Plotting for Motivation, Part II

A couple weeks ago I wrote a long post about how I was feeling blah, and came away with the notion that I wanted to create a system to deal with it. “It” is the opposite of blah, which I’d define as being excited about what I’m accomplishing every day.

The next step is to define what the game will be. Time to dust off that old game design hat!

System Goals

Before I can design a system, I need to define what it’s supposed to achieve. The glib answer is “Happiness”, but pragmatically I am ready to accept a limited (and therefore achievable) objective. For example, a can of ice-cold grape Fanta would make me REALLY HAPPY right now. That is something I can actively plan and execute, and I even know where I might find some. Failing that, I could probably find a reasonable substitute. It’s challenging, but doable.

It’s funny how much easier this is when you’re working on someone else’s problem, because you can then just focus on finding a solution. When you’re the one picking the problem to solve, you will be of one of three minds:

  • You already know EXACTLY what you need to do, and it’s a matter of queuing up the logistics and operational resources to get it done.

  • You DON’T KNOW what the problem is, though you know it’s lurking. You need to call in some analyst resources to look at what’s going on and define what the problems are, what’s causing them, and what effect they’re having.

  • You CAN’T PICK WHICH PROBLEM to solve, because they are many or have roughly the same level of uncertain benefit in return for expending resources you don’t really want to commit. You suspect that it’s important, but are paralyzed in choice.

These three minds are present all the time in various guises, and one is not better than the other. The system I want will have to support all three mindsets. That said, let me pick a happiness subset. These correspond to my Groundhog Day Resolutions Goals for the past few years, modified slightly to emphases what is PRODUCED. In my case, what I really like doing is a bit abstract:

  1. Ultimately, what I want to produce is empowerment and inspiration. I like reading about it, and I like being a source of it. I like seeing it swirl around me and the people I’m with. Yay!

  2. What produces inspiration and empowerment? In my personal experience, it’s well-designed products that help people do things that are meaningful to them. It’s also saying the right words at the right time, demonstration by example, sharing stories and tips, speaking directly to someone’s heart, and receiving know-how that can be applied immediately.

  3. There are also certain conditions that I impose on myself for personal reasons. I prefer to work with people who are self-empowering by nature, conscientious, generous in spirit, positive-minded, and not exploitative. I also don’t see myself in a position where I’m used as a power source for someone else’s endeavor; in other words, I’ll sell generators, but not be responsible for providing the fuel beyond a certain point.

  4. I imagine that this would result in a life of independent writing and invention that, unlike now, is completely self-sustaining. I would have enough money to live on and travel, collecting more inspiration and empowerment moments than I can from my basement in New Hampshire. I also would have a new laptop and an outstanding portable video/photography kit.


As of this very moment, I’m not sure how this is going to happen. I know that parts of it are happening, but I can’t point at a map and say, “yeah, I’m closer to that.” So, let me try to reduce the system goals into system measurable deliverables:

  • Empowerment and Inspiration: This is measurable through direct feedback from people. I get a few nice emails a week from people who like what I’m writing about, and they are kind enough to let me know. This can be measured by a count.

  • There are three ways that I produce empowerment and inspiration: through blog posts like this, through posting of useful information, and by making productivity tools available. This can be measured through web traffic, downloads, and incoming links.

  • The printed pads I sell on Amazon are a new source of revenue, but are also a form of packaged inspiration and empowerment. This is the part of the system I want to grow, partly because it tickles me to some day tell people, “Oh, I design stationery.”

  • There is also recognition, from being the guy who is nerdy enough to make design forms, from people who value such things. Celebrity can be measured by certain referrals from prestigious sites like LifeHacker and the occasional happy tweet recommending my work. Also, the percentage of work I do that’s analyst/workflow related, compared to general interactive development, web development, or graphic design is an indicator as well.

  • There’s also the sheer giddiness I like to share, because I am a certain kind of obsessive nerd. Pens, food, and DIY manufacturing are three things that are much on my mind these days. To be able to participate meaningfully in these worlds makes me happy. I’m not sure if this is part of the system I’m designing, but I’m listing it anyway.

