Joy is serious business

“All my peers are happy at their jobs but I just can’t bring myself to like working as much as what I do in my free time – what’s wrong with me?”

Good news: There’s nothing wrong with you – it’s just bad design.

It is widely acknowledged that work and play are different things – and the society we live in is shaped to maintain this idea: Monday to Friday we go to work in office buildings that are designed to streamline our efficiency because we have a job to do – on the weekends we go to a bar, the movies or hiking because we want to feel joy and fulfilment. Work and play remain separate – and you’re expected to like, or better yet, love both equally.

This construct requires people to perform a very remarkable feat: to split themselves into a working and a private half with completely different personalities and motivations. That is of course impossible and as a result we join the world’s largest and longest-running game of pretend: That work and play, however different they are, make us equally happy because we’re modern, self-determined creatures with great work ethic and good sense of work-life balance. The outcome is a fake workforce largely decoupled from the work it does – and output that is lacking in substance as well as economical viability and wears down the companies that produce it.

Again, good news: You’re not the single freak who is somehow wired wrong because you value your own time higher than the hours you put in at a job that requires you to deny your character. We’re the majority – but we keep silent because we’re part of the scam and we fear the sanctions if we stood up and honestly proclaimed “This isn’t fulfilling and I’m no longer ready to spend the majority of my waking life this way!”

And even more good news: We’ve come to accept joy as a legitimate requirement when we design products and services. We want our customers to have fun using them; we design them to be intuitive and to suit the personal nature of every client. Just look at the ads on TV: People are smiling and laughing in almost every one of them – joy and self-actualisation are among the most common value propositions in marketing.

Does that mean we’re finally ready to re-design the way we develop products and services, too? Do we dare to design work itself in such a way that it becomes just as compelling as going to the bars, watching a movie or going on a hike? I hope we do and I’m confident we can – if we dare to stop pretending for a moment.

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