Boundless #55: Where do your beliefs on work come from?
Exploring seven schools of thought around work
June 15th, 2019: Greetings from Connecticut! Hope your summer is off to a great start.
Today I’ve started exploring the different foundational beliefs for the why behind why we work. I’ve started with seven different “schools” but this is very much a work in progress. I’ll be turning this into a deeper article over the next week, so if you have thought shoot them my way!
Digital Meetup: I’m hosting a Boundless digital meetup on Creating In Public on June 25th at 6:30pm EST. If you’re interested in joining the conversation hit the link to register:
Boston Meetup(s): I’m hosting two events in Boston with Stephen Warley in July. I’d love to see you at one or both:
#1 18 Months On A Boat With John Zeratsky
John Zeratsky was a designer in the tech industry has worked with hundreds of startups in his time at Google Ventures. He’s also obsessed with redesigning time and thinking about what matters in life. Earlier this year he just got back from 18 months living on his boat "Pineapple" with his wife sailing around Central America, which he wrote about in an article titled “What quitting my job to sail around central america taught me about fulfillment.”
#2 Work Schools Of Thought
When it gets down to it, everyone has a working story of the “why” they work. What most people don’t realize is that our modern stories often come from specific moments in history or modern ethics that have developed. All of these have some relation to each other, but your own story likely comes from somewhere.
#1 Catholic Work Ethic - Work As Duty; Work Is Toil
Andrew Taggart hypothesizes at the origins of this belief:
The first conception is that work is toil to be endured. Evidence for the existence of this conception can be found, already in the form of common sense, in the Book of Genesis where, as punishment, God tells Adam that he shall spend his days toiling in the field while Eve shall be burdened with the labors of childbirth. My (very) speculative thesis is that this idea of work as toil coincides with the birth of agriculture 10,000 years and so ago.
…and more here:
“Catholic view of work” sees work, while not the worst sort of thing one could do, as middling and bearably tolerable at best.
“He who shall not work shall not eat” - St Paul
“labour is only necessary naturali ratione for the maintenance of individual and community.” - Max Weber summarizing Thomas Aquinas
People: Jesus, St. Paul, Thomas Aquinas
#2 Protestant Work Ethic - The “Calling”
Starting with Martin Luther in the 1500’s, the Protestant reformation flipped the catholic idea of work on its head and starts to see the pursuit of work, a “calling” as an end in itself. Max Weber writes about how the Protestant reformation had to educate people on this new approach to work:
Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, a calling. But such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It cannot be evoked by low wages or high ones alone, but can only be the product of a long and arduous process of education.
“The only way of living acceptably to God was not to surpass worldly morality in monastic asceticism, but solely through the fulfillment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world. That was his calling” - Max Weber
“All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness. Labour, wide as the Earth, has its summit in Heaven.” -Thomas Carlyle
Associated People: Martin Luther
#3 Meaningful Work - The Modern Protestant Ethic
The modern protestant ethic is science based, backed by countless studies showing that when people view their work as a calling - everything is better. The most famous study is is from a group of four researchers led by Amy Wrzesniewski. Their research differentiated between people who see their work as a job, a career and a calling:
“In accord with our predictions, we presented, evidence indicating highest life and work satisfaction for respondents who see their work as a Calling”
“I've come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that's as unique as a fingerprint - and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.” - Oprah Winfrey
People: Oprah Winfrey, Amy Wrzesniewski
#4 Your Work Is A Gift (and should be paid for)
There is a modern idea around work that we are all given certain gifts that we should share with the world. This is mapped onto a modern conception of work that we should seek to be paid for these gifts. If you’ve been around LinkedIn, you’ve probably seen the following chart.
The chart seems to be more of a hopeful creation of the modern knowledge worker than anything based on reality. (Kyle Kowalski explores how this concept got so muddled here).
#5 The Modern Hustle Ethic
The modern hustle ethic has been enabled by technology and our ability to work 24/7 and America is its mecca. However, the origins of the word hustle has meant different things, from running a scam to the ethic of the US west in the 1890s:
The key-note and countersign of life in these cities [of the U.S. West] is the word "hustle." We have caught it in the East. but we use it humorously, just as we once used the Southern word "skedaddle," but out West the word hustle is not only a serious term, it is the most serious in the language. "Our Great West," N.Y., 1893
“a wealthy man thinks that he owes it to public opinion to devote his leisure to some kind of industrial or commercial pursuit, or to public business. He would think himself in bad repute if he employed his life solely in living.” - Alexis de Tocqueville on Americans
Hustling is putting every minute and all your effort into achieving the goal at hand. Every minute needs to count. There is so much hustle in my day I don’t even have a second to spare to “hang out” and catch up with the people around me.” - Gary Vaynerchuk
"Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week," - Elon Musk
People: Gary Vee, Elon Musk, Jack Ma
#6 Gospel Of Wealth / Capitalist Ethic
This is the shift in the late 1800’s to argue that the wealth created by capital can both help create stuff people want and excess wealth to contribute to philanthropic efforts that support society and community. Andrew Carnegie’s book The Gospel of Wealth was a short book discussing how the wealthy capitalists should donate their money.
“Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs.” - Max Weber
“Today the world obtains commodities of excellent quality at prices which even the generation preceding this would have deemed incredible.” -Andrew Carnegie
Money is seen as a good in itself. Anything can be validated under the logic of “if I’m getting paid for it, it must be worthwhile”
Person: Andrew Carnegie, Jeff Bezos
#7 Post-Work / Against Wage-Based Work
This has emerged in the last 100 years and is loosely tied together by a group of “post-work” thinkers and philosophers. The fundamental argument is not against work per se, but against the current structure of paid employment as a way to enable people to live a life worth living.
Philosopher John Danaher makes this point:
“It’s not that there is no place for determined effort, self-improvement and ambition in the well-lived life. Mastering skills, making a contribution to one’s society, and achieving goals are all key elements of the good life. They are also, as the philosophers Anca Gheaus and Lisa Herzog point out, things that are made possible through paid employment. But is the workplace really the best place to pursue such ends? I don’t think so.”
“real work is not longer what we do when at work” Andre Gorz
Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well. - John Maynard Keynes
People: Andre Gorz, John Danaher, John Maynard Keynes
#3 Misc 🎊
Boundless Reads #116 - Five Good Reads From (last) Week
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