Pondering this list, I think I can make two bold design definitions:

  • EMPOWERMENT is the production of packaged information (as a blog post or product).

  • INSPIRATION is the feedback that comes back from the consumption of empowerment.

There are different levels of both empowerment and inspiration, which suggests to me that these could be used as a kind of overall score keeping device, which is useful for measuring my speed toward a goal. That’s a good start. However, there also needs to be a destination. The idea of being that storekeeper who sells a lot of empowering products. I think that makes the goal itself that of being that storekeeper, a stockist of the finest empowerment solutions in the land, plus my own home-grown varieties. If Empowerment and Inspiration were an actual hobby, I would be serving a community of people who love creativity and sharing know-how, who perceive themselves as people on a quest to do meaningful things for the sake of doing them. In this case, meaning isn’t so much “helping the downtrodden”, but “helping people do more.” At heart, I’m kind of a knowledge nerd, so I am enthralled by things like maps and mapmaking tools, creative software, and applied science. Making the best knowledge and tools available and accessible on the individual level is part of that vibe, because I want to be able to make cool things too. That suggests that the overall goal, the close to Act II of my life, is the creation of that store. Part library, part museum w/ gift shop, part laboratory. The growth of a store is something that is far more concrete than just collecting Empowerment and Inspiration points.

System Design

Let me define this all more succinctly:

The Audience

Who’s interested? It’s the “hobbyist market” for people who love empowerment and inspiration. This market is comprised of people who:
  • love creativity and sharing know-how
  • are on a quest to do more meaningful work
  • value “doing more interesting things” as their contribution to the world
  • love insight and knowledge that are well-ordered and packaged for ready use
  • appreciate fine tools that can be used in their quest
  • value action informed science, introspection, inquiry
  • love stories about people doing stuff like this
  • are self-empowered and independent in mindset

The Game

There are two game pursuits:
  • The challenge of creating a “store” that caters to the aforementioned audience. The game is won when the store not only exists as an entity on the Internet, but when it is also gains reputation on the Internet as being the place to go to when looking for a certain kind of product.

  • The development of a line of productivity tools that are exclusive to the store, that helps define the audience as well as serving it.

Game Mechanics

A good game engages the mind using multiple dimensions. In the time dimension:

  • Immediate actions that lead to immediate feedback, accruing in a total score. For example, shooting an invader in Space Invaders is instantly gratifying, and gains you a small amount of points. The total score accrues, reflecting on your overall mastery of the game at the end.

  • Short-term tactical decisions that utilize immediate actions for optimal gain with the minimum effective effort. Effectiveness is measured by time saved, points gained, or preference.

  • Long-term goal achievement is about managing your available resources and energy with respect to what you know is coming. Do you have enough ammo to last a shootout with the bad guys at the end of the level? Did you not realize that you would not be able to buy rockets after you left the Moon level of the game? Do you have to make some kind of choice about which way to go, forever cutting off an entire line of action?

In the collection/completion dimension:

  • Gathering pieces of a larger collection that can be cashed in for a big reward. It’s a little treat.

  • Unlocking a new set of possibilities once you have completed a collection or accrued enough points.

  • Optimal strategies for collecting points and completing sets of pieces, including evaluation of whether it’s worth it or not.

  • Spending collected resources versus hoarding them.

In the story dimension:

  • Every action, however small, reinforcing the premise of you as the character. If an action doesn’t add to that picture, the game fails on a fundamental level.

  • Reminders of the big picture, the ultimate challenge you will be facing. Creating enough challenge to make you question whether you’re ready, with enough pressure to move you forward and realize that you were able to do it.

  • Growth challenges that change enough rules of the game so you have to adapt and become more capable. Builds on what you’ve learned so far, but puts a new twist on it or adds some new element to manage.

  • Moral or Ethical motivators through story and character development. At a certain point, you’ve been completely engaged with the game, and now you have to persevere if you are the warrior you have been led to believe yourself to be.

  • Epic challenges, followed by adulation. Those challenges that have true meaning in the game world. Upon completing them, you are rewarded with the appropriate amount of game-delivered respect, a sense of closure, and then a set of new challenges to accept plus a few epic-level gifts.

