DiscoverTED Radio HourThe Meaning Of Work

The Meaning Of Work

Update: 2016-10-144


Love it or hate it, most of us have to work for a living. So, how can we make work more meaningful? This hour, TED speakers explore our values and motivations when it comes to the workplace. (Original broadcast date: October 10, 2015).

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support for this podcast in the following message come from concur a service where employees get simplified expense reports and business leaders get full visibility into their company spending habits expense travel invoice learn more at concurred dot com slash Radio Hour hey it's guy here just so you know that we're coming out next week with a new episode and that toxins but in the meantime take a listen to this episode from archives called the meaning of work and it attempts to answer the question What is it that motivates us to actually work this is the Head Radio Hour each week groundbreaking Ted The Technology Design at Stanford delivered and Ted conferences around the world gift of the human had to believe in impossible the true nature of reality beckons just beyond those talks those ideas adapted for radio NPR guy rise and on the show today ease some of us hate if some of us love it but most of us have no choice we haf to work the and you know else does the chickens this is Margaret Hepburn and she writes about work so this is a really interesting story that I came across in the story Margaret often tells the CEOs that she coaches and it's about an experiment which William you or did he works at Purdue University and he was really interested in what could make groups more productive so Miller decided to experiment with chickens he found one flaw that was generally pretty productive and he put it to one side and he just left alone for six generations letting chickens do what chickens do the the and then he created another flaw which was constructed of the individually productive chicken that he could find like fear that well it's really great working with chickens because measuring productivity is terribly simple you just count and every generation he would select the most productive to keep the flock going to add that the under six generations he compared the two falls so we had if you like a super flock of Super chickens that had been specially chosen studies like this deeply a team like Steve Jobs Jack well that's right exactly exactly right versus you know the good old worker jackass as it were the show after six generations of chickens viewer took his first flock of average little worker chickens and many look at the second flock of chickens the Super chickens flock and compare how many eggs each flock ahead late and what he found at the end of the experiment pretty much amazed him anything amazing most people hear the story which is the average walk was doing very well they were all really plump fully feathered very healthy and importantly they were more productive than ever and the other flaw the Super for all but three were dead how the rest had picked each other to death the the bill mirrors chicken experiment has become legendary among social scientists because they have a parable of a window into human behavior and the way we work and maybe also a lesson on how we could do it better we could rethink the pecking order arghh Efron and told the story on the Ted stage now as I've gone around the world talking about this in telling this story in all sorts of organizations and companies people have seen the relevant almost instantly and they come up and they say things to me like that super flock that's my company or that's my country well that's my life all my life I've been told that the way we have to get ahead is to compete get into the right school get into the right job get to that all I've really never found it very inspiring I've started and run businesses because invention is a joy because working alongside brilliant creative people is its own reward and I've never really felt very motivated by pecking orders went by super chickens or by superstars but for the pulse fifty years we've run most organizations and some societies along the Super Chicken model we thought that success is achieved by picking the super stars the brightest man or open occasionally women giving them all the resources in all the power and the result has been just the same as in William yours experiment aggression dysfunction and waste if the only the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live in the head we get to this place where you know that that Super Chicken model came to dominate what I start really early might say you have super chicken parents who want to get you into the Super Chicken gifted and talented group rights and the super chickens all kill each other to get into Harvard or Yale and then they kill each other to get into Harvard Law Harvard Business School of Law and by the time they get into war they have been taught that there are six s must depend on the failure of others and so you have then performance management systems which are about identifying high potentials White witch's management speak now for gifted and talented you have re evaluation systems like forced ranking which say well we're really going to promote the top ten percent and so again they're still in the system that's familiar to them which is your success is contingent upon making the people around you less successful than you are I mean the irony is that this kind of system that is the model it does not lead to more productivity no it doesn't lead to more productivity in fact it leads to I think the catastrophic loss of productivity and creativity but there's his belief that the only way you can make people successful is to make work a fight to the death and then they scratch their heads thinking was done that and it doesn't work let's make the stakes higher let's introduce the money into this game and of course it gets more vicious still money might make you work harder but it might not make you work better with other people because to do that target as you have to build