The Eponymous Principles of Management – The ‘Super Mario’ Effect

One common characteristic of incompetent people, whether infested by Dunning-Kruger Effect, or even competent people, under the influence of the Impostor Syndrome, or not, usually, is that failing several times makes one realize when it can happen again. That fear of failure causes us to never try in the first place.

However, it is conclusively proven that the root cause is actually not the fear, but how we perceive the failure, i.e., generally we would not like to be seen having failed in the eyes of the others. This was borne out in an experiment conducted by Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer and Apple engineer, with more than 1.5 million followers on YT[1]. The experiment runs something like this:

In a simple computer game, one had to get the car across the maze by typical arranging the computer programming code like blocks.

The game had two versions – in one if you fail you do not lose any points and can try again, whereas in the second one, for every failure you lose five points, but you can try again, here, too. 50,000 people played the game. When the results of the two versions were analysed, it revealed a very significant trait of a human being.

From the total participants who chose not lose points, 68% succeeded in solving the puzzle. This group had made 12 attempts, on an average, before they quit. In comparison to this, from those participants who opted for a loss of five pints per failure, on 52% finally solved the puzzle. The average number of attempts that this group made before quitting was 5.

This went on confirm the famous Japanese saying, “Nana Korobi, Ya Oki’[2] – Fall down seven times, stand up eight. In other words, those try more, are likely to succeed more.

It was this experiment that helped Mark Rober to come up with what he calls as The ‘Super Mario’ Effect.[3]

However, before we appraise ourselves with The ‘Super Mario’ Effect, it may be in order to know briefly what this game Super Mario is all about.

This a console video game wherein Mario and Luigi, the two Italian plumbers, try to search Princess Toadstool from the evil King Bowser in the land of Mushroom Kingdom.  The game is based on a series of side-scrolling levels, each filled with enemy evil turtles. The levels take place in different settings, some in dungeons and some above ground, with fights against Bowser impersonators at the end of castle levels. Once the imposter is defeated, a Mushroom Kingdom resident informs Mario or Luigi that the princess is in another castle. The game is completed with the defeat of the true Bowser and the rescue of Princess Toadstool.[4]

If you are defeated in one Super Mario like game, you do not remain defeated, but take on the challenge once again, and again. Generally, you also remember what error you committed in the last game. So, you, consciously or unconsciously, try to avoid that mistake again. This mentality helps you to improve your score with every outing.

Mark Rober, in his TEDx talk, The Super Mario Effect – Tricking Your Brain into Learning More, places this simple revelation as what he calls as ‘life gamification’. In effect this gamification effects helps us to reframe all of the challenges and failures in our life into obstacles we can overcome

In his talk, @7.25 Mark Rober sums his idea of ‘life gamification’ as:

This concept of life gamification is more than just, like, “Have a positive attitude” or “Never give up”, because those sort of imply you’re having to endure against your true desire to quit. I feel like when you frame a challenge or a learning process in the way I’m describing [gamification] you actually want to do it. It feels natural to ignore the failures and try again, in the same way a toddler will want to get up and try and walk again, or in the same way you want to keep playing Super Mario Bros.

This simple concept of learning is named after the game ‘Super Mario’ because, the (kid) players keep playing this difficult game without the fear of losses because of the inherent fun of playing the game. In fact, Mark Rober submits that in order to indeed learn how to beat the failures, one should lose. Every failure helps you to be more committed to the success next time.

Here are nine of the best lines from Mark’s Tedx Talk, which has been viewed by over 5.8 million people, on how we can trick our brains into thinking about all forms of learning in the same way we think about a game.

  1. “The trick to learning more and having more success is finding the right way to frame the learning process.”
  2. “What if you just framed the learning process in such a way that you didn’t concern yourself with failure? How much more successful could you be? How much more could you learn?”
  3. “The focus and obsession is about beating the game, not about how dumb you might look. And as a direct result of that attitude—of learning from but not being focused on the failures—we got really good and we learned a ton in a really short amount of time.”
  4. “This is what I call The Super Mario Effect: Focusing on the princess and not the pits, to stick with a task and learn more.”
  5. “When you frame a challenge or a learning process in the way I’m describing, you actually want to do it. It feels natural to ignore the failures and try again in the same way a toddler will want to get up and try to walk again or in the same way you want to keep playing Super Mario Brothers.”

  1. “I really believe if you reframe the challenges, it will make all the difference. My approach is to sort of trick you into learning something through something cool.”
  2. “By reframing the learning process, the fear of failure is often taken off the table and learning comes more naturally.”
  3. “By shifting your focus to the princess and treating your life’s challenges like video games, you can trick your brain and actually learn more and see more success.”
  4. “Failing and failing and failing and eventually succeeding.”

Mark Rober’s Tedx Talk is an important addition to the growing body of research on why games are such an effective tool for learning and retaining information over the long-term. If you’re interested in delving deeper into this wave of emerging science, you can read the interview with Peter C. Brown, author of the bestselling book “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.”[5]

[1] Mark Rober’s YT channel

[2] Fall down seven times, get up eight: The power of Japanese resilience

[3] The Super Mario Effect: A Psychological Trick to Help Achieve Success Painlessly

[4] Super Mario Bros

[5] 9 Best Lines From Mark Rober’s SUPER MARIO EFFECT TEDX Talk