Gamification guru talks fiscal fitness

Published: Tuesday, April 16 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

Game of Work founder Chuck Coonradt.

Chuck Coonradt

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PARK CITY — Chuck Coonradt knows it sounds old school. It sounded old school when he first wrote it. It sounded old school a hundred years before that, and another hundred before that.

Sound, solid financial advice will always come off as old-fashioned. The idea of living within your means? Saving a portion of everything you make? Setting financial goals? Socking away a little for the proverbial rainy day? Not even Congress does that anymore.

But it works, and not just in theory. There are plenty of good examples. One of them is Coonradt, a transplanted Utahn and current Park City resident who, 36 years ago, was inspired by eight guys playing a pickup game of basketball and translated that into his life’s work: The Game of Work, Inc., his Utah-based consulting company that taught businesses and organizations on five continents how to greatly increase productivity and profitability.

The basketball players were workers building a house in a factory where Coonradt had a business appointment in 1977. As house builders, they barely showed signs of life, moving at a pace, as Coonradt describes it, “of arthritic snails in wet cement.”

But when it was time for lunch he watched with amusement as the men suddenly sprinted 50 yards down the factory floor to a basketball court, where four of them stripped off their shirts and they proceeded to play skins-shirts basketball “with the intensity of the NBA Finals.”

After playing hard for 40 minutes, the men took 20 minutes to gobble down their lunch and then returned to work, where they again became arthritic snails in wet cement.

A question formed in Coonradt’s motivational mind: “Why would people pay for the privilege of working harder at their chosen sport or recreational pursuit than they would work at a job where they were being paid?”

The answer he came up with — in a nutshell: “work like you play” — launched a best-selling book, “The Game of Work,” and formed the bedrock principles he would preach to tens of thousands of executives and employees over the next three-plus decades.

At 68, Chuck’s now retired. In 2008 he sold The Game of Work, Inc. and is involved only occasionally these days as an executive coach. But the mark he left lives on. Just this past fall, Ken Krogue wrote an article for Forbes Magazine that bestowed upon Coonradt the title of “The Grandfather of Gamification,” crediting him with creating the wave of modern gaming in the workplace. Wrote Krogue: “He taught companies like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, AT&T, Time Warner, Qwest, Abbott Labs, Ralston Purina, Boeing, Wendy’s and Sherwin Williams to game before gaming was cool.”

Along the way, as a corollary to The Game of Work, Coonradt taught the importance of holding onto your prosperity once you acquired it. He found that many of the same principles that apply to working like you play also apply to managing your personal finances.

In addition to his business-oriented books — “The Game of Work,” “Managing the Obvious,” “Scorekeeping for Success” and “The Better People Leader” — he co-authored a book in 1996 called “The Four Laws of Debt Free Prosperity” that spelled out the fundamentals of effective money management.

The Deseret News reached out to Charles “Chuck” Coonradt for a conversation about financial prosperity, how to achieve it and how to make it last.

DN: First of all, congratulations on your coronation by Forbes as “The Grandfather of Gamification.”

CC: Well, I’m honored. I think it makes me feel like I was country before country was cool, that’s the only parallel I can think of.