organization theory

Good Jobs and Bullshit Jobs

Recently, the New York Times Magazine had a special theme issue on “The Future of Work: What Makes a ‘Good Job’ Good?”. As it happened, the issue came out while I was reading the new book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by anthropologist David Graeber. This was a lovely bit of symmetry, because both the book and the articles in the magazine address similar questions: with more automation in the workplace, why are we not working fewer hours? If we know as much as we do about organizations and work, why are so many workers so unhappy? Shouldn’t work be getting better, instead of getting worse?

These are very big questions with complex answers. I won’t try to cover everything that’s discussed in the book and the magazine articles, and have a wide-ranging but superficial discussion; I recommend that you read the book and the articles for yourself. But I’m going to pull out a couple of themes that I found particularly fascinating.

Both the book and the articles look at the worsening relationships between workers and employers and show that this trend isn’t just anecdotal. Surveys of job satisfaction over time show (more…)

Stuck + Out of Date = Successful

One of the messages in many theories of organizations – and in a lot of business media  – is that to be successful, an organization has to continually change. If your organization isn’t doing new things first, and if you’re not using cutting-edge methodology, you are doomed (usually followed by dire references to things like buggy whips and telex machines).

Ironically, a lot of this nonsense comes from people and institutions that preach the importance of adaptability, flexibility, and quick response, but who haven’t changed their own tune even after events like the 2008 financial meltdown. That catastrophe should have shown that growth and innovation just because that’s what organizations are supposed to do is neither sensible or infinitely sustainable. So as my little counter-response to this ongoing carnival of hype, let me draw your attention to two articles in this week’s New York Times magazine which illustrate quite beautifully how organizations who deliberately choose not to change can survive and succeed. (more…)