The end of labour is to gain leisure – Aristotle
No publication or conference (un- or otherwise) these days is complete without some discourse on the future of work. This blog is no exception. Like many others I started out with the point of view that organisations are crap. This then evolved, in no small part thanks to Euan Semple (Organisations don’t tweet, people do), to a realisation that organisations are not sentient beings but are composed of fallible human beings. From there to an appreciation that when crap things happen to people at work it’s another person, or persons, behind it. And then to a need for more humane workplaces, where people are treated as we would wish others to treat us. With respect. With dignity. With trust. Even with love. And, by so doing, we might help people to realise meaning and purpose from their work. Lovely stuff.
The mainstream futurology of work seems borne of the assumption that work will continue to exist. I wrote a little while back that, whilst striving to make work better is all well and good, might we not also examine how to have less work. And to start a serious discussion about how we might organise ourselves and our societies to allow for that to happen. I don’t think people took the notion particularly seriously. So I put the train of thought aside. And then I went on holiday. On the wall of the cabin we were staying in was this poster:
When I got home I spent a little while on the internet looking at similar posters. There are literally thousands of the things. Entreaties to do simple things. To walk on the beach. Read a book. Laugh. Smile. To create. To bring things in to being. To get muddy. To wonder again. To escape back into your life. To take an adventure. Not one of them mentioned work. None of them talked about going to pointless meetings. About replying to emails on the weekend. About staying up late to write reports that nobody will read. About whipping up a really great spreadsheet. About policies or procedures. None of them. So I made one. For a joke. It’s at the top of this post. But the more I looked at it, the more I felt that while work continues to play such a significant part in our lives, to rob us of so much of the time that might be spent toasting marshmallows on open fires and playing, undistracted, with our children (or pets) it really might be worth finding a way to eliminate it all together and to look at what we might do instead.
So I went looking to see if anyone else was thinking the same way. I googled “A world without work”. Lo and behold, an article with precisely that title popped up. You can find it here. I’d really urge you to read it. There’s a lot about robots in it. There’s a lot about robots in pretty much everything nowadays. People are building them and they are going to design them with enough intelligence that they’re going to take our jobs. Now, I’ve written about that very subject in the past. I’m not going to go over the deficiencies of current attempts at human-like robots again (besides, you can find hundreds of humorous videos of robot fails with a quick search on YouTube). However, the article does go on to talk about “post-workists”. Folk who “welcome, even root for, the end of labor”. Some of them seem to be politically motivated but many are not. They offer up an alternative perspective and one that seems quite compelling. Whether its robots or climate change or migration or food security, a great many jobs may go. Others may be created in their place it is true, but only if we continue to treat the symptoms and not the disease.
A know a lot of great folk. People who I admire and respect and who I am very, very fond of and who are doing such beautiful work with love, care and diligence and who have the wit, the intelligence, the insight, the grit, the street smarts and the heart to look at work again. To look at work and not play Dr. Frankenstein. To not re-animate the monster. To help people realise their true potential, to be their whole selves, to find meaning and purpose without work. To save our children from a dysfunctional school system where “if your learning style doesn’t fit this year’s theory, you will be humiliated, remediated, scrutinized, stigmatized, tested, and ultimately diagnosed and labelled as having a mild defect in your brain.”
To go on an adventure.
Work. It’s flatlining. Do not resuscitate.