The future of productivity

2010 February 23
by Dave

The long boom of the past two decades was caused by several factors. One of the major ones was productivity gains. Much of this increased productivity has come about because of technology. Email, word processing, internet searching, Wikipedia, electronic paperwork processing, etc. have all made it easier to get work done faster and with less employee overhead. The past few years have seen the claim frequently repeated that productivity gains fueled by technological innovation will slow drastically.

The opposite is true. There is a coming upheaval in how we work and how we learn new skills that will get much more work out of each worker and make each worker more useful. The coming big productivity gains will be caused by rubric development and the application of existing expertise in reward cycles.

Millions of people spend billions of hours each year doing boring repetitive tasks in online role playing games like World of Warcraft, and they pay for the privilege.   The motivation is so intense that stories abound of people peeing in milk jugs so that they don’t have to move from their computers. Harnessing this focus and dedication into productive outlets will be huge.

There are two big pieces of development to be done in order to make our daily jobs into games. The first, and most difficult, is developing methods to measure abstract tasks that require complex skills. The second is developing short reward cycles that keep workers going for the next five minutes. Luckily video game designers have spent the past thirty years thinking about the second problem. Witness the genius of making learning how to use Microsoft Office into a game.

Developing rubrics for job functions will be the tedious part. While a broad set of reward cycles will be able to be applied to most jobs, each individual task will have to be carefully sliced into quantifiable chunks that accurately measure success. Once a single industry demonstrates the efficacy of work as a video game, it will swiftly ripple out to the rest of the economy with a speed that will blow your mind. Climbing the corporate ladder will be a thing of the past. In the future you will climb the corporate leader board, and job ads will ask for a level 20 customer service rep.

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