something called social capital can think of it as fast social capital is what gives company's momentum and social capital is what makes company's robust what does this mean in practical terms it means that time is everything because social capital compounds with top two teams that work together longer get better because it takes time to develop the trust you need for real candor and openness and time is what builds value when Alex Franklin suggested to one company that they synchronize coffee breaks so that people would have time to talk to each other profits went up fifteen million dollars in employee satisfaction when top ten percent not a bad return on social capital which compounds even if you spend it now this isn't about champion us and it no charter for slackers because people who work this way tend to be kind of scratchy impatient absolutely determined to think for themselves because that's what their contribution is conflict is frequent because candor is safe and that's how good ideas turn into great ideas because NO idea is born fully formed in my edges a little bit of a child is born kind of messy and confused but full of possibilities and it's only through the generous contribution faith and challenge that they achieve their potential and that's what social capital supports it is hard for people right now to think of work as a social space and you talk about this and you're talking a You mean you're asked your whole life great like what you want to be when grow up and work is treated as this individual pursuit I mean know there's a little kid is like working a really functional team with a lot of social capital I fact that's right and you know and when all graded for and we donate prizes for it and yet AND yet and yet anytime you see a huge business success even dare I say a huge political success you see that at the heart of it is a whole bunch of people who were prepared to support each other challenge each other argue with each other make trade offs for each other and one of the things you know that I found when I looked in other walks of life going to the Royal Academy of dramatic Art which is a drama school here in the UK from which people like Alan Rickman and Fiona also its amazing stars graduated whether to go hang out I well I went there to watch their auditions because I thought well if stars matter anywhere surely it's going to be in show biz the and I was just amazed because actually what all the teachers there were looking forward in all these spectacular fireworks of individuals they were looking for actors who had something to give each other because of course in drama it's what happens between people that really excite us and when I talk to producers of hit albums they said oh sure we have lots of super stars in music it's just they don't last very long it's the outstanding collaborators who enjoy the long careers because bringing out the best in others is how they found the best in themselves and when I went to visit companies that are renowned for their ingenuity and creativity I couldn't even see any superstars because everybody there really mattered and when I reflected on my own career and the extraordinary people I've had the privilege to work with I realized how much more we could give each other if we just stop trying to be super chicken when you think about like is something so simple which is in place who love to show up to work just work better right but really that's rare it's rare when people love going to work and love working on the people they work around such a simple solution to making a company more productive and better well I think that's true I think EU need that great connectedness between people but I'm also really struck again number of companies I work with and I'll say You know what's the driving goal here and they'll say a sixty billion dollars revenue next year I look at them and say you have got to be choking what arts makes you think everybody's really going to give it their all to hit revenue targets the the the day you have to talk to something much deeper inside people than that you have to talk to people about something that makes it different to them everyday if you want them to bring their best and do their best and feel that you've given them the opportunity to do the best work after the heaven and now mainly helps companies make work more meaningful and fun book is called Beyond measure the impact of small changes you can see all of her talks at Ted dot com for ideas about work in a moment and Guy rise and this is the Ted Radio Hour from NPR the hell everyone I just wish thanks to two of our sponsors who help keep his podcast going first to stamp dot com mailing and shipping can seem like a no win situation trips to the post office are time consuming and leasing a postage meter is expensive there is a better way stamps that can buy and print official US postage for any letter or package using your own computer setup for staff dot com for a special offer for our listeners a four week trial plus postage and the digital scale the stamps dot com click on the microphone and enter NPR make salsa to one place to the maker of the one plus three it's a smartphone conceived and built bike tech enthusiasts hand in hand with users the one plus three features dash charges and innovative technology that sets a new benchmark and charging solutions a quick thirty minute charge will replenish over sixty percent of one plus threes battery allowing for seven plus hours of HD video playback and giving you a daze power in half an hour check it out at one plus is that it's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR and Guy Roz and I should say we're exploring ideas about the meaning of work and whether work is something we do because we love it because we had no choice there's a kind of attitude you sometimes see a kind of Us and them attitude this is psychologist Barry Schwartz there is the elite who want all this fulfillment from work and then there's everybody else just wants a paycheck and we should organize work on the assumption that most people don't care what they do as