Data Science,
Game Design,

Article 1: Why You Should Put Measurement at the Center of your Creative Strategy

May 25, 2017

Welcome to the “How to Save the World” Podcast!

I am so excited!

I truly believe that saving the world should be a thrilling adventure, bursting with creativity  –  and of course, the greatest game on earth.

Let’s get into the first article of the series “21 Days of Gamification” that I’ve produced to launch my debut video  course called “Save the World with Gamification – How to apply game mechanics to social and environmental causes for the epic win”

Why You Should Put Measurement at the Center of your Creative Strategy

Here’s the problem: Many people start projects without understanding much about what it is they are trying to change in the world. I mean, they don’t look into the data about their problem.

You may have heard the saying,

“If you can’t measure it, it probably doesn’t exist.”

That’s well and good for scientists, but what does this mean for social-change entrepreneurs, world changers, and designers? Or creative people in general? The brutally honest truth is: if we can’t measure the impact we are having on the world, we probably aren’t having any at all.

Let this sink in for a moment:

Despite your best intentions, you may very well not be making any meaningful impact on the world.

Those big pink words might feel like a splash of cold water in the face, but I assure you that this piece of self-reflection is the darkness before the dawn preceding your breakthrough to epic creative innovation. 

Okay, sure . . . but how can the tape measures, scales and sensors of measurement possibly enhance creativity? I mean, wouldn’t measurement stifle or even kill creativity?

In the words of folk singer Ani DiFranco,

“But then what kind of scale
Compares the weight of two beauties
The gravity of duties
Or the ground speed of joy?
Tell me what kind of gauge
Can quantify elation?
What kind of equation
Could I possibly employ?”

Well my friend, this is the exciting part.

Creativity is actually a technical skill

Think about the many people we would consider to be creative: a pianist, a writer, an illustrator, an architect, a fashion designer, an animator, a photographer. Each of these professions requires highly practiced skills that take years of technical training to master.

Kevin Kelly explains in his book What Technology Wants  (I love this book!) that technology was originally considered to be a subcategory of the arts, because the artistic pursuits were a kind of technical craft that spawned new inventions (like the sewing machine). Painters, silversmiths, and dressmakers alike were the technology-makers of the time.

Creativity and technology have always been mutually dependent sisters.  It is a recent phenomenon whereby technology has branched and grown so much that they have been considered separate trades.

The message here: don’t see data or measurement of impact as separate to the creative process. It is part of your trade.

About you

I can kinda guess that you probably want to apply your creativity to something really meaningful . . .  something that will change the world.

Think about the concept of creativity with purpose.

In order to make that beautiful feeling that comes from doing meaningful work come true, you need to have a measurable effect.

The joy you garner from making this measurable change feeds your creative genius with more ideas and good energy. I can’t begin to express the epic feeling that comes from having firm evidence that your project changed the world. It lights up your whole self and invigorates you to keep going, keep growing, and keep flowering. This is the virtuous upward spiral ​​​​​of creative genius.

Copy-cat creativity vs creativity from primary principles

In an interview Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, was asked what he did when he felt stuck. He answered,

“I go back to primary principles”

What he means is that he goes back to the primary principles of physics – the basic denominator for understanding the universe.

We can consider the concept that no ideas are new (think of Steal Like An Artist). All of our innovation comes from seeing what is around us.  In that way, we all copy everyone else.

As I see it, there are two general approaches to creativity and innovation. The first is to make replicas of things we have seen already and alter them slightly. This would be ideas like “I like books, I’ll write a book!” or “I saw a neat app, I could make an app like it but for my thing!” or “I went to a music festival and it was way cool. Let’s make a music festival for my thing!” Y’know, “Facebook for dogs” and that kind of thing. These are not new ideas or innovations.

The real way to construct new ideas is from primary principles, or from data. If we want to truly innovate and make big leaps in creativity, we need not copy others around us, but start at the beginning.

