Weave: part three

Two or three years ago, you couldn't swing a social media expert without hitting someone who believed in so-called "gamification". The core observation behind gamification is that when people are playing computer games, they become focused, driven and engrossed. They have a goal and are working towards it, the process is stimulating, and if they encounter resistance, they keep trying again until they can solve the problem.

The traditional definition of the work that has emerged after literacy and industrialism has been obsessed with efficiency, similarity and fungibility. A lot of similar things need to get done, and people need to have the discipline to buckle down and do them. This isn't "fun", it's hard and grueling and repetitive, but the value of work comes from having put in the effort.

Viewed from this angle, it's easy to see why multi-billionaires tell people to live at the office and not go to the bathroom. Ostensibly, if grit is the singular name of the game, advancement and success comes down to doing more of it. But then again, something that sounds like play should be mindbogglingly unpopular, so how does the relative success of gamification work?

Grit as a model of careerism works only insofar as everyone is willing to play Bloomberg's game. Among the several billions of people on this planet, there's more than one set of priorities and more than one type of person. Aside from the people who just plain don't want to advance into the stratosphere, there are also the innumerable who take to "presenteeism". This word can commonly mean people who have to go to work who otherwise would be home sick or treat their parents or kids, but it also refers to people who are coasting and "going through the motions"; feigning work, or taking pains to act as a compliant cog in the organizational organism, without actually having to put in effort to get stuff done.

I don't know whether adherents to gamification believe that it's supposed to shock the coasters into being productive. I don't know whether they have picked up on coasting at all, and are just trying to use it as a newer, better-smelling version of Taylorism, a system wherein every minor step of manual labor in a factory was optimized to within fractions of a second.

If you're not careful, gamification tends to enhance the constant strive towards "KPI" (Key Performance Indicator) maximization, which often maximizes the salary of an individual or budget of a department at the cost of the quality of the work or outcome of the purpose of the business. In this way, corporate business and especially professional/commoditized gaming share an approach. The important thing isn't what you do, but that the numbers keep increasing, be that levels or EXP, or number of veeblefetzers manufactured.

The perverse conclusion is that some of the old world analysis was right. Some work does involve putting in grueling and uncomfortable effort in order to reach a good outcome, and that's the work of realizing that most people in the workforce today are dealing with problems that require creativity to solve and analytical thinking to reason through. The more cookie-cutter and danger-minimizing the approach is to these problems, the worse they get solved, the less fulfilled people are, until failure, insufficience and malicious compliance isn't so much an unfortunate result as a bog for well-intentioned people to tentatively just survive in.

You have to trust people to do the right thing, and you have to give them the opportunity to do the right thing, and you have to not have coasters onboard who will take this freedom and squander it, instead of doing their job better. And whether they know it or not, the school of management that takes grit for granted as the way to salvation are the coasters of their organizational level.

To pull an Amazon and reinstitute Taylorism isn't just dehumanizing, it's intellectually lazy; a brute-force solution of a discredited method. And to run your business in a way constrained by the way you worry the laziest employees will abuse the system, instead of the ways all of your employees will be empowered to do a better job, is just destructive cowardice.

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