  • Pacing and Expectation management. Present just enough to focus expectations productively, with a level of pacing that is well-within the envelope of the player’s ability. Pacing varies depending on where you are in the story.

In the Social Dimension:

  • How am I doing with respect to other players who are going through the same experience?

  • How can I ally with like-minded people? Who will become my group of friends here?

  • How do I defeat the people that are actively trying to defeat me?

  • How will I retell the story? What references and in-game awards can I use that people will understand and respect? And perhaps want to experience for themselves?

Dave’s Game Specifics

Keeping that in mind for the design for my personal game, a preliminary outline might look like this:

Dave’s Time Dimension

The idea is to encourage me to work every day.
  • Every public post that packages knowledge or shares process is worth EMPOWERMENT points.
  • Every supporting task that supports the above is worth some small number of EMPOWERMENT points.
  • Maximizing points, ensuring that there is time to do this is part of the tactical and strategic planning.
  • Maintaining a certain number of points every day is worth certain rewards.
  • Spending 15 minutes a day awards EMPOWERMENT points the longer the streak is maintained.
  • Time spent is also counted as TIME points, which add an EMPOWERMENT score bonus.

Dave’s Collection Dimension

The idea is to complete and ship, by building features one element at at time.
  • An initial set of STORE FEATURES is defined. The small store could merely be a single collection of posts about a topic. Essentially, this is the website development plan.
  • Every post that can be turned into a group that belongs in the store as a curated piece of knowledge is worth a certain number of STORE points.
  • Every new product that is put for sale is worth STORE points.
  • Every sale is also worth STORE points, as well as DOLLARS.
  • The DOLLAR amount from the store earned per month earns an ACCOLADE. This may work with a social gaming component; otherwise, a dollar earned is its own reward. The ACCOLADE name could be based on the amount of cash (e.g. MILLENIUM for $1000/month, or the ACTION JACKSON for making $20/month). DOLLARS translate to INSPIRATION points too, at some exchange rate TBD.
  • When a set of STORE FEATURES is completely implemented, it is PARTY TIME and then an overall assessment of points earned for the phase is counted. An additional ACCOLADE is produced. Combined with the DOLLAR ACCOLADE, this creates a means of assessing players.

Dave’s Story Dimension

The idea is to acknowledge that what you’re doing is right, that things take a long time, and
  • Every piece of email I get earns INSPIRATION POINTS, and also reinforces that I am doing the right thing.
  • Every link or referral also earns INSPIRATION POINTS, and reinforces I am doing the right thing.
  • Every frustration, setback, failure and disappointment is part of the story. Every time you encounter a case where you’re frustrated, you can log that for the day. Pushing past blockages or applying some kind lesson learned the hard way earns PERSEVERANCE POINTS. These can be used for covering days where you DIDN’T do a daily required task, maintaining your streak, until they are all used up. However, if you maintain enough PERSEVERANCE points you can earn a title like MASTER OF PAIN or something cool. The title is lost if you fall below a certain level of points.
  • A streak of frustration free days in a row earns an ATTITUDE BONUS of EMPOWERMENT POINTS.
  • Tasks are categorized into KNOW HOW, DON’T KNOW HOW, and DON’T LIKE DOING. These are each worth a bonus bundle of points, perhaps across different point pools. An additional accolade can be awarded for a task that takes a lot of time. But this gets into task categorization and assessment, which is a bundle of issues.

Dave’s Social Dimension

The idea is to engage with like-minded people.
  • Every time I directly tell someone about something I’ve made or done, those are worth some kind of SOCIAL point. They may lead directly to INSPIRATION or EMPOWERMENT points earned through some other action.

  • Every time I have a meaningful conversation with someone who approaches me because of something I’ve made or done, and this leads to some follow-up action, I think that’s worth some social points too.



p>That’s a lot of point dimensions and structures. The next step is to reduce this down into something I can actually easily do on a day-to-day basis. I imagine this will come in the form of a map, an expanded Concrete Goals Tracker, and maybe a simple web application that helps track all these points and reminds me what to be working on. That sounds like a lot of work, but I’ll stew on this for a few days.