The holiday season culminates with year-end lists and New Year’s prognostications that range from the sacred to the ridiculous. Some people truly are anxious to know who the top ten reality TV stars of 2011 will be, while others seek insight as to whether their life direction is fulfilling and meaningful.
The answers in either case can be debated endlessly (or so we’re told when it comes to reality TV), but that doesn’t stop us from trying for answers. And what if we tap an experience with the trivial to inform the profound?
That’s what author Chris Guillebeau did in The Tower, his story of how a mobile phone game ensnared him against better judgment and what he learned from the experience. He found that the game – involving the construction, leasing and management of a mixed-use tower and how the game’s “bitizens” respond to that work – was smartly designed with five compelling elements: (1) a clear goal, (2) the opportunity for continuous improvement over time, (3) rewards and achievements along the way, (4) specific deliverables and (5) the capacity for the player to wield influence in achieving the goal.
In fact, the five elements that made the game addicting can make a life, career, community of practice, coalition or organization more compelling, engaging and successful. What the game’s designers tapped into and we neglect at our own peril in our daily lives is that the combination of clarity, focus, affirmation and autonomy can go a long, long way in fueling engagement and productivity. Clarity lends security. Focus allows intensity. Affirmation confers legitimacy. Autonomy breeds pursuit of mastery. Alone, each characteristic is helpful. Mashed together, their individual strengths feed off of the other in a continuous – if not virtuous – cycle.
At some point however, having stacked accomplishment upon accomplishment, at least one of two things happens. The first is a sense of questioning and perhaps even frustration. In Guillebeau’s words “Despite my devotion, the game treated me poorly, always taking my time and never giving anything besides more responsibility.” The second is that one looks down from the height of the tower and wonders for what reason the tower itself exists. In life, the refrain becomes “Is this all there is?”
Which leads to the main reason the game lost its grip, and the reason that we can reach the end of a period of work and feel the need to re-examine how far we have come and why.
Legacy is the final piece of the puzzle. The tower game’s ‘bitizens’ aren’t likely to show up at your funeral. On the other hand the mission, work and people you choose are likely to manifest in their own way – assuming that they have been purposefully nurtured, engaged and developed from the correct source of motivation.
Legacy – that thing that will outlast your presence – is by its nature not something we’re given to considering every day or perhaps not even periodically. But people who have done great things either start with or gradually become fully aware of the “dent in the universe” that they wish to make.
Playing a tower-building game won’t change people’s lives, but our chosen work can. Guillebeau’s story is a good reminder to keep a steady eye trained on legacy. It also wouldn’t hurt to steal a few tricks of the game design trade to keep ourselves and our fellow travelers engaged along the road to achieving it.
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