long as they're paid for it and I think this is completely false picture it matters to people doing these jobs to matters pay shorts is because humans have this innate need to feel valued feel like what they do mean something even when those jobs might not be the ones people necessarily want here's Barry Schwartz on the Ted stage why do we work now I know of course we have to make a living but nobody in this room thinks that that's the answer to the question Why do we work so we would work awaiting get paid but that's not why we do what we do and in general I think we think the material rewards are pretty bad reason for doing the work that we do when we say of somebody that he's in it for the money we are not just being descriptive I think this is totally obvious but the very obvious ness of it raises what is for me incredibly profound question if this is so obvious why is it for the overwhelming majority of people on the planet the work they do has none of the characteristics that get us up and out of bed and off to where the office every morning how is it that we allow the majority of people on the planet to do work that is monotonous meaningless and sold at the the thing about works is very is that it wasn't always like this people didn't think in antiquity about whether work was fulfilling people were craftsman or farmers the work they did was simply a part of their life and not divorced from it psychologically not divorced from it physically no one was wondering if their work was meaningful or just busy living their lives functioning in the role that the plate in the community it was varied from one day to the next presented challenges that you couldn't anticipate you needed to use your need to be flexible he needs to learn from your experience that was sort of intrinsic to the character of the work that people did but for most people work became something different when factory started to become the places where most of them are living in places where they were given a very specific task and did the same mindless thing over and over again hour after hour day after day the kind of engagement and challenge opportunity to learn was eliminated and then when the only reason you have to work is for a livelihood now people start yearning for something more so I think the reason people want fulfillment in work now is that the factory system did such a good job of taking fulfillment out of work for two hundred years the one of the Fathers of the Industrial Revolution Adam Smith was convinced that human beings were by their very natures lazy and wouldn't do anything unless you made it worth their while and the way you made it worth their while was my incentive eyes by giving them rewards that was the only reason anyone ever did anything so we created a factory system consistent with that false view of human nature but once that system of production was in place that was really no other way for people to operate except in a way that was consistent with Adam Smith's vision false ideas can create a circumstance that ends up making them true the Adam Smith was wrong I mean people don't just work for money that's correct and he knew it he says in the classic The wealth of Nations he says the man's life is spent in a few simple operations naturally loses the habit of mental exertion and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be the words I want you to pay attention to here is generally becomes that is this is not the way people are before they enter the assembly line it's what the assembly turns them into so in this passage he's essentially contradicted what he said in other places of the book which is that people are basically lazy and they don't want to think and they don't want to expend effort no no no you put him in a factory and that's what they become the the enjoying your work in other words is about context even if you have a job that could seem boring or meaningless because how you think about that job and how that work is valued and that could be the thing that really matters so take for example janitors there was a group of researchers a Yale interview janitors at a hospital about their work you know vacuuming carpets and cleaning toilets and waxing floors and emptying trash cans and with the researchers found was that these hospital janitors were doing much much more than what was expected of them they encountered Mike who told them about how he stopped mopping the floor here's Mr. Jones was out of his bed getting a little exercise trying to build up his strength walking slowly up and down the hall and Charlene told them about how she ignored her supervisors admonition and didn't vacuum the visitor's lounge because there were some family members who were there all day every day who at this moment happen to be taking a nap and then there was Luke who watch the four in a comatose young twice because the man's father who had been keeping a vigil for six months didn't see Luke do with the first time and his father was angry and behavior like this from janitors from technicians from nurses and if we're lucky every from doctors doesn't just make people feel a little better actually improves the quality of patient care and enables hospitals to run well to the wooden things that made them feel valued well it's a feeling that you're valued and it's more than that it's a kind of object of awareness that you actually are doing something that is valuable the hospital janitors who got real fulfillment out of their work what they thought they were doing was not just mopping floors and emptying trash baskets they thought they were making an essential contribution to the functioning of a deeply meaningful and significant social institution the people in the hospital are there to cure disease and their job was to play an absolutely essential role in that project and so they were as much committed to what Aristotle would have called the T Los of the organization the proper purpose of the organization has the heart surgeons were that not every janitor can choose to work on and hospital yes yes yes absolutely but I think you can create work