The Power of Habits

Research has found that we make thousands of decisions in a day (Sahakian & Labuzeta, 2013). How is that even possible? It's not possible, because our brain will overload & shut down. However the brain has a secret weapon - it's called habits. Up to 40% of decisions made by the brain are using habits (Verplanken & Wood, 2006), which greatly reduces the amount of active processing power the brain requires.

How Do Habits Work?

Habits work in loops. So each habit loop starts with a trigger/event. The brain then decides if this requires active thinking or recalling a habit that is stored. Once decided, an action is executed and the brain waits for feedback. If the feedback is good (reward)- it reinforces the habit, if the feedback is bad (pain/negativity), it starts to diminish the habit in the brain. In gamification, game designers use game mechanics that apply habit loops to reinforce the type of behaviours they want to see. If designed properly, gamification can help to enhance positive and constructive behaviours.

Now that we know how habits work, the next question is, what type of decisions and actions are hard coded into habits by our brain? Most of us have this idea that habits are for actions like which hand we use to hold our toothbrush or which route we take to work. We think that habits are formed for the mundane and low level decisions or actions. However, habits are formed based on which decisions or actions that is the most frequently used. The more times we repeat a decision/action, the more likely it will form habits. As such, for a sales professional, the habits that will form are; pitching to clients, handling objections, making cold calls, etc.  This means habits often take over the core functions of a person’s job.

Habits In Business Context

Here's the all important question. Why does a lot of business growth or culture change fail in organisations? It’s because habits overpower any external effort to change the default mode of habits – often known as comfort zones. As such, unless we focus on the behavioural components of habits, any transformation programme will yield little results. 

Why does training/e-learning sessions have a high failure rate of retention and sustainability in the workplace? The main reason is habits overpower any attempt by the person to apply new learning in the workplace. Participants need a space where they can unlearn, relearn and then apply the learnings while building new habits – all done before they go back to the workplace.

So then, what do we do? Habits are very hard to break, so we create new habits instead. By using gamified simulations, habit building models, and iterative techniques - we allow people to practice and rapidly develop the target behaviours and habits.

How effective is gamification in the context of learning? With one of our Fortune 500 client, their finance team reported a sales increase of 266% across the board for 300 staff that attended or sales simulations. The way we did it was by building the right habits so that when an event or trigger happens in the workplace, the brain will access the new habits as opposed to the old habits.

So if you are looking for business or behavioural results, make gamification your top consideration when implementing a solution.

An Effective Behavioural Change is Only 3 Steps Away

Written by: Gabriel Goh, Gamification Designer

This is an interactive article and I would like to invite you to take part in this – creating behavioural change in yourself.

Everyone longs for change. When I say change, it refers to a desirable change. For instance, John has been overworked doing everything by himself and he needs to learn to delegate his tasks to others. However, not everyone is willing to commit to change, simply because they think it is hard.

Before we talk about creating behavioural change, let us take a step back, how does an individual’s behaviour change occur? According to Fogg’s Behaviour Model, behavioural change occurs when the 3 components, namely Motivation, Ability, and Trigger are present at the same time.

Behavioural change = Motivation x Ability x Trigger

BJ Fogg.png

Before we dive into the components separately, here is my first question to you:


“What is the ONE behavioural change you would like to see in yourself?”


According to Fogg, there are 3 types of motivations, which are physical, emotional and social motivations. Let’s take John as an example and I will demonstrate how to apply gamification in the journey of delegating tasks. If you are wondering what gamification is, basically it is the use of game elements in non-game applications (in this case, to stop overworking) to keep you motivated and engaged in the task.


From my point of view, another term for physical motivation is extrinsic motivation. As human beings, we have the tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Hence, we are inclined to do certain actions only if we know we will be rewarded. Tying back to the example, in order to make sure John starts delegating his tasks, we can reward him by offering tangible rewards that act as instant gratifications, such as free vouchers for a romantic getaway with his loved one, lunch opportunities with a CEO, etc.


