Why We Work (Apart From Money, That Is)

Psychologist Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk opens with what appears to be a simple question. Why do we work? Schwartz says that even if your work is fulfilling and is making a difference in the world you still wouldn’t do it if you didn’t get a paycheck. So if work is universally about money, why are the majority of people on the planet doing monotonous, meaningless work?

Schwartz says the answer to the question of Why is “idea technology.” He says:

“In addition to creating things, science creates ideas. Science creates ways of understanding. And in the social sciences, the ways of understanding that get created are ways of understanding ourselves. And they have an enormous influence on how we think, what we aspire to, and how we act.”

Basically, people will act according to the way an idea presents itself. For example, if you believe you’re poor because it’s God’s will, you’ll pray. If you think you’re poor because of your own inadequacy you’ll be depressed. If you think you’re poor because you’re being oppressed, you will revolt. If a person believes something is true, they will create a way of life around that idea.

Working Satisfaction

Schwartz sites Adam Smith, one of the fathers of the Industrial Revolution, as an example. Smith was convinced that human beings were at their core nature very lazy and wouldn’t do anything unless you made it worth their while. Thus the factory system was created. A 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.”

Schwartz says, “[i]t 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.”

He says that the institution we’ve created doesn’t allow people to derive satisfaction from their work. Schwartz calls for a change in our idea technology: A change in the way we think.

Bonus info: Following this talk, Barry Schwartz and TED released a book, , with more of Schwartz ideas on changing the way we work.