Optimising for happiness

Optimising our work can lead us astray.

We must remember to ask ourselves, who are we optimising for?

The Ruby programming language is optimised for happiness. In Python, you need to type ‘exit()’ to exit an interactive shell because Python prescribes a single correct way to do things. In Ruby, typing ‘quit’ in an interactive shell, exits the shell. Or “exit”, for that matter. It doesn’t mind. It was optimised to understand humans, doing what they mean rather than what they say, instead of pedantically instructing them. Python was optimised for machines, Ruby was optimised for happiness.

Fathom, a website analytics tool, is optimised for happiness. Google Analytics overwhelms site owners with reports that give half the picture, requiring people to plan for the data they want to see. It’s why so many people install it but don’t look at their data. Conversely, Fathom shows just the important stuff that most people want to see, all on one page, and that’s it. Google Analytics was optimised for data, Fathom was optimised for happiness.

OpenSea is optimised for humans. While LooksRare gives NFT traders more rewards and features for buying and selling NFTs, OpenSea knows their humans want charts. So they give you charts. LooksRare does lots of things right, but there are no charts, so people don’t use it as much. As much as NFT traders give OpenSea a hard time for some of its business decisions, LooksRare was optimised for what people said they want, and OpenSea was optimised for what they actually want.

Stickies.app, a Mac app that has barely changed since 2001, is optimised for happiness. While Evernote and other sophisticated note-taking tools give you a plethora of organisational tools and taxonomies, Stickies recreates Post-It notes on your screen, and nothing more. There are courses on how to use Evernote properly. There are no courses for how to use Post-It notes properly. People already know (and love) those big yellow squares.

Are you optimising your work for happiness?