Pope Francis saying No to An Economy of Exclusion
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
This is about jobs., working, productivity and meaning. I will begin by leveraging off the opening quote and discuss exclusion & inclusion.
Exclusion in work is working in a detached way. You are not really being exploited you are just scraps in the business world. The ones doing the “mindless work.” Unfortunately, disengagement numbers suggest a shitload of people feel like they are in this category.
Inclusion in work, to me, is meaning or finding ‘joy in the task.’
In 1949 Harry F Harlow, Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, outlined an alternative … something he called ‘intrinsic motivation’: “The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward. The joy of the task was its own reward.”
Beyond motivation this idea is also linked to productivity. Inclusion matters because economic knowledge exists in bits & pieces within an organization scattered amongst systems, process & people. This means value creation is often a dynamic discovery process, not a more static system driven process. In other words. The more workers are included in the discovery process the more dynamic the value creation.
Meaning at work truly comes down to one thing – contribution. What I mean by that is, if the response to your job/doing (the stimulus) is “I have contributed” <with tangible proof or intangible reward>, you will have meaning. Now. Meaning can come to you in a variety of degrees – all powerful in their own way, but in totality is most likely attaining the highest order of contribution.
The most basic is “I” have just become better. This is an internalization of personal improvement suggesting “I am not stagnant, I am growing.” The second phase is if you view that your ‘growth’ has contributed to the people most important to you – your team, tribe or department. The third phase is to the organization itself. Something you have done, like a pebble in a pond sending out ripples, has contributed to the larger success of the organization & business. It makes one part of the ‘productivity enterprise’ so one doesn’t feel inconsequential even if the enterprise is massive. Lastly, is society or community or global. Your little contribution was part of a big contribution positively affecting someone, or some-ones, outside the selling aspect of your business.
Simplistically, we all want to get better. Better at being a person, our skills, socially, professionally, for our kids, morally, etc. Therefore. The progress measurement is most likely, at its simplest, “better today than I was yesterday, better tomorrow than I am today.” I am not a motivation expert, but if I set up a feedback loop to show this to a worker <doesn’t have to be daily but maybe weekly at minimum> then a worker sees progress tied to ‘contribution’ <value & meaning increase with this alignment>.
To be clear. This is different than milestones, sprints & any measured activity. While those things can be useful to get things done, they do not insure meaningful progress. They are completion checkmarks and meaning needs progress checkmarks.
To me decision utility, especially when it comes to workplace productivity, is a mix of doing & thinking. Most people focus on the doing aspect of decision utility, but I believe everyone likes to ‘think’ in terms of ‘my thoughts matter’ <the harsher version is “I know I’m not stupid and having my thinking contribute to what I do and we do proves I am not”>.
That said. It was Clotaire Rapaille who pointed out in America our heroes are athletes, entrepreneurs, police officers, firefighters, and soldiers – all people who take action. We may respect thinkers, but we don’t celebrate them nearly as much as we do our ‘doers’. As Rapaille said: the American Culture Code for work is WHO YOU ARE. We often seek so much meaning in our jobs, if our job feels meaningless, then “who we are” is meaningless as well <at least in some dimension>. If we feel inspired by our job, if we believe that we are doing something worthwhile in our work, that belief bolsters our sense of identity in that we feel like we have some grander Purpose.
Our work ethic is so strong because at the unconscious level, we believe that if we work hard and improve our professional standing, we become better people <note: that’s not particularly healthy but its good to recognize it>.
I bring in work ethic because this is where game theory plays a role (Jason Fox speaks of game theory as a way of viewing employee motivation). As a reminder, I see decision utility as in thinking & doing. Thinking as in ‘solving a complex issue/problem AND doing something about it.” I first began discussing game theory in 2010 when crafting critical thinking games for children. The fact kids like thinking & game theory ratchets up complexity of problems sequentially as one is solved. Critical thinking at its most basic level is trial & error. However. Game theory also ‘dials down’ complexity to insure one doesn’t get too frustrated with failure. A child gets rewarded for failed attempts as well as successful attempts. In other words, you get value off of decision utility where marginal units are rewarded with higher value <and standard units get rewarded despite failed attempts>. I envision workers would respond just as positively to this activity – a combination of thinking and doing to create some progress.
Lastly, with regard to decision utility, let me lean into ‘marginal units‘ and the economic concept of marginalism. The fact that prices don’t correspond to the total value of all goods in existence, but rather the marginal unit (the value of the next unit>. I am not a behavior expert, but I would suggest meaning in work would seem to be of more value to the worker if they were constantly being rewarded for the marginal unit and not just the costs of doing.
I was tempted to call this ethics, but I tend to believe work is more meaningful when it feel substantive of values (to increase value) and virtue (which is a feeling outcome of doing things with value substance).
“Striving to meet the deepest moral needs of the person also has important and beneficial repercussions at the level of economics. The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred.”
Vatican (encyclical Caritas in Veritate)
Values is, well, the good stuff that infuses all the doing and thinking. As I have said numerous times before, winning the right way creates the highest satisfaction possible <versus just winning>. People feel ‘fuller progress’ if they know they did it ethically, within the rules/laws & with a sense of dignity. I could suggest this values orieneted work feeds the moral soul, but I will not. I will just say we sleep better at night when we do it this way.
Self management permits the internal to be maximized on an individual basis permitting the whole, the business itself, to intervene with regard to eternal problems. This matters because the most basic economic problem is allocation – how the business can allocate its scare resources so as to best serve the interests of the business as a whole. Business should seek to maximize its people resources, minds & bodies, t maximize its inherent other scarce resources.
This leads me to systems & processes (often called best practices) which are based on restrictive assumptions to create an equilibrium between inputs & outputs for efficiencies.
If the individual is empowered to maximize their productive (on all measures listed above) the internal maximization of resources naturally occurs so that the organization itself can assess external challenges which may demand resources. This ying & yang insures maximum use of people, process & resources.
So. Here is what I think.
We are a doing people. People inherently enjoy thinking & doing and when it is visible <showing progress> we actually derive meaning. As a corollary, When our doing doesn’t seem to offer value, or meaning, it strikes at us emotionally – in a negative way. Our soul is in doing. We find our way by saying “let’s go to work” on something. This includes even pursing the seemingly impossible. Because in the end we are dreamers. We do because we dream and dream big, i.e., give us an impossible assignment and let us go do it.
For in the end, for all the culture code speak and thoughts about what makes us happy, People are pretty simple. We like making the impossible possible. And that is what makes People, well, People. At the heart of dreams and making the impossible possible is, well, doing. In the end I struggle to find a better meaningful value than “doing a dream.”