What is wrong with the way we work?
Nitesh Agrawal

The way we work is mainly a structural and historical inheritance problem. It will get altered quite rapidly when the “Why we work” get some deep answers. Oh yeah. It will co-emerge with organizations realizing that the “Why we work” is crucial to understand and design/organizes for that.

Some really good “ancient” work has been done on the issue. By Maslow and by Daniel Yankelovich & John Immerwahr (Putting the Work Ethic To Work) these and many thinking writers since from Eastern as well as Western cultures have many things to say. Interestingly Christopher Alexander of design/pattern language fame has also said fundamental things. “Ancient” here means since my middle years.

Why we work is clear from the beginnings of human beings (if not earlier). That is, we work to survive, of course, but also and more importantly to belong, to develop our capacities and to contribute to the larger social whole. We are, after all, intelligent social beings whose main operations are conducted through language. We are learners via our language facilities. We are innovative and adaptive because we are intelligent complex adaptive systems. All of these need to be engaged, to be challenged, to be developed as long as we are alive. If not they atrophy, or worse, they turn to destructive ends.

This is equally about individually pursuing these inherent needs and organizationally designing work to put these natural abilities to multiplying the contribution of those abilities to a large social environment. The relatively minor “making a living part” will take care of itself when individuals who “get it” are members of organizations that “get it”.

One of the key features that should work towards these ends is that the major agents of production and innovation are individual human beings. That is, they are agents who have absolute choice. And they exercise that choice as best they can.

I’d like to see the social institutions of learning take on this challenge. But I won’t hold y breath for that one beyond the few private educational institutions who have the right values. However, the education can and should be the function of our productive organizations. Some are taking on this challenge and I salute. A number of these organizations are vilified when they should be acclaimed. I leave the discovery of the latter, for now at least, up to you.