Work & Instant Gratification

Work and workforces are changing some more. The impact of instant gratification will definitely impact software design, work processes and re-engineering. Are you prepared for this?

I just finished hearing Jim Carroll's keynote at the Tenrox 2011 User Conference here in Montreal. In the Q&A after his talk he described a phenomenon that gets little attention when people talk about the generational differences in today's workforce. He showed some statistics that illustrate how many jobs a high school student today thinks they'll have in their career.  The numbers were jarring.

At that point, Jim tossed out, almost like it was a throwaway comment, that younger workers get really bored with many jobs really quickly. They are used to the instant gratification they get with video games. A job where you (maybe) get a bonus or performance review every few months (or annually if at all) is not enough to keep the interest and enthusiasm of many workers today. They want the same instant feedback and gratification that comes from advancing to a new level in a game, blowing away a record number of zombies, or hitting a personal record high score. Jobs, traditionally, don't offer this. Jim suggested we need to "Call-of-Duty-ize" work.

Many of us toil at jobs that were defined decades ago by people who never even saw a video game. While my generation has some knowledge of video games, we haven't used that knowledge to change workflows, processes and rewards. I even own a few old arcade pieces that sit in my basement. But, while many in my generation understand delayed or deferred gratification, I know first-hand that many after this generation don't.

Talk to today's parents and you'll hear countless stories of children who want and demand (not just a cell phone) the latest iPhone. They protest that they'll just 'die' if they're seen with something other than the latest/greatest gadget. Their egos and self-esteem are tied to these devices. They want big-screen, LED televisions in their bedrooms. They want and want and will not wait for the time required for them to earn the money themselves to buy it themselves. They expect parents to outfit them instantly with the trappings of modern Tween and teenager existence. They want it now and they see you as a bad parent if you don't deliver it.

I disagree.

But, while I think the parents that give in to these drama plays, begging and tantrums are making a big mistake (and poorly preparing their children for the real world), we can't escape the fact that today's newest entrants into the workforce are into instant gratification. They're really into it! And, let's be honest, more than a few of you are, too!

For example, how many workers can actually sit through a 1-hour meeting without checking their email on their phone, tablet or laptop? I still turn my phone off when I'm with clients but virtually none of them do likewise. Have you witnessed how frustrated or mad people get when they can't get a decent cell signal so that they can look something up on the Internet? People can't even wait to finish a face to face conversation with you because they're putting the earbuds of their iPod into their ears. But the worst and most egregious sign of all in the instant gratification world is the car with the kids in the back with the DVD player going while the kids are simultaneously playing a handheld video game and listening to their iPods. These kids have so totally checked out of the slower moving world of conversation (with each other and the adults up front) or the world that's outside the car windows.

Work places will be challenged to make the tasks and steps in their processes interesting. How long would a modern worker find assembly line work interesting? How would these workers find any of your compartmentalized workflows and processes fun, rewarding or interesting? I bet they'd say your firm is BORING, DULL and a total buzz kill.  And, to an extent, they'll be right.

Work as fun is not a new concept but it really needs some tuning. While many dot-coms put in the obligatory foosball table and other non-standard items into their companies, these were diversions that could be played between work tasks but not at the desk. The fun was not tied to the work - it was separate from the work. Moreover, these games were not tied to providing feedback, they were tied to inserting a little fun into long work days. Instant gratification is another thing altogether and it must tie fun with recognition and rewards.  That said, I'm waiting for some enterprising accountant to design an accounting software product that looks and sounds more like a Vegas slot machine. The user would get a huge payout of coins if they could only enter in all the requisite journal entries that a revenue recognition transaction requires.

If any of you management consultants out there thought BPR (business process re-engineering) was done, think again. Businesses will need some bright consultants to tell them how to design fun, recognition and instant gratification into all kinds of work - and it won't be easy.