Opinion – Work should be more like nonograms

And no, I’m not talking about making my job a video game… Mostly.

I’ve invested an incredible amount of time into nonograms. There are a number of games that offer them (Picma, Pixelo, and Picross), but they all provide the same basic experience. It’s a simple puzzle game where numbers are written on the top of the columns and the left side of the rows of a grid. The numbers signify how many blocks to fill in a given row or column with a space between multiple numbers. The goal is to use logic and the process of elimination to create a simple picture. It does raise an interesting question. I have devoted many an hour to this simple concept for free yet I work a job that must compensate me to show up. Why?

Clear rules – I’ve laid out the basic rules of the game above. They don’t change, though they are sometimes added to. This means that I’m aware of what I need to do at all time. Work, on the other hand, rarely benefits from such precision. Often one must make judgments with imprecise information. I understand the upside of a changing or unclear ruleset. If everything were straightforward, than my job would be quickly automated and I’d be trying to write reviews for a living. Still, the inconsistency can be frustrating and a guy appreciates some consistency now and then.

Constantly changing challenges – Nonograms use a basic set of rules to create a wide variety of puzzles. Pixelize any picture and it’s a brand new nonogram for someone like me to figure out. Jobs, on the other hand, present the same challenges over and over. Most employers cannot provide variety, rather, they focus on training up an employee to be good at a few things. As an employee gets good at a task, they also stop feeling challenged by it. As mentioned above, the rules of these tasks may vary, but the overarching product is often the same. It is easy for a worker to become bored with a job when they produce the same thing day after day.

Low penalty for failure – Reducing the penalty for failure encourages innovation and reduces stress by lowering the importance of a given task. When a player doesn’t fear failure, they’ll try countless strategies knowing that the only penalty is starting over. For work, the stakes are higher. Screw ups can result in lost business or harsh treatment. Overtime (or with a sufficiently titanic mistake) failure can lead to firing with all the repercussions that necessarily result. This reduces the chances that most are willing to take for fear of the consequences. Innovation declines and stress increases as the worker avoids untested methods to reduce error, rather than to increase efficiency.

Choosing the environment – When I play a nonogram, I get to choose the environment I work in. I choose the music in the background, the clothes that I wear, and the chair that I’m sitting in. I can maximize my comfort. Most places of employment don’t have this kind of freedom. They provide an area to work in and require a certain dress code. Accommodations that someone might make at home like music or sitting on the balcony are difficult to achieve due to the shared spaces and work areas designed for efficiency, not comfort. Individual preference is sacrificed to efficiencies of scale with the loss of individual productivity.

Attendance mandate – While all work is technically voluntary, the reality is that most people are not independently wealthy enough to not need a salary. They must work, even if they aren’t technically required to. The forced nature of employment means that individuals must come in even when they are thoroughly unmotivated and must continue to do so even if a few days rest would improve their productivity. Nonograms, and games in general, are entirely voluntary. Players start and stop them at their leisure. The lack of concern prevents the player from burning out on the game by allowing them to disengage when the puzzle is no longer interesting. Productivity decline never craters like employment because the player is given the option to do something else.

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