From my point of view, emotional motivation refers to intrinsic motivation. According to Growth Engineering, hope is the most powerful motivator in making sure learners are engaged in the task. For instance, give him an Epic Meaning for delegating tasks. What does it mean to him if John changes his current behaviour? By doing so, it gives him a sense of purpose in taking part in something that is meaningful to him.

On the other hand, we could also use fear as another emotion to make sure that he is on track. For instance, we could leverage his fear of burning out mentally, fear of physical exhaustion, etc. Remember why was it so effective when your parents banned you from watching TV or eating dessert if you did not do what they wanted you to do? They utilised your fear of being deprived of the things that you desire as a “motivation”. It can normally be seen in games like Monopoly. For you to win, you need to keep yourself from falling into bankruptcy.



Social motivation is also known as the motivation for belonging. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of belonging is a basic human need and we cannot survive without it. This explains why prisoners are punished by being placed into solitary confinement as this is against human’s instinct to live alone.

Hence, it is common to see a lot of game developers create games that allow players to compete against or cooperate with one another. Besides that, they also include social elements into their games, such as leaderboards, forums, etc.

If John is motivated by having a sense of belongingness and relatedness, you can invite him to join a focus group where he could connect and share stories with colleagues or peers who have had a similar experience.

Here is another question for you: “What motivates you the most?”


In this model, the ability doesn’t refer to someone’s competency for a particular task. Fogg defines ability as to how simple it is to do a certain task. Simplicity is the key here as the more complicated a task is, the more motivation is required. Here are the 6 key elements that you should take note of when you are minimising your task. Before you proceed to the next question, do check out Fogg’s “Six Elements of Simplicity”.

If John was told to delegate all of his tasks on the very first day, it would seem almost impossible for him. As a result, he might not even start to change as the stakes are too high. It would be so much easier if the task is broken down into parts. Firstly, start with delegating 20% of his tasks, followed with 40%, 60% and so on.

“How would you make your task simpler?”

You’re almost there……


One last step. If we want to break out from our old lifestyles and achieve something new, we will need a reminder as a trigger. For instance, place post-it notes on your desktop or ask someone to be accountable for your change. As for John’s example, we could ask him to declare the changes he is going to make in front of his colleagues so that they can hold him accountable of his actions by reminding him from time to time.

Here is my last question for you: “What will you be using as your trigger?”

Or, “Who will hold you accountable?”

In a nutshell, make sure that the changes you want to implement really matters to you (motivation), the behaviours are as simple as possible (ability) and prompt yourself to take action in the right way (motivation). Most importantly, find out what keeps you engaged and gamify your process, I can assure you the path towards change is not as hard as it seems anymore.


3 Gamification Trends To Look Out For In 2019

Written by: Kerry Wong, Head of Gamification Design

The use of “Gamification” is becoming more widespread, as many organisations around the world are adopting the methodology to create positive behavioural change, strong organisational culture, better education and training. Gamification is here to stay but the job is still half done as it is still undergoing massive innovation. Here are 3 trends you need to look out for in gamification.


Gamification in Politics?

Gabe Zichermann, author of The Gamification Revolution(2013), Gamification by Design (2011) and Game-Based Marketing (2010), says that gamification will gain popularity in politics and civic organisations.

In the recent 2018 mid-term US elections, Gabe Zichermann collaborated with TBS’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, a late-night talk and news satire programme, and launched a smartphone app called This Is Not a Game: The Game. The purpose of the app was to educate US citizens about the political sphere, test the electorate’s knowledge, and encourage players to vote.

Leading up to the big day, the app offered a daily trivia game, where players answer questions centred on the midterm elections, after which an inaugural pot of $5,000 will then be split among the winners. When players were knocked out, they could earn second chances by completing challenges such as registering as a voter and signing up for election reminders.

Source: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Source: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

It is what’s inside that counts.

