Early on in my career I stumbled upon what was, to me, an astonishing fact: there was little correlation between work performance and the rewards that came from it. I could bust my hump and be the top of the metrics (I was working in a call center at the time) or I could simply meet my KPIs without breaking too much of a sweat. The end result? Nearly identical in both cases so my work habits tended very quickly towards doing only what was required of me nothing more. This further evolved later in my career into only doing the work that would get noticed as doing anything else would prove of little benefit to me. Indeed I came to realise that being a stellar performer is often not worth it, even if you’re capable of doing it.
Research into this area has shown that being a high performer is a thankless task. When presented with two potential employees to assign work to, one with low self control and the other with higher, people will more often than not assign more work to the person with higher self control. In the real world this means that a high performer will be assigned more work and the low performer less. However rarely does this correlate to how each of those workers is rewarded for their performance, meaning that high performers are essentially doing more work for the same reward. Thus there is an active disincentive for anyone to be perceived as a high performer, lest they unnecessarily burden themselves.
Indeed I found as much throughout my career. Being able to take care of your assigned tasks in less time than others often meant I’d be left looking for other tasks to occupy my time. Quite often this would result in being assigned busy work that didn’t need to be done and, even if it was done well, would go completely unnoticed. Thus I resigned myself to doing the work I needed to do and not seeking out anything beyond that, allowing me more time to dedicate to tasks that I felt warranted it. This then translated into me always having time to help out others when they needed me whilst not burdening me with pointless work that wouldn’t get noticed.
In my current employment however I have found that there is tangible benefit to demonstrating my skill. Instead of simply assigning me more work I’m instead presented with opportunities that might not be available to everyone else. Such challenges are often interesting and potentially career making, providing an incentive to work harder to show that I’m capable of completing them. It’s this kind of recognition which I feel is the best way to encourage your best performers to keep doing what they’re doing and to motivate others to do the same.
We gamers sometimes forget how personal games are for their creators. Often they’re a reflection both the creator’s intent and the creator themselves, especially for games that are created by one person or small independent studios. I think this is partly due to the arms-length relationship most of us have with games due to the developer/publisher ecosystem, something which removes much of the potential for a personal connection. The Beginner’s Guide however is a game that attempts to connect with the player on a very personal level and, I feel, is the developer’s way of working through some of the issues he endured after the success of a previous title.
The Beginner’s Guide is a narrated collection of games from the developer’s friend who’s named Coda. They’re a loose set of quirky titles, many of which defy conventional gaming standards by having things like unsolvable puzzles, areas of grand detail that are completely inaccessible and mechanics that are actively hostile towards the player. The narrator wants to show you these titles because he wants to encourage Coda to start making games again and feels like the only way to do so is to show his craft to the wider world. Whether that will be effective or not is something we might never know, but that might not be the most interesting thing about The Beginner’s Guide.
Graphically The Beginner’s Guide certainly feels like a group of cobbled together games with varying art styles permeating throughout the course of the game. Knowing that it’s built on the Source engine gives you some insight into where the aesthetic is coming from as it does feel like an overgrown set of mods for Half Life. Apart from that there’s not much to speak of in terms of visual aesthetic as the game is much more about the levels themselves, rather than how they look.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
Now this is usually the point in the review where I give you an overview of the mechanics and gameplay before I delve into each of them to give you a feel for what you can expect. However with The Beginner’s Guide, whilst there are mechanics which I could discuss, I don’t feel that’s the real point of the game at all. Instead The Beginner’s Guide is a well crafted narrative, told through the medium of games, about how the game’s developer (Davey Wreden of The Stanley Parable fame) struggled with the burden of success. Indeed it becomes very clear towards the end that Coda is a fictional character and these creations that we’re playing through are actually the product of the narrator who is dealing with his issues through the creation of this game.
I’ll admit that for the vast majority of the game I played along, figuring that this was just a quirky set of games that was cobbled together for the fun of it. Indeed there was a part of me that was annoyed at Wreden for doing so, charging me $10 for the privilege of playing games he himself did not create. However towards the end, where it’s revealed that Coda had abandoned Wreden because he simply couldn’t be around him any more, it becomes clear that this is a story of fiction. At that point though the game changed for me, instead of wondering who Coda was and why he left now I wanted to know why Wreden would create something like this. It didn’t take long to find out.
After rifling through numerous discussion threads I eventually landed on his blog, specifically the most recent post which is about The Stanley Parable’s widespread acclaim. In it he details what the success of that game has meant to him and the burden which he feels he carries for everyone who’s played it. Whilst I might not have reached the level of fame and acclaim that he has I can very much relate to the burden that success can bring to you; how success is supposed to negate all feelings of doubt or worry and erase all problems in your life. Indeed success can do quite the opposite, often dredging up issues or exacerbating current ones.
The Beginner’s Guide then serves as a catharsis for all these feelings, an expression of all the mixed feelings that a creator feels when their work is recognised and praised widely. The not-so-subtle hints towards Coda’s creative machine no longer working, the fear of being public, wanting to recluse himself away from society, all these take on new meaning when you realise they’re actually about the developer himself and not the fictional being of Coda. In that regard The Beginner’s Guide is one of the most personal games I’ve ever played and I’m very glad I did.
The Beginner’s Guide is a personal journey, both for the player and the developer. It’s Davey Wreden working through his trials and tribulations that the success of The Stanley Parable brought him and you’re along here for the ride. Indeed The Beginner’s Guide shows how games can be used as a medium to work through things like this, just like more traditional mediums have been in the past. It might not be a game for everyone, especially for those expecting something more along the lines of The Stanley Parable, but it’s a wonderful experience all the same. One that had me playing long after I closed the game down.
