Let’s Get Serious

First, thank you for taking a bit of your precious time to visit my blog.  I pledge to provide value for your investment of the only currency of true value:  your time.

Let me start with an unlikely word for a blog attached to a website about fun:  serious.  We typically see fun and serious as two ends of a spectrum, but I believe that viewing fun as the opposite of serious prevents us from taking advantage of the true power of fun.  As you can see from reading my Fun Manifesto, I divide fun into three categories:  relaxing fun, solo fun, and social fun, with an additional participatory requirement for solo and social fun.  The fun that we see as being the opposite of serious is largely relaxing fun, or pleasure – the kind of fun we have kicking back on a beach or watching TV.  In my definition, both solo and social fun require active engagement by the participant(s), and it’s my claim (and the basis of my business, Funshop) that when you’re really having participatory fun, you’re performing at your best.  And it doesn’t get much more serious than that.

I wrote the Fun Manifesto because I came to believe that fun is very serious and could have profound influence on the course of human history if we just paid attention to it.  While I may appear on cursory examination to be a fluffy-headed, hippie-dippy ding-dong with stars in his eyes (I do run a tie-dye business, after all), I’ve spent almost my entire life in the hard-headed, demanding, contentious, hyper-critical, and viciously political world of academic science.  I’m a voracious reader across a broad range of subjects, I’ve rubbed shoulders with a broad range of humanity, and I don’t take anything at face value.  However, my experiences, despite the abstract and objective nature of my work, have constantly emphasized the importance of the ‘human factors’, and over time what really percolated to the surface and kept tripping me up as I tried to step over it was fun.  Time after time I saw how fun defined high performance and no-fun epitomized dysfunction, whether in my academic career or in the time since as I’ve built my own businesses from the ground up.  Indeed, fun can be used to assess everything from how kids learn at school to how we run our foreign policy, and it’s increasingly clear that it should be used more broadly.

I posed a question about the Iraq War (either one) in the Fun Manifesto:  How would we have prosecuted that conflict if we had used more fun as our metric?  Under Bush 1, would we have kicked Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and then left our putative allies, the opposition to Sadaam’s rule, to fry in the brutal aftermath?  Would we have taken no thought for the aftermath of a successful invasion under Bush 2?  Of course, in a war you don’t want your enemies to be having fun, but I contend that when anyone on your side isn’t having fun, you have a problem.  And maybe it wouldn’t have been easy to leave the bickering, factional Iraqis in a state where everyone was having more fun than they did before we arrived, but I don’t think I have to fight very hard to get you to agree that we would have done a better job if we’d maximized both the amount and even distribution of fun across Iraq as a result of our invasion.  Perhaps we wouldn’t have left our chosen faction in power (did we do so anyway?), but at least it’s more likely we would be viewed as a benefactor.

Another aspect of the serious nature of fun is that it’s hard work.  Most see fun as a side effect of leisure and don’t associate fun with work, either in the sense of what you do at a workplace or as something requiring focused and sustained effort.  However, if you enjoy waterskiing or any other vigorous sport, or crave the opportunity to play poker or a video game, you’ll notice if you pay attention that you’re working harder – physically, mentally, or both – than you usually do at work.  And if you weren’t, it either wasn’t much fun (like a game you play desultorily because you’re not that interested), or you were just relaxing.  We need to relax, certainly, and we often call it fun, but few of us are so enamored of relaxation that we can do it for long.  Generally we feel like getting up and doing something.  Fun is work – in fact, it’s work when work is going really really well.  Falling off your waterskis can be a laugh riot, but if you do it all the time it isn’t fun – skiing the best you ever have is fun.  It doesn’t feel like hard work because it’s so rewarding.

I wanted to emphasize the serious nature of fun right in front because the word “fun” itself conjures up so many negative stereotypes:  frivolity, irresponsibility, silliness, indolence.  Many scoff at Nepal’s use of Gross National Happiness – just imagine how an index based on fun is likely to be received.  But that is just what I propose, and what this site and my business are dedicated to:  that fun is the best measure, that fun is us at our best, and especially that fun is what makes success feel like success.  Happiness is nice, but fun is much better.  Because fun is serious.