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"We're killing our capacity for creativity"

Twitter VP Bruce Daisley explains why checking emails outside of work and the misuse of open plan offices is creating so much stress

Working in games -- or indeed tech in general -- can feel much more frantic than you would hope, given how creative the final products are.

Crunch is a well-documented issue in the games industry, but even outside those periods the atmosphere behind the scenes can take its toll. Developing, selling or even writing about these interactive masterpieces is not always as light-hearted as we would like the world to believe.

Bruce Daisely -- EMEA vice president at Twitter and author of the best-selling business book 'The Joy of Work' -- believes this can be traced to a single moment.

"There was a day when we all agreed to accept emails on our phone, and that day felt glorious because we thought there would be more time for messing around," he said. "We thought, 'If I can deal with my emails on the Tube, then I can muck around more in the office'. Unfortunately, what happened is the average working day went from 7.5 hours to 9.5 and that single thing transformed work.

"It's like someone hacked work, because the average person spends two days a week in meetings, gets 140 emails a day... it's no surprise people feel burnt out"

"I don't want to have rose-tinted glasses, but work used to be way more fun. It's said the Russians hacked the US elections -- it's almost like someone hacked work, because the average person now spends two days a week in meetings, gets 140 emails a day, and so it's no surprise when you ask people how they feel about work, they say they feel burnt out."

Daisely was speaking at The Friday Bunk-Off, a casual mini-summit arranged by creative agency Ralph. He went on to say that there are scarier signs of work being hacked even further in the form of Gmail's predictive text. If your email client is starting to finish sentences for us, how long before it's drafting replies to emails we haven't even opened yet?

"Machine learning and computerisation is going to start stealing little bits of our jobs," said Daisely. "What's the solution? We need to prepare ourselves, we need to arm ourselves for the future of work, which is more creativity. But here's the challenge: creativity is completely at odds with stress."

And with everyone constantly connected to their work via smart devices, that stress has spilled out of the workplace and into our private lives. Daisely cites a study that showed half of all people who check their emails outside of work show the highest recordable levels of stress.

This, he warned, can have dire consequences when it comes to devising fresh ideas for innovative and expressive products, such as video games.

Bruce Daisely speaking at last month's Friday Bunk Off

"We're in this operating system of stress, and stress kills our capacity to be creative," he said. "Stress is the complete opposition of us doing the creative parts of our jobs. Tech firms are especially guilty of this, they have facilitated and enabled a toxic working environment. People like Elon Musk, who's the poster boy for the 120-hour week, he said just before Christmas: 'Nothing good was achieved in less than an 80-hour week'. The irony, though, is he was crying while he was saying it.

"Marissa Mayer, billionaire, former CEO of Yahoo, was asked the secret of her success. She said the secret of her success was working 17-hour days. She said she never went on holiday, she slept under her desk twice a week, and she often held in a wee. The toxicity of people saying that... consequently, you end up with this world where people optimise for hustle."

"If your default answer about work is you're busy, then you're killing your capacity to be that inventive version of yourself you used to be"

He spent some time emphasising the importance of sleep, that it improves our quality of life in multiple ways and yet people feel they need to battle to get a minimum of seven hours. Rest and disconnecting yourself from work are arguably the best ways to improve your ability to come up with new ideas.

Daisely observed that the best ideas often come when we're not desperately trying to think of them. The sudden flash of brilliance will hit you in the shower, or at the gym, but more may come if developers simply allow themselves to relax when they're not at work.

"If you're sitting there at your laptop thinking, 'I need an idea, I need an idea', your ideas often come when you load your brain up with stimulus and then you stop doing things," he said. "And we've got out of the zone of stopping doing things. When was the last time you weren't stimulated? You get your phone out when you're in the lift, you get your phone out all the time."

He also had a lot to say about the over-reliance on meetings at tech firms, particularly when meetings don't seem to accomplish much beyond re-emphasising some sort of project hierarchy or planning for a future meeting. He argued that meetings fill some sort of imagined void, but the time could be spent much more productively.

"Work is this lie we tell ourselves," said Daisely. "We all have this notion where we're hustling, we're trying to work longer and harder. If you're a boss, you look in someone's calendar and see no meetings planned, the first thought is they're doing fuck all. We've reached this stage where we believe if people are not doing meetings or emails, they're not working."

He continued: "When we see an empty calendar, we think people aren't busy, rather than saving the space for creativity."

Daisely even argued that open plan offices aren't being used to the full extent than they should. The theory is that tearing down the walls between colleagues brings them closer together, but the opposite has been true, with the Twitter execVP describing the science behind open plan offices as "catastrophically bad."

Instead, he said, the number of emails people are sending to each other -- rather than talking -- has risen and colleagues struggle to get to know each other, occasionally leading to animosity within teams, particularly on stressful projects.

"I think it's going to get worse," he said. "People are going to reach a stage where they can't go on any more with this level of exhaustion.

He concluded: "A creative office is one where there's way more face-to-face conversations. When whoever it was hacked work, they got rid of face-to-face conversations. We've all got headphones on because we've all got so many demands on us, we just want to get the responsibility we've got, the guilt we've got about not getting back to that email or running late for that meeting, and that means we're not given the capacity to think and have the time to actually do things.

"If the operating system we work in is stress, if the default answer you reach for about work is you're busy, then you're killing your capacity to be that inventive version of yourself you know you used to have in there. It's the reason why second albums are never as good as first ones -- stress kills our capacity to be creative and inventive. All the time we agree to do one extra meeting, all the time we're sitting on the sofa swiping away at a few emails, we're killing the best version of ourselves. And the best version of ourselves is the only chance we've got to beat the robots."

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James Batchelor avatar
James Batchelor: James is Editor-in-Chief at, and has been a B2B journalist since 2006. He is author of The Best Non-Violent Video Games
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