Using Dungeons and Dragons to understand your motivations and have more fun at work.

My first ever AD&D was a chaotic good wizard with 6 INT. He didn't do very well.
A neutral good tester prepares to unravel the mysteries of the universe (probably by hitting bits of it with lightning).

Hi, I’m Edmund, and I’m chaotic good.  That means if you want me to do something for you, tell me about how much it will help you (or someone else) and enthuse about how new, different, and exciting it is.  If you do that, I’m much more likely to help you out, and I’ll have more fun helping.

This post is about people’s fundamental motivations, how to think about them, and about how 2 minutes of thought and a change of briefing will make your team and your manager work better and enjoy the work they’re doing more.

The model I’m using originally came from my previous boss, Jon Berger (lawful evil), who deserves all the credit here.  It’s based on the alignment system from the Dungeons and Dragons RPG.  It’s a handy model useful because it’s a system for describing basic character motivations that almost every geek you come across already knows it.  If you haven’t come across it, you’re missing out!

AD&D 2nd edition was clearly the best. Thac0 did wonders for our mental maths.
The alignments at AD&D 2nd edition.

Here’s the updated, but similar alignment model I have for people at work.

Fundamental motivations at work

Some more explanation of the two axes.

  • Good/Evil.  People tend to be fundamentally people driven or goal driven.  Most people like both helping others and getting things done, but which actually gives you the real buzz at the end of a project – that 3000 customers are better off or that you’ve created an amazing thing that works really well?  Good people will spot that horrible “Working as designed but it doesn’t solve the customer’s problem” bug, Evil people will make sure everyone focuses and completes everything required to ship the product.
  • Lawful/Chaotic.  People tend to enjoy working with rules, or without them.  Lawful people create strong processes and can be relied on to do everything needed, but can struggle if not given enough structure to build on.  They drive change by defining new methods that people can follow.  Chaotic try more new things and uncover new ideas, but can struggle completing the details that have to be done.  They drive change by trailblazing and championing.

Ok.  So there’s this model.  What can I do with it?

First off – this is a model.  All models are inaccurate.  They’re not a replacement for thinking, but they can help you think about the thing that you’re modelling.  So have a think about yourself and the people you work with and how you fit into this model.

When you want someone to do something.  If you’re asking for help.  If you’re briefing them on a new part of the project.  If you’re trying to help them develop.  Whatever.  Appeal to their fundamental motivation (and crucially don’t assume that their motivations/comfort zones are the same as yours!).  Compare the following briefings.

  • Marty and I are behind on the flux capacitor testing, and that’s the key part that lets our customers reach 88 mph.  We need you to spend a few days helping on this  to pull us out of the hole.  It’s also a chance to play with the flux capacitor and learn more about it.
  • I need you to help get the flux capacitor working – it’s the critical component that makes the Delorean more than just a car with silly doors.  We need you to spend a few days nailing through the following test conditions, and as a critical component it’s of course crucial we have a clear test report.

Of course, the task is the same in both cases, and indeed the detailed task briefing can be identical.  However by emphasising the parts of the project they’ll enjoy and appealing to their motivation, they’ll tie the task to their motivations and (a) put in a better job and (b) get more of a buzz out of the result.

As a final note, if you’re at all like me, when you first try this (and I recommend you do try!) you’ll feel a bit like a machiavellian manipulative fraud.  However, there’s nothing secret about this – point them at this post and let them think about what motivates them too.  Discuss it. Compare and contrast your motivations.  It might help both of you decide how to choose which tasks to pull off the pile in the next scrum kickoff meeting you’re in.


One thought on “Using Dungeons and Dragons to understand your motivations and have more fun at work.

  1. As Jon Berger’s Chaotic Evil wife (who told him about this) I agree it’s excellent. It’s actually a mash up between the popular four color personality test and D&D character alignments. When I first did the 4 colors, as an avid ex-D&Der, it was an obvious matchup. I agree with Ed that it is a hugely useful model. It helps me all the time. And there is no good or bad score on this. It’s all perfectly human!

    Liked by 1 person

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