Yu-Kai Chou, the author of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards(2017), says gamification will ‘go deeper’ as marketers seek for ways to make the desired behaviours enjoyable instead on stimulating action solely with rewards and gifts.

As the industry becomes more mature, gamification designs centred on rewards and incentives (extrinsic motivation) will give way to designs centred on making behaviours or tasks actually enjoyable for the participant to carry out (intrinsic motivation). While extrinsic motivation design is very helpful in getting a person to start performing a specific behaviour or task, it has been found that the moment extrinsic motivation is eliminated from the equation, the person will lose interest in continuing to carry out that particular behaviour or task.

For instance, if you want a child to perform well in school, an external incentive will only get you so far. Speaking from my own personal experience, I used to really like studying, I found the whole experience fun and engaging. Then, in my last year of primary education, I got my parents to agree to get me a present if I got good grades. The incentive worked, I was excited and driven, and I eventually got the grades to back it up.

However, once I entered my secondary education, the external incentive was no longer there and I ended up losing my initial motivation to study. The experience was no longer as fun or as engaging as before. I never really understood why until I found out about the impact of extrinsic motivation.

Perhaps a better way my parents could have done to tackle this would be to ignore my request and reassure my effort to foster my sense of self-achievement (PS: I love my parents, mind you). After all, someone who is intrinsically motivated is more likely to continue working on it despite the challenges they may face.

Source: Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis Framework – Left Brain (Extrinsic) vs Right Brain (Intrinsic)

Source: Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis Framework – Left Brain (Extrinsic) vs Right Brain (Intrinsic)

How you feel impacts what you do.

An Coppens, Founder and Chief Game Changer of Gamification Nation, wrote an article highlighting empathy mapping and how it plays a role in instigating behavioural change.

In the new age of gamification, a strong and emotionally engaging narrative will be important. For example, Judy Willis, a neurologist wrote in her book that fun experiences increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in the human body – all things that promote learning. So, it is important to incorporate happy and fun experiences when designing a learning programme to nurture these positive emotions, which subsequently leads to a higher retention rate.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

It is interesting to see how gamification has matured as an industry, as well as the shift towards a more intrinsically motivated approach. Can’t wait to see how it would evolve in 2019!

Gamification In Business

Written by: Sufiz Suffian, Head of Business Development

Gamification is quickly gaining traction all over the world, including Malaysia and can be seen just about anywhere.

In fact, you may have already interacted with elements of gamification numerous times over the past couple of hours, whether it was through social media, e-commerce sites, or while purchasing groceries at your local supermarket.

So before we dive deeper into how gamification has invaded our lives, it is best to first understand what gamification even is.

What Is Gamification?

In my career, I have come across many misinterpretations of gamification. Although the name does include the word "game", it is often not as simple as that.

Gamification is the concept of using game design elements in non-game applications to make it more fun and engaging. In short, it is essentially behavioural psychology in human-centric design that you can interact with just about anywhere.

Gamification has the capability to motivate an individual to display a particular behaviour or undertake a series of actions for a specific goal or purpose. This is accomplished by encouraging users to engage in these behaviours by showing them a scaffolded path to mastery, and by taking advantage of our human psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.

Gamification involves identifying "player types" and their corresponding motivational drives.

By understanding who your target audience is, you are able to include motivational elements to spur your audience to act in a particular manner that would benefit you and possibly your business.

Moreover, if these motivational elements and desired behaviours occur frequently enough and in the right order, users will begin to develop habits that will keep them coming back for more.

After all, everyone loves games, so why not turn everything into one?

Why Gamification?

Whether it's collecting points to unlock discounts or prizes during your next purchase, or to earn higher cashback rates by making a transaction at certain business establishments, with the right motivation and the right "reward" (be it intrinsic or extrinsic), businesses have got you right where they want you.

For instance, Facebook alone uses endless elements of gamification, from collecting likes on your recent status update, or having your friends share an article you posted on your page. As of 2017, daily social media usage of global internet users amounted to 135 minutes per day, up from 126 daily minutes in the previous year!