The language of the universe is written in data

The language of the real world is written, not in emotive quotes, journalistic hyperbole or click-bait titles – it is written in data. The numbers tell the real story. Data is the ground zero of your cause.

When you start here, you start at the beginning. Your slate is clear of other people’s ideas and ways of doing things, so you are now genuinely free to create and innovate.

In my How to Save the World presentation I explain my data-driven design methodology for creating real change. Data is the beginning point for innovation to flow.

When you start developing ideas from looking deep into your data, something magical happens to your imagination. 

I also talk about the critically important division between“real world” metrics and “business” metrics. It’s a division that many people have not considered. Real world metrics happen as physical matter in the real world, such as liters of water, acres of forest, kg of body fat, number of lives, or tons of coal. Business metrics happen within a business or website and are not measurable in real-world matter. They are metrics such as subscribers, sales, revenue, clicks, followers etc.

When you apply your creative craft to a real world data set of your choosing, you will throw a kaleidoscope of new skills together that will precipitate new ideas. I suspect, the best ideas you’ve ever had. You’ll be able to squeeze your creativity through new niches you have not considered before. You will break out of old ways of doing things.

You harvest ideas from looking deeply into your data. 

Measurement prepares the ground for game design

One of the fun ways to influence data creatively is through gamification. When I wanted to create a zero-waste campaign, instead of just writing a book or holding a conference (like has been done a million times before), I designed a web-based game, utilizing all the gamification techniques I had been learning about.

I started the design only after a deep study of an EPA report on municipal solid waste (that’s the fancy word for household garbage). I utilized real-world data, narrative, progress bars, avatars, awards, badges, levels, and infographics (that I’ve also put into an online video course called “Save the World with Gamification”) to make a truly engaging and fun learning experience. All these gamification features were only made possible because of the data-driven approach I started with by reading the EPA report.

It works. Not only have these data-driven gamification features been proven in a torrent of academic studies, I also have oodles of testimonials from people who have made long-lasting environmental changes since playing the zero-waste game I created.

My own creative renaissance

When I started using this process, the universe started to open up for me. I creatively flourished in a way I had not done before, even when I had in the past worked on creative pursuits such as magazines, graphic design and web app development.  Almost every person I have met since has asked to hire me.

When I started designing games for environmental change, it felt like I had a creative rebirth and was truly creating from my own unique genius zone. But I drew all my creativity from the data – and all the gamification techniques I applied that made it come alive were based on the data too.

I think measurement and gamification have such epic potential for the environmental and social-change community. There really is something magical that happens when you put the measurement of real-world issues at the centre of your creative process.

The steps: Here’s how to use measurement to manifest epic creativity

1. Pick an issue you work on or care about deeply.

2. Research all the available data on that cause.

3. Brainstorm at least 10 specific behaviors that will shift the numbers on your cause.

4. Decide on who the “players” are. They might be individuals, schools, businesses, houses, cities etc.

5. Pick the one behavior that the player will need to make in order to make the most substantial change to the numbers.

6. Brainstorm at least 25, (even try and push to 100) ideas you can think of to make this player do this action. Let your imagination go crazy!

7. Read up on gamification design and see how can push your ideas even further by layering on gamification features to further motivate your player’s behavior.

8. Chose your most loved ideas! Start working on them. Talk to other people about them. Design mockups. Pitch your ideas to organisations. Pilot them. Kickstarter them. Let your creativity save the world 🙂

Watch my most recent webinar for more detail on this process.

Our higher purpose is  . . . measureable

People “get it” that shifting the numbers on a cause takes creative problem solving.

It takes creative storytelling. It also takes creative graphic design, creative copywriting, creative computer programming, creative bioengineering and  . . . you get me, it takes all our very best creative skills to change the world’s most intractable problems.

I believe that this zone of creative flow that is found when we push the barriers of our field in order to make real and measurable change is where we find our genius zone and our true meaning in life.


If you liked this article and podcast, you’ll love the course “Save the World with Gamification – How to apply game mechanics to social and environmental causes for the epic win”

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