The Beginner’s Guide is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 1.5 hours.
Today’s workplaces value the appearance of being productive rather than actual productivity. This seemingly nonsensical behaviour stems from the inability of many companies to accurately define performance metrics or other assessable criteria on which to judge someone’s productivity and thus they rely on the appearance of someone being busy as a judge instead. This is what leads many to engage in activities which, on the surface, make you appear busy but are either outright wasteful or horribly inefficient. As someone who has spent the vast majority of his professional career working himself out of a job I’ve found this behaviour particularly abhorrent, especially when it comes back around to bite me.
You see for anyone who is highly effective at their job there’s a tendency to get through your work faster than what would be usually expected and, consequently, they will often seek additional tasks to fill the rest of their working week. The trouble is that once their baseline job functions have been satisfied the tasks remaining are usually the low priority ones that either don’t really require the attention of a highly effective worker or won’t produce any meaningful outputs. Indeed I found this out the hard way many times as my investment in automating many of my routine tasks would often see me doing mundane things like updating documentation templates or reorganising file structures. Such tasks are a killer for highly effective workers and new research from Duke University, University of Georgia, and University of Colorado finally adds some scientific evidence to this.
First the researchers looked at how people would assign tasks to different workers based on a single attribute: self control. Predictably the participants in the study assigned more work to those with better self control with the rationale that they would be more effective at completing the work. Whilst that might not be a revolutionary piece of research it sets the foundation for the next hypothesis: does that additional work burden said efficient worker? Because for a work environment where all are rewarded at the same level doing more work for the same benefit is a burden to efficient workers and that’s what the second piece of research sought to find out.
In a study of 400 employees it was found that effective employees were not only aware of the additional burden placed on them they often felt that their boss and fellow employees weren’t aware of the burden that it placed on them. The end result of this study was to conclude that efficient workers should not be rewarded with additional work but instead with opportunities or better compensation. Engaging in the other behaviour instead encourages everyone to do the least amount of work required to fulfill their duties as there’s no incentive to be efficient nor productive beyond that. Again this might seem like an obvious conclusion but the current zeitgeist of today’s working environments still runs contrary to this conclusion.
I do feel incredibly lucky to be working for a company which adheres to this ethos of rewarding efficiency and actual productivity rather than the appearance of being busy. However it took me 7 years and almost as many jobs to finally come across a company that functions in this regard so the everyman’s workplace still has a long way to go. Whilst research like this might not have much of an effect on changing the general workplace environment hopefully the efficient workers of the world can find solace in the fact that science is on their side.
Or, at the very least, realise that they should work that system to their advantage.
There’s something of a mythology in the developer community around high performing employees who are seemingly able to output much more work than anyone else is in the same amount of time. The concept isn’t strictly limited to software development either as I’m sure anyone from any industry can regale you of a tale of someone who did the work of multiple people, whether through sheer intelligence or dedication to getting the job done. Whilst I have the utmost respect for people with this kind of capability I’ve recognised a disturbing trend among projects who contain people like this and, to the betterment of the wider world, I believe we have to stop seeking these mythical people out in order to exploit their talents for our own ends.
Long time readers might remember a post I wrote a couple years ago about how I tanked my university project due to my lack of any project management skills. A big part of this was my failure to recognise the fact that I had a 10x worker on my hands, someone who was able to do the vast majority of the work on the project without aid from anyone else. In the short term it was a great boon to the project, we made fast progress and we all felt like we were getting somewhere with the idea. However it didn’t take long for all the additional work that 10x person was doing to turn into a dependency, something which the whole team was relying on. My failure to recognise this (and to pitch in myself) was what led to the inevitable demise of that project but I’ve since learned that this is not an uncommon occurrence.
Typically the situation develops from the best of intentions with a high performing employee put on a task or project that’s in need of some immediate attention. For them it’s not too much trouble to solve and the short time frame in which it’s achieved means that they quickly establish themselves as someone that can get stuff done. What happens next depends on the person as once that reputation is established the stream of requests will only intensify. From what I can tell it goes one of two ways: either the 10x in question sets a hard limit (and sticks to it) or they continue to take everything on board, right up until breaking point.
For the former it’s not too much of a problem and indeed would go a long way to highlighting resourcing issues with a project. I firmly believe that whilst the occasional bouts of additional hours aren’t too detrimental long, sustained periods eventually lead to burnout and loss of productivity. So setting limits on how much work you do and staunchly refusing to take on additional tasks shows where additional resources need to be placed. This also requires you to be comfortable with things you’re personally involved with failing on occasion, something which a lot of people find hard to do.
Indeed the latter kind of 10x-er can’t let things fail, especially for anything that they’ve had direct input with. For tasks on the critical path this can be to the project’s benefit as you can rely on the fact that it will get completed no matter what else happens. However as more and more people start to go to this 10x person for help the breadth of things they’re involved with, and thus feel responsible for, broadens to the point where almost anything is within their purview. Thus a terrible feedback loop is established, one whereby they become critical to everything and feel compelled to continue working. This continues until they burn out or some forcible action is taken.
Whilst this is a two sided problem I do feel that we, as the regular workers of the world, can do a lot to ensure such people aren’t destroyed by the burden that we place on them. It can be so easy to fob a task off onto someone, especially when you know they’ll do it quicker and better than you could, however if you know that person is similarly being burdened by multiple other people it may be better for you to learn how to do that task yourself. Then hopefully that 10x worker can continue operating at that capacity without approaching those dangerous levels where burnout becomes all too common.