Guilt and shame don’t work. Fun and fame do. Make everything in life fun. Yes, fun, and make everyone around you famous.
Several years ago, I was asked to give a talk on purpose-driven businesses. I went for a long walk on the beach and thought about all the years I’ve committed my life to different causes—from the harmful effects of toxins in children to making organic food affordable to avoiding pesticides and herbicides to making health products available to more people. There has always been one common theme: The way we went about communicating the benefit of the cause was to try to shed light on the problems of maintaining the status quo. We painted the alternative in a negative light. We tried to shame people into change. Somewhere on that beach, as I walked, I realized this was my mistake all along.
Over the holidays that year, I hosted a small intimate group of extraordinary and exceptional people that didn’t know each other but for the most part where all cause-driven entrepreneurs.
As usual, the conversation is serious when a group of this sort of people get together. That night was no different as we were talked about the world’s biggest issues: Hunger, war, environmental destruction, economic strife, and human suffering. One of our colleagues brought a friend whom I had never met, Miguel, who is a big, good-looking 30-something. In the midst of all these serious conversations, we learned that Miguel had created a segment of the music business called rap-activism and Miguel was the key rapper. I asked Miguel if he would rap for the guests. He obliged, and did a “freestyle” session. Someone would give him a word and he busted into a cause-based rap. The evening suddenly became a night nobody would ever forget. Everybody at the party, people of all ages, listened intently to the words and messaging as Miguel’s profound and brilliant rapping ranged from population issues, to climate, to toxins in the environment. It was done in such a fun and eloquent way that he accomplished what many of us have tried and failed for years to do: He made activism fun. Even my grandson told his friends about it at school the next day. Now that’s powerful messaging.
To watch Miguel in action, click here.
And if you’re still unsure that rap-activism is a good way to reach your audience, just look at the biggest show on Broadway. Hamilton is not only a validation of rap as an art form, but as a way to deliver a powerful message.
All this got me thinking about the most influential campaigns and products of our time. They did the exact opposite of shaming people into change. The iPhone didn’t become a hit because Apple bad-mouthed the flip-phone; the iPhone hit it big because it was just so much more fun to use. Facebook didn’t reach its gargantuan success by creating attack ads against MySpace and Friendster; instead, Facebook produced a platform that made it was easy for anyone to feel famous—and have fun doing it.
For me, this realization was an epiphany: guilt or blame is not the way to get your message across. I committed to change my ways, and to pursue even the most difficult causes with a focus on fun and fame. So I started about the idea of fun and fame, and my audiences started to have more fun and become more receptive.
Fun and fame has become a key part of my own endeavors as well. On our business development team, gamification has become one of our favorite tools. It lets us deliver even the most sobering campaign with elements of fun and fame. One of our best examples of using gamification to convey a serious message is Oceanopolis, a campaign we developed to raise awareness of the impact of plastic waste in the ocean for Waste Management, a publicly held environmental services company and the largest recycler in North America. To gamify the Waste Management project, our resident digital genius, Jeff Smith, created a game in the form of a Facebook app that shows how plastic, if not recycled, pollutes the oceans. In the game, players work to clean up their island and winners get status points—the fame—that can be redeemed for prizes—the fun. In the process, players build a community of islands, and learn about the effects of plastic waste in the ocean.
To those who don’t play online games, the concept may seem pointless, but that’s the point. You need to motivate people within their core values, not yours. That’s where fun and fame work best: you pick an audience and develop something fun for them, that makes them famous in their world. If we made recycling fun, and those who recycle famous, you can do the same in your endeavors, too.
The ideas of fun and fame need to be incorporated into everything we do, not just occasionally, but on an everyday basis. Why? Because we want to feel good about what we are doing, and we as humans are biologically wired to benefit from a positive feeling. When we feel good about something, our brains produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which opens our blood vessels and gives us a sense of euphoria.
Dopamine is the “drug” that speakers continually brought up at the Gamification Summit, and its importance in motivating us is what I firmly believe has been missing in most of the world’s change campaigns.
So what’s the most effective way we can go from engendering guilt and shame to providing an incentive of fun and fame? Lets take a look at everyday things. The “Cracker Jack effect” is a very good example. Growing up, I really wasn’t all that enamored with the caramel popcorn, but I loved the fact that there was a gift in every box and it was always something different. Could we follow Cracker Jack’s lead and put a prize into every LED light bulb? Or how about automatically entering the user in a lottery every time he or she returned something to be recycled? What if people were given incentives for buying locally grown food or dairy products? Or rewarded for purchasing non-toxic cleaning supplies and soap, or for buying fish that aren’t in danger of becoming extinct?
The Toyota Prius is another example. If Toyota had relied upon the efficiency of the engine to sell the Prius, it never would have been able to establish the Hybrid vehicle as a popular car. When the Prius first hit the market with a fuel economy of 40mpg, there had been cars getting 40mpg for a decade. What made the Prius a success was the smart design—space efficient, keyless starter and smartlocks, space-age interior and reasonable power that all make the car fun to drive. These things made it stand out in the neighborhood, making the owner famous in their world. Toyota made doing the right thing fun – and the doer of the right thing famous.
Perhaps the world’s most pressing issues aren’t really your cup of tea. I can’t blame you. Fun and fame are still great ways to facilitate change. Next time you have to ask your team at work to do something undesirable, are trying to change your family or work dynamic for the better, or are involved in any team, think fun and fame.
Maybe dopamine, the feel-good hormone naturally available to all of us all the time, is the magic elixir that is the ultimate motivator. I think it is – the solution to a problem will be so much more within our grasp if we can activate this natural neurotransmitter for our cause. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to inspire people than to help them have fun and make them famous.
Back then: To be paid more, one needed to increase the number of things that are by him known. Today: To be paid more, one needs to increase the number of people by whom he is known.― Mokokoma Mokhonoana