There’s something in each of us that likes to play a game or two.

Call it competitiveness, achievement, even self-expression.  The notion of winning at something can lure us into arcades as well as casinos, seduce us with smartphone apps or a family Scrabble feud.

When it comes to work, though, gamification – the millennial word for infusing game mechanics in the Web – smacks of management control, and of automatons doing a higher-up’s bidding.

Hey, we’re being honest – and we know that the world just might be agin’ us:  August corporations use these kinds of software programs for various goals, from teaching about sustainability to exercising more effectively.  Many large salesforces thrill to using specialized game mechanics, such as badges, points, virtual gifts, and leaderboards, that help prompt higher performance.   Or so they say.  Gartner even predicted that this year more than 70 percent of global businesses would adopt at least one gamified app.

But is there truly safety in numbers?  For some routine jobs and tasks, such as onboarding and customer service, the games we play could well spark improvement.  Learning, too, deserves all the gamification we can absorb.  Yet the things that make us collaborate with our colleagues, enhance our interpersonal skills, and increase our productivity are not found in the Web-ified non-human prompts from our employers.  We want to figure out, ourselves, our own sources of motivation and good behaviors; understanding “me” from an online Chutes and Ladders-type exercise makes us want to, yes, game the system.

Besides, how would it make you feel to hear that Hezbollah uses gamification to market its philosophies to adolescents?


It had to happen:  Some tech entrepreneur developed a smartphone app that not only shows individual store floor plans, but also, when interacting with other apps, will re-create your shopping list in the form of a store map, routing you to the best and fastest way to hunt and gather.

And it’s all in the guise of great – and differentiated – customer service.

Hmmm:  We beg to differ.                   

For those in a hurry to amass food and other products, this kind of mapping makes sense.  After all, who’s got time (chefs excluded) to slowly examine a head of Boston lettuce or closely scrutinize the freshness of leeks?  Even consumer goods, like Nike shoes or a Tahari sheath, can easily be plucked from their shelves or hangers when armed with a retail planner.

It’s also a boon for in-store pick-up, when you don’t have the bandwidth to putter or truly shop for the item you want.

Wait.  Isn’t retail all about visual cues, enticing us to stop, look, and handle – and dream?  What ever happened to the thrill of discovering, say, a new kind of organic snack or an out-of-the-world designer label while meandering through a confusing store layout?  Even brick-and-mortar bookstores, of which there are all too few, beg us to wander and browse, read a few pages, and fall in “like” with an author.  We can always order e-books.  But not discover a different writer or illustrator or magazine editor.

Sure, we’re all about navigational signals when we need to get somewhere – a corporate strategy, business goals, even directions to off- and in-sites.  Yet even when we’re so inclined to go straight and not deviate, isn’t there something infinitely human about getting lost?


Every other headline – or so it seems – bursts with the tech news of the moment: 

Big Data stalks us. 

Big Data records what I do IRL (in real life). 

Big Data is leading to personalized medicine.

Big Data will recruit me.

Most of these announcements we shrug off, saying B.D. is somewhere between hype and hyperbole, at least for the moment.  What we can’t quite swallow, though, are the digital patterns now being plumbed in what’s called workforce science. 

Proponents say that access to our e-files shows how we work and communicate …  all in efforts to build better workers, who are more innovative, more creative, more productive. 

Detractors clamor about the limits of surveillance, wanting to know what data is being collected and how it’s being used. 

What’s more, Big Blue and Deloitte, among others, are buying up firms that specialize in the algorithms of and insights into employees; the former having acquired Kenexa in 2012; the latter, Bersin in the last few months.  Even eHarmony is mating with different suitors these days, intending to enter the talent search business by revising its codes.

These trends concern us:  It’s one thing to figure out whom to hire and how to recruit through different apps and smarttech.  It’s quite another to dig into our hot buttons, through, say, the email we send and the videos we watch, to calculate motivations and measure productivity.  Companies like Evolv which advises companies on hiring and managing hourly workers through B.D. show promising results for recruiting longer-term call center employees, a notoriously difficult retention task (turnover can be up to 100 percent each year).  On the other hand, when data scientists note that call centers are our “initial focus,” inquiring minds think otherwise. 

It’s your turn, dear reader.  Shades of Big Brother or the (mostly) harmless progress of life?