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Marxent @ Work is a monthly column on company culture from the Marxent team.


A few weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about the factors that make video games so enjoyable, exciting and immersive.  In short, why playing video games makes people happy. Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness is the first I look to when I think about creating a great culture. Dan Gilbert, CEO of Quicken Loans, is another person I view as a genius on the topic. Check out the iSMS guide that he built for Quicken Loans. But I wondered if creating a great work culture is maybe as simple as understanding why video games make people happy.


The net of the NPR piece was that video games fulfill three of the most important variables of happiness: control or autonomy, competency and community.  I reflected on my own career and periods where I felt less than fulfilled and I applied the “video game” test.


Control:  Did I feel like I was empowered to determine how I was going to solve a problem?  Was it OK to be creative and offer up alternatives and have the expectations that my ideas or suggestions would seriously be considered?  Within my scope of responsibilities, did I feel like I was setting priorities and directing my workday?  That is, did I feel like I could select the color of my lightsaber and kill the clones of my own choosing?


Competency: Did I feel like I was good at what I did?  Was I at the top of my respective game?  Did others see me as a subject matter expert?  Did clients look to me for advice and counsel?  Was I constantly adding new skills and abilities that set me apart? That is, was I accessing new powers on my quest, reaching new levels and testing my mettle against the other Jedi Masters?


Community:  Did I feel like I was part of a larger group that shared my vision?  Was it that perfect mix of competitiveness and mutual respect?  Was I shown and did I show gratitude?  Did we share the same language?  Did we have a shared passion and celebrate our successes together? That is, did I feel like I rose through the ranks of the Jedi Academy with my fellow Jedi at my side… the Force running through our collective brotherhood?


What I found most interesting about the video game test as I applied it to my best and worst work experiences, is that if a situation failed even one of these three tests, I wasn’t happy, fully engaged or motivated.  However in situations where all three video game test factors were at play, the Dark Side didn’t stand a chance.  Yoda would have said, “Got this you do.”


Building a great culture is a big, complex and never ending project.  It’s never really done, which can make it seem daunting if you let it.  If the video game test holds true, though, it could be really very simple. As simple as looking at each team member and the team as a whole and asking if they feel like they have control, feel increasingly competent and part of a community.


Beck Besecker
CEO & Co-founder, Marxent Labs

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