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Are you leveling up?

I don't play video games as much as I should nowadays, but I've played a lot of them as a kid.

In all of the video games I've played, I would start off playing at the first level which was the most basic and was easy to learn and master. The first level was always designed such that it would introduce the player to the basic aspects of the game, how to control the character, how to pick up points, how to make basic moves, how to navigate the game space, etc. Irrespective of what game it was, the first level was always like this.

And the first level (like every level that came after it), had a well defined end state. This could be crossing the flag in Super Mario, or achieving a certain number of lines on Tetris, but once the player arrived at this state, the game would transform into the next level.

The next level was harder in terms of difficulty compared to the previous level and often involved learning a new skill - like swimming in Super Mario. Each level got progressively harder.

The design principle behind this is very simple. When the player gets comfortable in navigating and doing well in the game at a certain level, it needs to become harder to keep the player's level of engagement and enthusiasm the same. If every level was the same difficulty, or if I never progressed to the next level no matter how comfortable I got in the current level, I'd soon get bored and stop playing. Imagine playing Super Mario with no flags and no princess Peach to rescue. It'd be so boring!

So, the game developers are incentivised to devise their games such that the player progresses through increasingly difficult levels in order for them to stay engaged.

When it comes to managing people, which is a scarce skill in the job market, the manager ought to follow the principle of video game design. It is the manager's job to design opportunities for her reports such that they can constantly level up.

The moment someone starts to become comfortable with the moves and the intricacies of the current level, the manager ought to present them with the opportunity to level up by introducing a new challenge which helps the person develop a new skill or two and hold up their level of engagement.

Else, the manager runs the risk of having a disengaged employee in her ranks.

As companies design their organization structures, the key principle to keep in mind is to make it similar to a video game where all the employees have the opportunity to level up as soon as they get comfortable in their current level.

Failing which, they will find that level elsewhere on their own.

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