The Fun Paradox
Solving the Paradox of Fun (at) Work
This post is a chapter (or other small section) from my new book, The Fun Paradox. I’m posting my book in advance of publication because I want to hear from you. I want your fun thoughts, your fun experiences, your fun expertise – your help! I believe that fun is one of the most powerful forces for good in the Universe, and that we need an army to conquer the forces of no fun to bring more goodness and sunshine into an increasingly dreary world. I hope you will join me, and the first step is to read a post and make a comment. Or contact me, or write your own post! I can’t do it alone, and welcome your contributions.
This post is the Preface to the book, and I’m posting it first because it will be the first thing a new reader will see. Please help me make it as compelling and inviting as possible:
Think back to a time when you had fun at work – not on vacation, or after work, or at home – remember a fun time you had while on the job. What were you doing (or not doing)? Was it alone or with others? Remember as you read on . . .
The most obvious reason I called this book The Fun Paradox is that we often see fun as the opposite of work – the opposite of being serious, mounting a sustained and difficult effort, and grinding through to a successful finish. I ask questions about fun to nearly everyone I meet, and when I ask What is the opposite of work? the answer is always Play. When I ask What is the opposite of fun? the answer is often Work. I wrote this book to show you that fun is not the opposite of work. Indeed, it’s the best kind of work, the most productive, creative, innovative, profitable, and pleasurable work. It’s easier to see when you flip it around: work that’s no fun is work that’s the least productive, creative, &etc. I hope to convince you that if your work isn’t fun, you’re missing one of the most powerful tools ever evolved to drive positive human behavior.
Another reason to call this book The Fun Paradox is that I’ve discovered that many of the concepts and methods needed to make work fun seem paradoxical, or contradict our “common sense” and much of what’s been written and taught about fun at work. For example, in one of the better books written about fun at work, Fun Works by Leslie Yerkes, one of the eleven principles she defines is Be Authentic. In this book, one of my core principles is Be Inauthentic, a concept that appears on the surface to be the opposite (and to rub many folks the wrong way because it implies deception). Like the work/fun dichotomy, the paradox is more a matter of semantics, cultural biases, and leftovers from the Puritan era than a true contradiction. However, as I’ve researched fun and worked with people on making their work more fun, the seeming paradoxes and contradictions became the rule rather than the exception, and thus the title.
The third reason I called this book The Fun Paradox is that fun work is paradoxical. Fun lives at the lively, sometimes-chaotic edge between silly and serious, rebellious and conservative, creative and careful. Fun is a result of the tension between freedom and restriction and rides the razor-thin border between boredom and frustration. Fun isn’t the opposite of work: fun is hard work. This paradox is easier to see when you realize that most people would complain if their boss required them to work as hard at their job as they do in their recreation. Fun as hard work is also most visible in high pressure jobs such as a busy restaurant kitchen, where morale (and fun) is often greatest during the rush, not afterwards.
Finally, I believe that the first and most important step in making work fun is confronting and dispelling – or embracing – these paradoxes. It just doesn’t make sense that the group that’s laughing and acting like they’re at a party is more productive and effective than the group next door that’s quiet, diligent, and serious. However, despite our tendency to stop laughing and look serious when the boss walks by, I’ve built a business on the fact that the group that’s consistently laughing is working better than the group that looks like a funeral party. Though I don’t want you to focus on our stereotype of having fun – for many people and groups, having fun does look more like a funeral than a party. Fun is diverse. But, however people have it, more fun means more money, better morale, less turnover, greater creativity and innovation. And more money. But, despite how we all feel about money, the most important aspect of fun work is that more fun means more success, because fun is what makes success feel like success. Fun work is its own reward, so if we embrace the fun paradox we guarantee success. What more can you ask for? Guaranteed success and more money!