Unsurprisingly, the world has also taken notice of gamification. In 2014, the global gamification market size was approximately USD 960.5 million and is expected to reach USD 22,913.0 million by 2022, at a CAGR of 41.8%.

There is even an increased interest in gamification globally as shown by significantly improved Google search trends for gamification over the years, including in Malaysia.

Google Trends for gamification worldwide.

Google Trends for gamification worldwide.

So what sort of gamification is already out there and what can you learn from them to potentially inject some of it into your own business?

Examples of Gamification

The e-commerce giant Lazada is among many businesses that frequently uses gamification to drive their sales revenue. By shopping via their mobile application, you can access an array of gamified promotions and vouchers. Most have elements of scarcity and/or time limitations to spur users to quickly take action on their purchases.

Example of Lazada’s gamified promotions and vouchers.

Example of Lazada’s gamified promotions and vouchers.

What's more, after getting your first good deal via Lazada, you'll be motivated to open the app again and again just to chase the next great deal.

Lazada also has "shake rewards" which has become a growing trend among businesses in Malaysia. This includes implementation by mobile wallet Boost, and multinational banking and financial services company Standard Chartered. By using your mobile device's motion sensors, users can shake their device to gain random rewards or vouchers which they can then redeem during their next purchase.

Example of Lazada’s Shake-It Campaign.

Example of Standard Chartered’s Shake & Win Campaign

Example of Standard Chartered’s Shake & Win Campaign

Another example is DooIt, an online live trivia game show where participants log into their mobile application at certain times of the day to answer a series of questions to win a share of the daily prize money. Yes, actual money.

Advertisements are peppered in between questions and pleasantries by the game show "hosts" while the participants are concentrating hard on their screens to quickly select the correct answers to each question within the limited time. What you have here is a fully engaged audience that have made time in their busy schedules to participate in a game with other like-minded participants (which normally number in the thousands at least) just to win a small share of the prize money.

This creates a unique platform for businesses to advertise their products and services to an audience that is fully listening during an age when advertisements have cluttered every public and virtual space available (think advertisements on billboards, television, radio, websites, etc.).

Gamification has also been used in fields of medical research, particularly AIDS.

For 15 years, many experts in the world were hard at work trying to decipher a crystal structure for one of the AIDS-causing viruses known as the Mason-Pfizer Monkey virus (M-PMV), but were unsuccessful.

The University of Washington's Center for Game Science collaborated with the Biochemistry department and FoldIt, an online puzzle game about protein folding, was developed. Over 240,000 players all over the world registered for the game and competed against each other. As a result, a solution to the structure of the M-PMV was found in merely 10 days!

This was a major breakthrough in the AIDS research field which these experts could not accomplish in 15 years, while a game did it in a fraction of that time with the help of many competitive gamers.

Image of FoldIt online puzzle game for AIDS research

Image of FoldIt online puzzle game for AIDS research

The simple act of shaking your device, opening a mobile application at specific times of the day, answering trivia questions, or competing against strangers to solve complex puzzles for any kind of reward, be it big or small, creates a feeling of satisfaction, success, achievement or victory for the user which can trigger the release of endorphins (the feel good hormone) in the brain, which makes the user feel better about themselves. It's no surprise how this can quickly turn into a habit for the user.

It is clear that gamification is nothing to sneeze at and it will continue to grow in relevance throughout the world, including the business world.

Business owners have often been stumped with the problem of generating more revenue, customers, and market share. Just as these PHD-wielding scientists had spent 15 years of their lives trying to solve an equation to the Mason-Pfizer Monkey virus. Perhaps the formula they have been seeking all this time was right under their noses.

The formula was most likely, the often underestimated: gamification.

3 Business Examples Of Deep Gamification In The Workplace

Here are 3 urgent examples to show upper management that team games get teams motivated to work harder and more frequently, and are not just for catchy terms like “team-building” or “team spirit”