The idea of using gamification concepts to improve life is not new. However, while gamification elements are used by most personal development apps, the ideas are not that prevalent that people consciously think about the concepts outside of UI or game design.

I was fascinated by the application of gamification concepts since I read a book by Steve Lamb, called Gamify Your Life, years ago. I was a teenager back then and wanted to level up my life in a fun way, hence, gamifying my life sounded perfect. However, I couldn’t really get anything to stick and induce real change. I tried creating sophisticated task and reward structures with quests and boss levels and whatnot. It was too complicated and not well designed. Turns out, it needs a lot of tweaking until the fundamental gamification concepts can be applied successfully.

But I never fully gave up on the idea. Recently, gamification and its usage for product design came up at work. I started thinking and reading about it again and stumbled across a concept that I did think was fairly easy and potentially impactful to apply in my personal life.

Skill tree application

In RPGs (role-playing games) there is often an element called a skill tree. The basic idea is to have different branches of skills one can go down that further divide into sub-skills. To reach a new step on the tree one has to reach a specific number of experience points. It’s basically a formulation of learning in the game world. Sometimes it’s even connected to skill-relevant actions. For example, if you fight monsters you get better at fighting monsters and you level up your fighting skills.

I recently thought about skill trees and their application to life. The same tool can be used to map out skills relevant to your profession for example. If I want to become a better product manager, there are different skills I can get better at.

On the top level, there might be skill areas such as Product discovery and product delivery, leadership and communication skills, as well as strategy. By moving down the tree in one area I can get more detailed. In product delivery, I might find skills like general “getting-things-done” skills or specific ones, for example, sprint planning. If I do this for all areas I have mapped out all the relevant skills of the product manager role.

The three benefits of a skill tree

The previous point describes the first benefit of the application of skill trees, understanding. By mapping out relevant skills you must think concretely about what skills define performance in this role.

The next benefit of the concept is self-reflection. I can easily evaluate myself on each level of the skill tree and give myself a number, say between 1 and 5, that describes my expertise in that skill. Immediately I can see my strengths and weaknesses. I might see imbalances where I’m disproportionally weak or blind spots and areas of neglect.

Lastly, I can plan out the future. What skills do I need or want to develop to improve in my current role? What do I need to improve or learn for a new role that I want to switch into? The skill tree offers a great way to plan further learning and development.

The concept isn’t limited to career planning. You can readily apply it to your private life too. You could map your development goals in different life areas such as health, wealth, and relationships in the same way. Define skills and sub-skills for each and then evaluate your status quo. Where are you strong? Where are you lacking? You can continue to plan out where to put more focus and resources and which parts are good enough for now.

Cover Image is the skill tree from the game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order