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The Way We Work
Wisdom Letter #29 | The One About Our Jobs
How are you?
Hope this letter finds you in good health. Both physical and psychological.
Have you been working lately? from home or from your ‘workplace’?
Or are you on an indefinite break from work?
Either way, this is a good time to ponder on the question —
“Why do you work?”
People work for many reasons. Most for money, personal growth, meaning, happiness, satisfaction, making a “dent" in the universe, and myriad such reasons.
What is your reason?
And how does your “work-life” impact your “personal-life”?(I thought all life was personal!)
Also, are you an entrepreneur, solopreneur, an employee in a large firm or a small one? And how does your role change your outlook towards your work.
Good time to think about these questions. And some more.
Is your job creative? or more analytical? or more labour intensive? Can your job be replaced by automation or by some AI algorithm?
How will you add value to the world if an algorithm replaces you in the next 10 years?
Today on The Wisdom Project, we try to answer why we work, what motivates us to do what we do. Can our jobs be replaced by machines, and if yes, then what will we do. We try to answer what would we do if money was no constraint?
And also, we take a look at the company of the future, or is it the past?
To find out, Read On
The industrial revolution pretty much set in stone the 8 hour work day and the 5 day work week. The core motivation for the worker of the 18th century was the money he could earn by trading in his time at the factory.
More money meant better quality of life for him and his family. And that is all he expected from his work.
Today in the 21st century, living through the information revolution, our work lives have expanded out of the traditional 40 hour week and started to interfere into what we like to call our “personal” lives.
And now we expect a lot more from our work than just money. It’s clear that our work has become our source of pride, happiness, meaning and even identity for some.
Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist who specializes in studying human biases and irrationality.
In this Ted Talk from 2013, he demonstrates some experiments that beautifully explain what our work means to us. How we value what we do for a living, and how our work is not just about the money.
Check it out —
The Machines are coming
The jobs that exist today did not exist a 100 years ago. Heck, even 20 years ago. It’s interesting to think about this in the opposite direction. The jobs that existed a 100 years ago, don’t exist anymore, even from 20 years ago.
The natural extension to that is, the jobs that exist today in all probability will not exist a 100 years from now.
And the change will be mostly lead by artificial intelligence and the rise of machines.
For a long time it has been argued that AI will eventually take away all jobs except for the most creative ones. But now we see AI writing novels and songs and even drawing paintings.
You just have to throw enough data on a machine learning algorithm and it will learn what you or me can learn. (If an ML algorithm is reading this, apologies for my callousness, and congratulations on your achievements, you’re a star, really!)
Neural networks are quite neat that way, they work a lot like our brains do, and just like you can not pinpoint exactly how a human brain functions, even the best of the computer scientists are sometimes confounded how an ML engine could learn what they themselves couldn’t understand.
Technology and automation taking over more work and reducing human labour has been the hallmark of our history and a feature of our progress. But this video from Kurzgesagt argues this time it’s different.
This time the machines are coming for our jobs, and we won’t be able to do anything about it.
So what will we do when the machines are doing everything? How will we make money? How will we sustain our life?
Some say we are looking at a future with some version of Universal Basic Income. It’s the idea that everyone will be paid a fixed sum of money by the government to sustain a basic standard of living, and anything they do can earn them money over and above that basic income.
I know the idea sounds socialists, and there are political debates going on around the world on UBI. But it’s a long way away in the future.
For now, it’s an interesting thought experiment that we should indulge in.
It will also help us think better about the work we do, what role does it play in our life, what we derive from it.
Check out the second part of the video series from Kurzgesagt, it’s about UBI —
Shackles of Money
So what will you do if UBI becomes a reality?
If there’s a steady supply of money that takes care of all your basic needs, how will you spend your time?
Will you travel more? or will you spend the time with your family? will you play more outdoor sports or video games? Will you read more or write? Or would you just Netflix and chill?
It’s an interesting question, and the act of trying to find an answer to this reveals a lot about one’s own self.
We recently tried to wrestle with this question ourselves and came with a couple of intriguing answers.
This is the sort of reflection and contemplation that brings out true insights about one’s own personality.
We wrote the answers for ourselves, so they are not as polished as we would like, and they represent a snapshot of our mindset in a particular place and time, so take them with a pinch of salt—
Trying to answer this question for yourself is a good exercise, think about it, and if you feel comfortable with the answer share it with us, just hit reply to this mail, or message us on Whatsapp.
Crazy At Work
Basecamp is a calm company, not a crazy company.
It’s a company that makes project management software. It’s more than 20 years old, and has been profitable since day one, it serves millions of customers and has just 56 employees.
It’s profitability helps it stay calm instead of running after crazy funding rounds from overbearing investors.
It’s the antithesis of a Startup, it’s a Stay Up.
The founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson don’t invest in any sort of marketing of their product, instead they write a wildly popular blog called Signal Vs Noise, and from time to time they publish books that reveal their secret sauce and their organisation philosophy.
“It Doesn’t have to be crazy at work” is their latest book. In the book they brilliantly take on the “80-hour week, growth for growth’s sake” corporate culture we see everywhere around us.
It’s said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and this book is all about building the culture of a company.
They begin with the idea that your company is a product. It’s a product that you sell to your employees. Once you start to look at a company like that, you start to see how and where it can improve. It’s somehow not set in stone anymore, it’s a lot more fluid and you can change it.
It’s a liberating idea.
The book is filled with countless such fascinating insights, it’s a light read that you can finish in a couple of days.
Check it out—
Signing off for the week here’s a quote worth thinking about—
There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently something, which should not have been done at all.
I’m sure you are very efficient at your job. But do all aspects of your job are actually needed to be done? Do they add any value to the world? or to yourself?
We all have that, the time consuming mundane activity that we must do just because it is expected of us, we don’t see the point of it, yet we keep doing it. How can you automate it, or actually just eliminate it.
Knowledge is knowing what needs to be eliminated, Wisdom is finding a way to eliminate it.
Think about it!
We are trying hard to not talk about the elephant in the room, err, I mean the virus in the air. I won’t be surprised if the Oxford English dictionary’s word of the year is “Corona-fatigue”.
Nevertheless, we see a lot of panic being spread around the internet, a lot of Covid-19 related content going viral that harms people more than it helps them, and it needs to be dealt with.
This crisis is going to be as much a physical battle for all of us as psychological. The nature of the internet is such that ideas can consume people inside out, making them anxious, restless and delusional.
It becomes difficult to think about problems rationally in such an environment. We need to watch what we consume online. With that in mind, this last Friday we sent out an off-schedule mail with a set of links that we are reading to think better about the crisis.
In case you missed it, check it out—
We will send this again sometime next week.
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Aditi & Ayush
This was Wisdom Letter #29. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 28 letters, checkout our entire archive.
And if you’re wondering why we are doing this project, what is the point of it? checkout the intro post, it might make some sense!
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