environments where it takes us sort of a Herculean effort for people to if construed their work as meaningful and important and you can create workplaces where it's easy people need discretion in what they do they need autonomy and what they do they need to feel respected by their co workers and respected by their supervisors people need to feel like they can learn all those things gets them engaged in the task and most important people want meaning in what they do and the meaning comes often from the role that their work or their organizations work plays in improving the lives of members of their society of their community surely there are some enterprises that are not noble but I think if you really see yourself as serving the community in any retail store you're operating in any call center you're operating in I think you can find nobility in what you do the the the psychologist Barry Schwartz is a new tag book out it's called lightly work can see more of a stock's count The so what do you think and why do people work people look for and if reasons this is Dan Barry Ellie he teaches psychology and economics at Duke we work for identity and fulfillment in a sense of connection with other people this many many things may factors that get us to work money is one of them and maybe not even the most important one the damned studies motivation and like Barry Schwartz he's interested in what it is besides money that gets people to care about the work they do and to work hard even when the incentives are obvious here's how Dan explained it had stage if you think about is all kinds of strange behaviors in the world around us think about something like mountaineering in mountain climbing if you read books of people who climb mountains difficult mountains you think that those books are for moments of joy and happiness no day full of misery in fact it's all about frost bites in difficulty to walk and difficulty of breathing cold challenging circumstances and if people would just try to be happy the moment they would get that all they would say this was a terrible mistake I'll never do it again instead let me sit on the beach somewhere drinking when he Toots but instead people go down enough to recover the go up again and if you think about mountain climbing is an example it's just all kinds of things it's just that we care about reaching the end of peak it suggests that we care about the fights about the challenge it's just that there's all kinds of other things that motivate us to work or behaving all kinds of ways and for me personally I started thinking about this after a student came to visit me this was a student that was one of my students a few years earlier and he came one day back to campus he told me the following story he said that for more than two weeks he was working on a PowerPoint presentation he was working in big bank and this was in preparation for a merger and acquisition he was working very hard and this presentation graphs tables information he stayed late at night everyday in the day before it was due he sent his PowerPoint presentation to his boss and his boss wrote him back and said nice presentation but the merger is cancelled and the NGO was deeply depressed at the moment when he was working he was actually quite happy every night he was enjoying he was staying late he was perfect in this part one presentation but knowing that nobody would ever watch that made him quite depressed the mean was that the thing like this idea that it was all for not that the media feel so deflated even though the process seemed to be incredibly exciting and really kind of couple things one is that sometimes something happens after the fact the tree frames the whole experience but the other thing is that he basically getting to be very de motivated moving forward end and I was thinking you know from a functional perspective everything was good just that his work was never going to see the light of day nobody was going to ever see that imagine you are condemned to rights Facebook and Twitter notes that nobody would ever see it's just incredibly motivating and from that point we started looking at small acts of meaning and how small acts if we can actually change how people value things so can top this idea and created an experiment to tease out how these small acts of needing can affect someone's motivation to work so the first experiment we did was beat by articles radicals are kids toys can feel Lego robots in Transformers and a made from about forty pieces he takes a couple of minutes to build them and Dan and his team as the suspense in this experiment to build by articles in exchange for a diminishing pay wage what does that mean they came in we said for the first one would you like to build this for three dollars if they said yes we gave it to them in the building for three dollars and then we said you want to build the next one for two seventeen When they finished at the next one for two forty and saw the end they do this to see whether it was like a magic number email and number at which point each person would decide to stop building radicals at what point is the pleasure of building umbilical and the money to getting for meat not enough to compensate for the time so that was one group just building by Michael's for less and less money but then Dan took a second group a different group any give them the same challenge to build battles for a diminishing pay wage for three dollars and then we said you want to build the next one to seventy and finished at the next one but this time there was a catch because as they were building this second biomedical we were taking the first one apart and putting the pieces back into the original box right in front of its cruel and yes I know the when they finished a second one we said Hey would you like to build the one they said yes we gave him the first one the one that they build and we took a pot so it was kind of back and forth on the same to buy articles until they basically had enough and wanted to contrast was relieved
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The Meaning Of Work