Soviet Union, lapel pins, and gamification

Earlier today, a coworker of mine emailed me a picture asking if I knew what it was.  The picture was of a Swimmers Federation of the Soviet Union lapel pin.  It was fun to see such a trinket, and I responded to my coworker explaining what it was he just happened to find among things his Canadian mother had.  Along with that, I sent a picture of other Soviet lapel pins I had.  It’s a sorry collection, considering that I used to collect these pins when Iimage1 was a kid.  Considering the fact that I brought them all the way from the Soviet Union and they were preserved all this time, the collection is maybe not as sorry.

As I thought about how I’d explain the tremendous culture surrounding lapel pins in the Soviet Union, I had an epiphany.  The kind that maybe was not so startling to others, but in those 5 minutes, I had my mind completely blown.

Much is being said in the past 10 years about gamification.  Both the theory of gamification and the badging are now at the root of many product and service design concepts, especially those geared towards millennials.  It’s the latest motivator – complete three tasks and receive a badge – that should drive achievement.

Well, as I pondered explaining lapel pins to my co-worker it occurred to me that it was the very early iteration and application of the gamification concepts and badging.  Here we’re arguing about the value of gamification is a motivator, and we perhaps have the biggest experience already concluded, with certifiable results – ready to go.

Soviet Union was highly gamified society.  So many things we did were based on levels, and so many achievements awarded with lapel pins, medals, etc.

Sports – we all went to the same sports clubs, but those that were serious would follow a very structured rank system, akin perhaps to belts in martial arts: if you could demonstrate certain things in your particular sport, you’d be given a higher rank.  The awards for achievement of each rank were lapel pins.

Work – there were productivity goals, achievements of which would be rewarded with a particular lapel pin, and higher awards would be awarded with medals.  Schools are rank/grade based anyway, but military service – certain things you did, you’d get lapel pins, medals, and ranks.  Come to think of it, I find it hard to imagine what it was that wasn’t structured as a multi-tiered achievement ladder with badging as rewards for interim performance (hoping my friends can chime in here.)

I remember specific people that wore their 3rd rank in fencing lapel pins proudly, above their Young Pioneer lapel pins we were all required to wear (big no-no.)  I remember movies about calloused factory workers beaming with pride as plant manager affixed pins to their lapels signifying completion of 2000 widgets manufactured above the planned amount.

The thing I do not remember if it was ever as much of a motivating factor.  Hard to argue that for all of our gamification of an entire society, Soviet Union crashed and burned in the worst possible way, and we can argue that the issues that ultimately brought it down were beyond anything motivational lapel pins could overcome, but I simply have to question the wisdom of motivation with badging and gamification.

I don’t know if I have a larger point here.  Just thought I’d share my epiphany along with trying to revive this stalled blogging effort.

About Vadim

I'd like to have something really impressive to say here, but it's just not in the cards. Maybe later.
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