative feedback. And this even when we are long gone from the company.

Conclusion for the systemic gamification design

After almost ten years in the field of gamification, an exciting development can now be seen: Many of the gamification providers who relied on offers that were easy to sell but completely ignored a long-term approach are no longer around and more and more are disappearing from the market. Customer inquiries are also evolving more and more towards strategic solution inquiries. Above all, this is also supported by an increased demand from medium-sized businesses.

Time will tell which projects and approaches will survive and which will disappear from the market. The challenge will be not to see failed approaches as a sign of failure of the gamification idea as such.

This article has already been published 2017 from us on Medium .

See also other publications, around Gamification here..

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