Jobs, race cars, and the designers paradox

Jobs, race cars, and the designers paradox

A job has to be one of the most interesting things you could design.

Unlike most things, a job is designed to serve a business. Sure, this seems obvious at first. But most things aren't designed this way. Even if they do ultimately serve some greater purpose, the primary consideration is almost always the user.

Consider Formula 1 racing:

In 2014 Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen crashed nose-first into a wall going 150mph. He experienced a whopping 47Gs of impact, yet walked away with only a limp, living to tell the tale.


It all starts with the central component to the car's chassis: the monocoque.

Comprised of the survival cell and the cockpit, the monocoque is surrounded by impact absorbing material such as carbon fiber and zylon. On top of that, fire retardant systems are built-in to protect the driver in the event of a fire. These central components are some of the most crucial considerations when designing Formula 1 race cars.

Now ask yourself this question: is a Formula 1 car designed to win a race or protect the driver?

Surely, the primary purpose of the car's design is to win the race, right?

Not quite. Because of stringent safety regulations, the correct answer is probably both. When designing Formula 1 cars, the safety and well-being of the driver is an ancillary consideration to winning the race. In other words, you can't win a race with a dead driver.

We should think of jobs in the same way.

How a job is designed has a significant impact on the well-being of the worker. Namely, the degree to which they are satisfied with the work and motivated to do more, which in turn, is predictive of performance and turnover risk.

Like jobs, not all cars are designed with the primary purpose of serving the user. The designer must keep a careful balance between these two necessary but often paradoxical goals. The designer's ability to do this well becomes the essential determinant of the car's success.

While the ultimate purpose of a Formula 1 car is to win the race, they must be designed around the assumption that the driver's well-being stay in tact so they may continue driving. Similarly, jobs must be designed around the assumption that the workers well-being stay in tact so they may continue working!

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