A brief history of badges

Badges are the future at Zappos. They’ll dictate help determine whether a person is qualified for a role, serve an important piece of the compensation pie, and help the true tealites stand out from the posers. I’ve received some emails from Zapponians over the past few months with questions about badges. Most of these emails would be answered if I gave a brief history of how badges at Zappos came about, so here we go.

I was in grade school, about nine years old. My boys – Tim, Gerry, and Otis – were beaming with pride. They swaggered up to me like they were on the set of Goodfellas; each of them carrying a vest of some sort. Once they reached me, they unveiled their Boy Scout sashes, complete with one badge each.

bugling badge basketry badge fingerprinting badge

Tim proudly sported the bugling badge. Gerry slyly displayed his basketry badge. Otis gave a quick flash of his fingerprinting badge. He said we were all under suspicion until the results came in from fingerprinting his house. I remember standing there in awe. While I was busy trying to get my worm farm business off the ground, my buddies were collecting badges like baseball cards. As time passed, the trio had so many badges, it was hard to see the sash. Meanwhile, my worm farm biz was tanking. They had proof of their skills. I had proof of my failure in the form of dried up worms.

Got worms?

With my worm farm going under, I had a stretch where I watched TV religiously. One of my favorite shows was CHiPS. I didn’t know why I loved that cheesy cop show until one day I realized there were badges everywhere on the screen. Once I noticed this key element, it drove me insane. All I could think of were Tim, Gerry and Otis out in the world gaining respect and authority through their badges, while I was left watching Ponch and Jon chase down dumb criminals. It wasn’t until a little later that year I caught Blazing Saddles on the television and learned a phrase that helped me put the three musketeers in their place, “Badges? I don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”


For many years, I couldn’t look at a badge. My jealousy had overcome me. Once I got my first real job after graduating Harvard, I learned to (reluctantly) accept badges. I received my Oracle badge with great resignation. Fast forward to about a year and a half  ago where I was introduced to Open Badges and the Badge Alliance. My eyes were opened to the wonders of badges for the workplace. OK, maybe not the traditional workplace, as Open Badges is a Mozilla project, which I think is a monkey sanctuary in Japan. But, there’s no doubting the success stories of the Badge Alliance. Be prepared to be blown away by these big name case studies:

  • Chicago Summer of Learning
  • Providence After School Alliance
  • Young Adult Library Services Association
  • The UC Davis Sustainable Agriculture & Food Sys­tems (SA&FS)
  • Badges for Lifelong Learning

Wow! So many heavy hitters leading the way with badges. I knew then and there that the Zappos family needed to join this pack of thought leaders. Fortunately, Zapponians are some of the best and brightest minds around¹ and they came up with a great first badge, Teal 101. This badge will identify a Zapponian as officially teal. All they have to do is read a few books, watch a few videos, write some essays in their own blood, wear a clove garlic necklace for 30 days while consuming a steady diet of teal Kool-Aid, and a few other critical activities that I’m not at liberty of revealing at this time. Some have questioned what this badge qualifies a person for. Better question: what doesn’t this badge qualify you for?

Teal 101 badger

Today, we have many Zapponians creating and earning new badges in mass. My only concern at the moment is that they’ll earn so many badges that I won’t be able to keep these highly coveted Zapponians. The competition will see all those badges and want to scoop up my decihumans left and right. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

The ultimate Zapponian

The ultimate Zapponian

¹In the 89101 zip code.


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