Make Work into Play

Motivation is the key to change and development.


Throughout history, people with motivation have pushed themselves to success. One of the Greats, Nelson Mandela, had the drive to end apartheid and segregation in South Africa. Steve Jobs had the determination to think outside of the box when creating Apple. Mohammed Ali showed his determination to become a role model for the black population as a legendary boxer.

A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning – Pat Riley, team president @MiamiHEAT

In 2009, Volkswagen initiated a project called The Fun Theory. It was to prove that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.” By creating an alternative way to make a usually mundane task interesting, the experimenters succeeded in making people do better. Let us look at some examples.

Example #1

  1. Problem: People were taking the escalators instead of the stairs.
  2. Mission: The Experimenters from “The Fun Theory” wanted to make the stairs fun so that people would use them more often.
  3. Idea: They turned each step of stairs into a piano key.
  4. Result: 66% more people than normal chose the stairs over the escalator.

Example #2

  1. Problem: People were littering instead of throwing away their trash in bins.
  2. Mission: The Experimenters from “The Fun Theory” wanted to make throwing away trash fun in order to make people do it more often.
  3. Idea: They developed the “World’s Deepest Bin” by adding a sound effect to the bins. Every time someone threw trash into it, the sound coming from the trash can would replicate that of an item falling down for a long time.
  4. Result: During one day 72kg of trash was collected in the bin. That is 41kg more than the average trash can in that area.

Taking into account these numerous examples, it only seems obvious that we should take that approach with international development: motivating people to GSD – Get stuff done. This applies to the developing world’s people and also to the individual’s of developed countries.

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“Instead of asking ‘How can I motivate people?’ we should be asking ‘How can I create the conditions within which people will motivate themselves?’” – Psychologist Edward Deci

For example, sanitation and hygiene have been a consistent issue in the developing world. In places like South Africa approximately 18 million do not have access to adequate sanitation in this country. It is estimated that 1.7 million people annually die due to this, particularly as a result of diarrhoeal disease. The adoption of safe hygienic practices is vital and by making education about it fun, people will be more likely to conform.

Another instance where the findings of “The Fun Theory” could be useful is environmental protection. Urban air pollution generated by vehicles, industries, and energy production kills approximately 800 000 people annually. More than 225,000 people are killed by lead exposure due to lead exposure in developing countries. If society were to make environmental protection fun (incentivizing to throw away trash and not pollute the water), people would be more likely to preserve their habitat.

There is one more example that is imperative to discuss: Charity. Money makes the world go round and in order to help developing countries step into a better future, people need to donate. The US Government has made an effort to incentivize donations by making them tax deductible. However, the main issue with this encouragement is that many people are too busy to file such tax files. It is not fun and often our time is too valuable for such busy work. If society found a new, innovative way to motivate the developed world to give to charity, people in need would get the cash to build up a business and add to the world.


One thought on “Make Work into Play

  1. something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better. I love the post.

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