A couple of weeks back, one of my clients sent me to the Engage Expo and Toy Conference in NYC to study some aspects of the online virtual world industry. I admittedly knew very little, both about the technology and the industry, but I was excited about attending a conference where it’s not the same people I always see talking about the same things they always talk about to the same people who are always listening.

Among the things that really interested me was how the toy industry runs on a very interesting set of pattern metrics called “play patterns”. In short, there are massive amounts of research put into slicing and dicing demographics into popular patterns for engagement: what kinds of things do people (not just kids) like to do, what things have them come back often (addicting) or play for long periods of time (immersive). Knowing this information and who you’re targeting helps de-risk toy design. I saw some really interesting correlations to this and marketing, but that’s for another time.

One particular panel stuck out in my notes, where moderator Nicole Lazzaro showed slides and some related theses that there were 4 keys to “fun”.

From these patterns, the elements that jumped out to me as the most concise were:

Hard Fun – Reward lies in challenge and mastery

Easy Fun – Reward lies in expressions of creativity and discovery

People Fun – Reward lies in social, peer to peer interactions

Serious Fun – Reward lies in creating value

Nicole theorizes, and goes on to explain and illustrate, how balancing these keys increases the likelihood that games are popular, fun, and ultimately create experiences worth sharing. As I’ve pointed out before, experiences worth sharing are most crucial component for effective word of mouth marketing.

Motivators

The first thing that stuck out to me was that these four keys are all rewards, and all rewards based on intrinsic motivators. For those who saw my recent Ignite Philly presentation, I brought up the notion that intrinsic motivators are extraordinary, and often overlooked in business and management.

Related, it reminded me a lot of Dan Pink’s thesis from Drive, and his TED talk, of the operators of the “new workforce”, are based in the intrinsic motivation associated with autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Seeing as how I spend far more time looking at the trends of business than of play, I realized…for me (and many others), work is a type of play.

From Nicole’s Four Keys of FUN, I’m proposing the Four Keys to Business.

1) Hard Business

There’s intrinsic reward about overcoming business challenges. This is often a ‘make or break’ attribute of entrepreneurs, business leadership, and good management.

In a recent article in Inc, Omniture founder Josh James talks about highs and lows of building the company and ultimately selling it to Adobe for a buttload of money. One of my favorite quotes from Josh:

There were times when I lay down on the floor at night, close to crying, and said, “I’m done. I can’t make payroll.” Then my wife would come over and kick me and say, “Get up and figure it out.”

One time, I got a customer to prepay us. Another time, I came into the office and said, “Oh, by the way, we’re changing payroll dates.” That bought me 10 days.

That’s hard business. That’s the reward in hard business: overcoming challenges and finding solutions.

2) Easy Business

Some people would argue that there’s no such thing as easy business. Ignoring things like “savvy” and “knack”, but still considering things like “luck”, you find yourself thinking: “How do some people make this look so easy?”. The part that they make look easy is usually an ourward expression of creativity and exploration in our business. Why is this considered “easy”? Because if you’re willing to open your mind up, the sky is the limit. True creativity and exploration means you can sidestep the constraints of reality, even if it is only temporary. Sometimes, though you realize that the constraints you thought were constraints were more in your head than anywhere else.

Easy business is letting your mind wander, but always coming back to reality with whatever you’ve found along the way.

3) People Business

Not everyone is a people person, like Tom. But business success is all about people because, lets face it, businesses are made up of people.

As rewarding as social interaction is in gaming, it is among the most universally gratifying aspects of business. Think about why coworking is a most popular trend; despite what the press wants you to think, it’s not about cheap desks. It’s about the social experience in the workplace. Coworking provides a vehicle for People Business, the social aspects to business, without  giving up independence.

I think that more people are interested in People Business than any other kind of business. The evidence for this is in the vast swaths of business networking events. For some, networking is a vehicle for business and for others, business is a vehicle for networking. One isn’t necessarily right, but the more I experience, the more I know I’ve found more effective. Being a good business person has helped me build an extraordinary network, one that I’m not sure I could have built simply by going from networking event to networking event.

4) Serious Business

Often the most discussed attribute of business is still only one part of the four keys, but it needs to be there, and that is creation of value. Since ultimately the purpose of a business is to generate revenue, the most direct path to revenue is the creation of value.

The importance of serious business, creating value, is not just to generate revenue but to find sustainability. If you’re continually creating value, you will always have the resources and the opportunities to fuel the other key aspects of business and achieve them successfully.

The real key is balance

The takeaway here is not to change your focus on business, but instead diversify and balance them. I like metaphors and similes, as many people know, so think about the keys I’ve described as literal keys, allowing you to open new doors. If you’ve only been unlocking one door, opening it, and walking through, you’re not experiencing the success in business you could be if you tried each of the different doors.

Which door will you unlock first?