Us humans are capable of quite extraordinary things. From surviving great hardships to building a better world we can all agree that human potential can be staggering.
The catalyst for human achievement I want to discuss is incentive. What makes the difference between “did” and “could have” for two humans with perfect faculties and environment usually boils down to incentive. It is an answer to the questions “Why do we do the things we do,” and similarly “why don’t we do things we could?“
Author Yu-Kai Chou of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards teased out some lucid conceptualizations of what types of incentive there are: Ownership, Accomplishment, Meaning, Empowerment, Social Pressure, Unpredictability, Avoidance and Scarcity.
For example, a business owner can spend an impressive amount of time on their company due to the incentive of Ownership, while an excessive gambler is driven by Unpredictability.
I will certainly touch on each and every one of these in the future, but for now I want to focus on incentive in general.
I watched two games of futball (soccer) today that had incredibly obvious signs of “no incentive.“ One was on the highest level of the organized sport, and the other was youth level. Middle school age specifically.
Liverpool vs. Everton in the Mersyside Derby! A hotly contested rivalry where both teams appeared to be playing to not lose. The only incentive seemed to be Avoidance, and that was the result both teams got. 0-0.
Everton being the underdog gave them a bit of “Meaning” and “Accomplishment” if they grabbed the W, and by rights they could have had it with a bit more clinical finishing. Liverpool was clearly resting for their tournament match Tuesday, and that mentality quite nearly lost them the match.
The kids were up 4-1, and were significantly out playing the other team. At least, until the last 15 minutes. With the game “clearly” in hand they began to get sloppy. A goal was let in, and there were several blown coverages that fortunately didn’t result in more leaked goals.
With both grown men and teen boys the level of play dipped below their potential. The professionals had the excuse of a more impactful match coming up, but the young kids had shifted mentality part way through the game.
Because these are team sports, it is obvious that not ever player was guilty of finding limited incentive. The ones that carried on at their best have, in my humble opinion, an innate sense of Meaning. I believe those that can find Meaning every moment of every day set themselves up to be the best they could possibly be.
I know it sounds a bit cheesy, so if anyone has a great quote from someone more eloquent than I please share!
To expand on this, I don’t think Meaning is synonymous to “ultimate truth.“ Everyone can find Meaning that is significant to themselves even if it is not found the least bit convincing by someone else.
Consequently, a word of caution is warranted given the dangers of apophenia. A word which here means “the tendency to perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things“ coined by Klaus Conrad (the internet is quite the handy tool). The difference between a healthy Meaning that others don’t understand, and dangerous apophenia is a conversation for another time.
You may now wonder, what is my Meaning? I won’t spoil it now, but if you spend much time with me it is rather apparent. Consider this an invitation!
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar