The Self-Determination Theory uses the word competence, and Daniel Pink uses the word mastery in his book, Drive. Different states of the same journey. And really, the motivational element here is simply the desire to get better and better at something. Before you’re a master, and before you’re even competent, the joy and reward of just getting better at something is intensely powerful.
On 750 Words I use competence as a motivator by tracking how long it takes you to write 750 words, and how many times you were distracted.
On Health Month, I use competence as a motivator by giving you a “grade” at how closely you were able to follow each of your self-imposed rules each month.
Nike+ and RunKeeper use competence by congratulating you on your fastest or longest runs.
The best way to play around with competence and mastery, in my opinion, is to provide people with a mirror of their activity. Tell them what they just did, but didn’t realize, and remind them about how they have done in the past, but forgot. Give them stats that summarize their behavior, and let them use that to make small incremental improvements over time. It’s one of those things we’re really bad at… knowing if we’re making a small improvement or not. We like big, obvious change. But by keeping track of behavior and reporting back when you break a personal record, or improve your grade, or whatever… that feedback allows the long, slow, progress from competence to mastery to gain a little shape and form that it otherwise wouldn’t have.
Improving at something is highly rewarding… if you can detect it. Game mechanics can help you detect the smallest improvements and magnify them so that they provide you with the fuel to keep improving.
A couple of my favorite books on this topic:
- Effectiveness as a motivational tool: Very high (5 out of 5)
- Intrinsic or extrinsic: The very definition of intrinsic (5 out of 5)
- Difficulty to implement: Medium. It’s just about recording what has happened and highlighting small improvements. (3 out of 5)