We love to boast about how busy we are. ‘Fine’ or ‘good’ are no longer acceptable responses to the question of ‘how are you?’, instead, it’s been replaced with the answer ‘really busy!’. Even if it’s not true we must maintain a façade that portrays that we are, so we work longer hours to outwardly depict busyness to our colleagues, bosses, and subordinates. The ridiculousness of this is that we work longer hours while completing the same amount of work which in actually makes us less productive.
The fact is, we are no longer paid commensurately for our skills, we are paid to be busy.
This is illustrated most pertinently by the locksmith anecdote:
He comes and picks your lock allowing you to get into your apartment in two minutes. Instead of thanking him for the skill and expertise he has just utilised to alleviate your problem as quickly as possible we question why it costs $120 dollars.
The same locksmith earlier in his career used to take 25 minutes, often broke the lock leaving customers with the standard $120 dollar bill plus $25 dollars for the cost of a new lock. They were locked out of their homes for a longer period of time and they were forced to pay more due to his incompetence but because it took more time and appeared to take more effort the clients often gave him a tip! He was paid more for ineptitude than he was for expertise developed over years.
And that is the nature way of the modern world.
We posture to our bosses so that we don’t get caught out. The days of guaranteed jobs for life have been replaced by algorithms and HR departments which track productivity, highlighting any staff who are ineffective and not required.
It’s an arms race, when we come back from holiday we boast in mock horror that we had 1,000 emails waiting for us which are then gazumped immediately by our colleagues who had 2,000. We wear 90 hour work weeks like a badge of honour which masks the ineffectiveness of the work we are actually doing. Instead of being rewarded for our effectiveness we are criticised or viewed unfavourably.
And it’s contagious, everyone we know subconsciously consents to this game. When did never having a spare moment become something to boast about? Our lives have grown to be defined by our jobs, our status is derived from our reputation — the things that we can share on our social networks have grown to become who we are, demonstrating our busyness on a public forum. Busyness is equated to progress and success and that is what we want everyone else to see.
Effort is the heuristic that we use to evaluate how much something is worth. In the knowledge economy where everything is in such abundance, busyness is the only metric we can see.
We have internalised busyness as part of our self-image, even when it’s not true. If we’re not doing something we feel like something is wrong.
But things may be changing, they have to. It may be about to be disrupted by the autonomous nature of evolving technology.
Autonomous me: if you can automate your job can you still collect a salary? That is the question that drives my future. If I work in a job and collect a salary but I would be more efficient at home, could I automate the processes for which my tasks could be completed or have them sent to me remotely where I could then undertake them myself?
It comes down to trust. If your boss trusts you does it matter how the work gets done? Would people feel secure enough to automate their workflow, whereby giving the opportunity to signal that they are no longer necessary to do their job? That is where people become disenfranchised by the opportunity. They’re scared to admit the amount of productive time it takes to complete your job.
Automation doesn’t have to mean the extinction of jobs, it can simply mean you are more efficient. If jobs become more defined, and outcomes are more specific, as long as we reach our targets, why does a job have to take 40 hours a week? Why are we wasting our lives playing a game that distorts reality? It’s vanity at it’s most obscene.
In fact, busyness is often post-rationalisation. If you look at your schedule you will find it is often empty and you aren’t really that busy. Busyness is an invented state of mind which makes us less productive. We prescribe busyness to ourselves which stresses us out and makes us achieve less. Counterintuitively when we are trying to make it seem like we are doing more we do far less.
The future of work is automation. This does not necessarily mean computers or robots doing our work. Instead, it means doing the work that comes without the inherent waste. Automating systems which enable work to be completed when it is required is a modern version of the lean manufacturing process. Instead of sitting in an office chatting all day we can complete the work that enables progress to be made when it is needed. This free’s us to focus on value adding processes instead of wasting time trying to impress upon those around us how busy we are.
The potential advantages to businesses are dramatic. Instead of waste, they receive value while the same amount of work is completed. Instead of chatting round the water cooler about how busy we are we can spend our time envisioning new product lines, streamlining our operations or reaching out to new leads. Instead of it being valued diluting it is value additive because it alters the relationship. And you benefit as well. Instead of wasting your life you can automate processes which enables your salary to grow. It has the potential to enable you to forge new revenuestream by holding multiple jobs simultaneously.
Which brings back the question of ownership. If a job is yours are you permitted to do it whatever way you see fit as long as the work gets done? If you have the ingenuity to tackle your work autonomously is it still as valuable?
Or is the reality that your salary comes from the fact you always look incredibly busy. Which means you aren’t paid for outcomes you achieve, instead you are paid according to how effective you are at making it look like you are incredibly busy.
Which raises the question, what would the price of products be in a world where busyness and waste were eliminated or significantly devalued? How much would your quality of life be increased by if you could collect the same salary for doing 10% or the hours currently required?
But would you have the bravery? It would require facing up to the fact that you’re not as busy as you have convinced yourself which would destroy an element of your ego.
So what’s it going to be?
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