You Become What You Do

Let's talk about Barry Schwartz' TED talk: The way we think about work is broken.

"And that's how the industrial revolution created a factory system in which there was really nothing you could possibly get out of your day's work, except for the pay at the end of the day. Because the father -- 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 by incentivizing, 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, there was really no other way for people to operate, except in a way that was consistent with Adam Smith's vision. So the work example is merely an example of how false ideas can create a circumstance that ends up making them true.

It is not true that you "just can't get good help anymore." It is true that you "can't get good help anymore" when you give people work to do that is demeaning and soulless. And interestingly enough, Adam Smith -- the same guy who gave us this incredible invention of mass production, and division of labor -- understood this. He said, of people who worked in assembly lines, of men who worked in assembly lines, he says: "He generally becomes as stupid as it is possible for a human being to become." Now, notice the word here is "become." "He generally becomes as stupid as it is possible for a human being to become." Whether he intended it or not, what Adam Smith was telling us there, is that the very shape of the institution within which people work creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and deprives people of the opportunity to derive the kinds of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted."

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