Economic Incentives that Don’t Cost Money

A huge insight between Zimmerman’s and McAfee’s keynotes came in the form of incentives for participants in a system.  It is possible to have economic incentives to motivate, recognize and/or reward behaviors (and behavior change) that don’t cost a dime — the key is in creating and valuing a non-financial economy in the organization.

How is that even possible?

Scoreboards, titles, designations and certificates are all forms of recognition, right?  Points, credits earned — some form of scarcity can be quantified and recognized in an organizational system.  The ability to earn some kind of points or credits to earn designations, or to recognize upper levels of accomplishment in other ways are part of an economy an organization can create around attributes, individual and group behaviors that it values.

So if an organization truly recognizes/values participation, contribution and leadership — these are attributes that can be rewarded in ways that aren’t financial but may turn out to be as meaningful or even more meaningful than throwing money at people.

What can it look like? There are lots of models (again), but a quick idea I had at Koreen and Kris’ review of the Zombie Apocalypse Augmented Reality Game revolved around recognizing contribution as a team in the discovery of content.  Many players would get upset that no matter how fast they responded to entering a discovered code in the game, while they could earn the points for themselves, there was no reward to the team for their effort.

Not that I’m a game designer, but I imagine a points system that rewards:

  • Individual accomplishment – x points for individual score
  • Posting for the team – (# of team members) minus (# of team members who’ve already found it)

Why would this second rule be important?  A couple of reasons, imho:

  • Recognizes an impact of being the first to post for the team (who’s your “scout?”).
  • Encourages team behavior (to maximize team points, everyone must get in to enter the code)
  • Encourages distribution of content, given the focus of this particular ARG (players must self-organize to get the word out)

Now you can add more incentive by rewarding connector roles, leader roles, etc.

What do you think?