The power of streaks and quests

You might be thinking, Laurel why are you publishing a blog only two days after the last one? The reason is, I didn't publish one last Thursday, so am playing catch up. And why didn't I just wait until today to publish it and miss out on a week? Because, since the beginning of the year, I have been on a 'blogging streak' meaning every week, without fail I have published a blog, and for some weird reason I don't want to break the streak.

Of course some people have running streaks, meaning they clock the number of days that they run at least one kilometer in a row. One of my highly committed girlfriends shares a story of keeping a running streak going fora couple of years, and being on a stopover in Hong Kong, where she literally ran around the hotel room until she had run her kilometer, so as not to break the streak!

It is something primarily about your commitment to yourself, I believe. But what about commitments to others? At Business School, we have a few 'quests' going down on our highly engaged online community and by quest, I mean choosing to play a game where we all commit to certain activity over this quarter.

One is #PSMAD where we commit to completing a pink sheet every day for a quarter; a pink sheet is an intellectual property snapshot and the cornerstone of the curriculum ( I have for example, just completed a pink sheet on streaks and quests, and am using it as the basis for this blog).

#300 and #156 are all about our sales activity and approaches, #5am90days means we commit to getting up at 5am each morning, and one of my favourites (although not playing it myself) is #AFSD - alcohol free school days.

There are a number of us who have 'signed up' to each of these quests and streaks, and every day, there are postings on the wins AND fails associated with them!

Why are quests and streaks so powerful? 

I think the best answer lies in the extraordinary Dr Jason Fox's work. He is an absolute guru in motivational design, and looks at making the work more interesting. One way to do this is to apply the principles of gaming to broader aspects of your life. 500 million people spend 7 billion hours a week highly engaged in gaming, so what's the secret?

It's all about visible progress, and playing an infinite game, that consists of many finite games. It has no beginning or end, there are no winners or losers, it's simply a way to progress through play! You can find out more by reading his book The Game Changer.

Peter Cook sheds some more light on this phenomenon in his powerful book 'The New Rules of Management'. In his chapter on accountability, he shares the different levels of what's at stake. If for example, your accountability is only to yourself (i.e. private) then you will probably be disappointed if you 'fail'. But if you set up a public accountability structure (he shares a great example in his book around the London Olympics) then you may in fact feel shamed if you don't keep to it. Remember that we welcome failure by the way, but as far as accountability mechanisms go, the more public they are, the more likely your chance of success.

In a blog I wrote in April last year, I declared publicly that I was writing a book, and it seriously helped keep me on track to actually complete it! 

What streaks and quests can you set up to create more success?

One really simple example is MyFitnessPal. Presently, a few of us are recording our food and exercise activity daily, and making it visible to the rest of the group. The key thing is to make it fun and playful, and certainly not beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon. Even if you don't follow it to the letter, chances are, the results you achieve will be better than the streak or quest free alternative!

Posted on September 25, 2015 .