Angry Birds’ Addictive Secret

Anytime you find something addictive—assuming it’s not pharmacological—you can bet there’s some deep human insight at play.
My latest idea-link surfaced from the most mundane of tasks:  picking up books at a warehouse. There, Doug, the delightfully grouchy warehouse guy “greeted” me wearing jeans, an Angry Birds shirt and an expression that said “don’t even think about talking to me.” As we ambled past his desk, I got even more evil eyes from his Angry Birds knick-knacks and Angry Birds poster perched high on his wall. Curious about this guy’s fetish for super-surly birds, I kicked into analytical mode.

Me: “What’s with all the Angry Birds stuff?”Angry Birds Poster

Grouchy warehouse guy: “I love it.”

Me:  “What do you love about it?”

Grouchy warehouse guy: “It’s addicting.”

Me: “Why do you suppose it’s addicting?”

Doug, now fully engaged, struck a Dr. Phil-like pose as he transformed from curmudgeon to psychologist:

“My friends and I talked about this,” he began. “They said it’s because you get to destroy things, but I said you’re wrong. I think it’s because each time you take a turn, you get so close to winning that you think the next time you’ll get it. So you have to take another turn. Then when you finally succeed, you know the next level after that will be just a bit more challenging, so you think you can get that level, too.”

So here’s the idea-link I summarized and stored away:  Make something more addicting, motivating or fulfilling by finding the challenge sweet spot—difficult enough to attract someone’s interest, but easy enough so that the challenge feels imminently solvable (Angry Birds).

This works with animals as well. Those in the dog-racing industry learned how to maintain the ideal distance between a mechanical rabbit and the salivating dogs chasing it. Run the robo-rabbit too slow and dogs lack proper motivation to pursue it. Too fast, and dogs simply give up, concluding it’s not worth the effort. But place (and keep) the rabbit tantalizingly close, and the dogs run like the wind.

I suspect this was also the case with the Highlights Magazine search puzzles of my youth. Once you quickly found the hidden squirrel, acorn and pumpkin, you were convinced you could find that stupid cornucopia—if only you stayed at it a little bit longer (then the dental assistant calls your name, leaving you one hidden item short of completion).  

So where and how can you apply this Angry Birds idea-link?  Here are just a few ideas:

  • When developing product promotions where your objective is to hold consumers’ interest over an extended period of time. I suspect this idea-link is part of the reason why The Monopoly Game worked so well for McDonalds. We remained convinced that the next purchase would yield the missing piece.
  • When designing the ideal job description, by matching the job’s requirements to an individual’s skill level and appetite for challenge. You can extend this by periodically checking in with your direct reports to make sure you’re giving them the right level of challenge.
  • When teaching customers or consumers new subject matter or new behaviors (by leading them through a series of small challenges and victories).
  • When designing training programs for adults, on-line or live.
  • When giving your team or direct report(s) an important objective (by assigning it in progressively more difficult, but doable steps, rather than giving them one seemingly impossible goal).

Think about how you can apply the Angry Birds’ “challenge sweet spot” to something you’re working on or someone you’re working with.  Maybe it will trigger an idea; maybe it won’t.  

Regardless, always remember to wear your curiosity hat everywhere you go. Idea-link-making opportunities lurk all around you, even in some of the most unlikely of places and grouchiest of people. Like winning at Angry Birds, making idea-links is a bit of challenge, but certainly achievable. Who knows, you might even find it addicting.

One Response to Angry Birds’ Addictive Secret

  1. Pat Brennan May 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Great post Jim. I forwarded to a few people. A few of my wife’s friends are just so into this game. Thanks for the thoughts on how to apply the idea link. I especially like the last one about assigning an important work task in smaller but challenging yet more doable steps. Thanks.

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