“Don’t worry, it’s only a game”: It’s more fun to compete

We all know one. We’ve all got one. They’re everywhere. A family member or friend, so obsessed with their lifelong passion, their all encompassing love of a particular sport. They eat, sleep, and breathe it. It guides their every waking thought, and shapes every opinion they have. And so, they take every bad result, every harsh refereeing decision, each undesirable outcome as a personal affront. We know these people well. We also know that the mere mention of the phrase “Don’t worry, it’s only a game” to them, is likely to result in a tight lipped, purple faced, furious reply that “you just don’t get it”, or “you just don’t understand”.

They could be right. Maybe not everyone does ‘get’ it, or maybe some do more than others. The competitive instinct can change everything.

There is a received and perceived notion that, for instance, girls are better at reading than boys, but a recent French study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, looked at how the introduction of a competitive element could change learning, and subsequently lead to that notion being challenged. With the gamifying of a simple school exercise, significant results came to light.

Eighty children were involved- in four classes and from three schools, all third grade, and in the main part 9 years of age. All four classes were given a list of 486 words, and were asked to underline as many animal names as they could in the space of three minutes (50% of the words on the list were animal names). Two classes were told that they were taking part in a simple reading test, and the other two told that the exercise was part of an animal fishing game for a new fun children’s magazine.

The results showed a significant difference in the two groups. In the classes who were told  they were having a reading test, boys achieved on average 33.3%, and girls 43.3%. However, in the other two classes, who’d be told they were taking part in a game, the boys scores leapt to 44.7%, with girls faring less well, achieving on average a score of 38.3%. The competitive instinct again, albeit it with the dual caveat of the fact that this was a relatively small group, and were still learning to read.

While this certainly doesn’t prove that boys react to competition better than girls, it does go some way to highlighting that the competitive urge provokes better performance in some. To understand more, its important to know how competition fits into the context of the corporate world. Social Darwinism, circled around the concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’, a phrase coined by the 19th Century scientist Herbert Spencer, and helped to shape public opinion and policy in Britain for more than a century. While recent corporate commentators have commented that a competitive culture could be misplaced or mis-read as aggression, our fundamental human nature, and the urge to compete, can not be denied. We’re all born, we know, with certain personality traits, instincts and individual strengths. Through education, we can use these factors to bring about positive change and development, both in ourselves and in others.

Learning and Development professionals recognise and understand the value in harnessing individuals’ innate competitive urges, and we know the importance of making the workplace the classroom, and vice versa. Keeping learning current, fluid and vital is essential, and encouraging a competitive culture is key. The corporate culture thrives on competition, after all. So to utilise it in training methods seems like a natural next step.

People respond well to systems that allow them to strive to develop, gaining rewards as they go. By gamifying training, and allowing learners to advance through levels, competing with colleagues, or across teams, the competitive culture grows, leading to increased productivity and profitability. As well as this, companies find that by using gamified app based training methods where learners participate on a daily basis, little and often, their competitive nature is encouraged and developed even further.

Gamified learning also encourages competition in the workplace on both an individual and corporate level. It doesn’t feel like learning to most people. It feels like fun. It’s an enjoyable experience, and is more likely to enthuse, energise and engage employees because of that. It encourages colleagues to promote competition in each other, to spur each other on to further development. Competition is a powerful force for change, and in a workplace with a positive attitude towards its people, competition is seen as a great motivator, encouraging and inspiring employees to perform at their best, which in turn leads to better productivity and increased profitability. Increased profitability leads to more competition on a corporate basis.

And so, the wheel keeps turning, driving business forward, and bringing growth.

Written by: Persia Shahkarami

Published: 15 Jun, 2016