I regularly think of these people I saw in the Atlanta airport once.
It was an older couple riding up the escalator. They were standing still but moving their arms back-and-forth as if marching up the steps. But their feet weren’t moving. It seemed strange until I realized – they’re putting steps on their Fitbit (or whatever was measuring their steps that day.)
That’s winning the game, but cheating the process.
We’ve made steps (and a thousand other things) a game.
Ring the buzzer.
Close the rings.
Get more steps than Harry in accounting.
Gamification does help us think about winning at work.
Gamification does not eliminate the work.
It’s pointless to move your arms without moving your feet.
That old couple may have gotten their steps on that day. (It was the Atlanta airport. Of course, they were going to get their steps in that day!) But they didn’t actually take some of those steps.
We minimize the benefit of ten thousand steps when we only move our arms. Steps require feet.
We have gamified more than fitness. We’ve gamified productivity. And there is some benefit to this. The closed circles, checkmarks, and emptied inboxes get the dopamine flowing and we feel like we’re now doing something productive. It makes us happy.
And maybe, just maybe, we’re doing something important.
But not necessarily.
We may be just riding the escalator and swinging our arms. You can win the game. But that doesn’t mean you’re winning.
Meaningful work always means doing the work.
So check your work when your arms stop moving and the circle is closed.
That may not have been your actual work.
It may be that you’re now ready to do the thing that will make a difference.
This is your real work.