Gaming (in) Business Books

While watching this insightful and very funny talk from game designer and Carnegie Mellon faculty member Jesse Schell about the future of game design, I couldn't help but think how business books might be impacted.

I wondered how you could integrate a gaming system into a business book. And then it struck me that it has already been done.

The bestselling book of the last four years has been StrengthFinder 2.0. The book has sold somewhere between three and four times what the #2 title has sold over since 2007. The reason? When you buy the book (and if you are a manager, you actually buy a whole box and give one to each of your reports). there is an access code at the end of the book.

The access code unlocks the StrengthsFinder assessment tool, where the user answers a series of 177 questions. The test takes around 40 minutes to complete. After you complete the final question, the Gallup computers start churn, evaluating the answers you gave versus their 40 years of strength research and deliver the five best matches from a set of 34 strengths.

Now what the publisher Gallup calls an assessment has several gaming elements built into it:

  • The length of time you have to answer each question is timing to improve the likelihood you will give the first answer that comes to mind, but also creates a sense of urgency that pushes you forward.
  • The ranking of one's top five strengths from a pool of 34 potentials creates over 16 million possible combinations and a genuinely different result for each participant. This creates the unexpectedness that we love in games.
  • In the original editions of the StrengthFinder 2.0, the protective pouch at the back of the book, that contained the access code, also held a set of stickers which had all of the strengths on them and the book with its dust jacket removed provided a place to display them. Here is my copy:

    Todd SF Results
    In gaming speak, they call those badges. The book no longer comes with the stickers, but they have since added the ability for people to share their strengths with others.

Now, other books have used assessments like Bob Sutton's ARSE test for The No-Asshole Rule and Sally Hogshead's {F}Score for her book Fascinate, but StrengthFinder 2.0 has taken these gaming principles the furtherest and I think explains the amazing success of the book.

And, it makes you wonder the variety of other ways that gaming principles could be integrated into the business genre. Hmmm…

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