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What is the Super Mario Effect?

What is the Super Mario Effect?

The Super Mario Effect states that we are more successful at completing challenges if those challenges are gamified and we are not penalized for failed attempts.

Who came up with the Super Mario Effect?

The person who discovered the Super Mario Effect is Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer, a YouTube star with almost 24 million followers and the founder of Crunchlabs, a factory of creativity where he teaches everyone to think like an engineer.

How did Mark Rober come up with the Super Mario Effect?

It’s a great story! Here it is:

In 2017, he asked his YouTube followers to play a simple computer programming puzzle he made with one of his friends. The object of the puzzle was to get a car through a maze by arranging several code blocks that represent typical computer programming operations. Once the player thought they had a good code, they would hit the Run button and the car would move based on the commands they had in the program. Every player had 200 points to start with.

Screenshot from Mark Rober’s Tedx presentation

He told his followers to play this game because he wanted to prove that anyone could learn to code whatever their background. 50,000 people played the game, but what they didn’t know is that Mark served them two versions of the game: in one version if the player was unsuccessful, they would get the message:

‘That didn’t work. Please try again’.

In the second version, the player would get a different message:

‘That didn’t work. You lost 5 points. You know have 195 points. Please try again’.

Screenshot from Mark Rober’s Tedx presentation – the success rate

The collected data showed a stark contrast between the players who received the first message (no penalty) and those who received the second message (penalty): their success rate in the first cohort was 68% while the success rate in the second cohort was 52%.

Also, the players in the first cohort had twice as many attempts as the players in the second.

The psychology behind the Super Mario Effect

What did Mark discover?

He discovered that when we don’t get negative feedback or penalty for our failures, we keep trying until we are successful.

He named his discovery after the famous 80s video game he used to play when he was a boy because of what the Italian plumber Mario taught him: to keep his eyes on the prize (rescuing the princess) and not get discouraged by the many failed attempts. Instead, he would use every unsuccessful attempt to learn where the ‘dangers’ were so he could avoid them next time.

The Super Mario Effect frees the mind from self-limiting beliefs (the Imposter Syndrome) or external influences like negative feedback (Do you know the difference between feedback and criticism?).

It allows us to exercise until we get it right. Learning becomes so much easier when you don’t feel shame for getting it wrong once or twice.

The trick to learning more and having more success is finding the right way to frame the learning process.

Mark Rober, creator of The Super Mario Effect

How can leaders apply the Super Mario Effect to team development?

Here are several recommendations:

  • Reframe the learning process or the challenge in such a way that your team didn’t concern themselves with failure;
  • Don’t punish your team if they are unsuccessful;
  • Gamify the challenge or the learning process;
  • Nurture an attitude of learning from but not being focused on the failure;
  • Nurture and reward the desire to keep learning;
  • Maintain excitement with rewards relevant to your team;
  • Build challenges and give your team a feeling of accomplishment.

Teach your team to stay teachable.

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