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“Buying In”

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton references the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s belief that the most efficient society is one in which each individual has a specific task. Such a system involves a division of labor and tasks that assigns to each person an individualized component and share in the process of achieving project completion. While theoretical, the concept reveals more about the psychology of the human as worker. When it comes to work, we use the opportunity to make a personal contribution as a gateway to invest interest and personal time. We refuse to simply do the chore and if presented with a situation in which zero personal investment is allowed will either distort our interaction to involve more involvement or complete the task with the least amount of efficiency.

Perhaps a result of our intellectual evolution, this need for personal involvement defines our entire employment system. We assert our interest in jobs by applying and then vocally express this interest and suggest potential contributions in an interview. These auditions set in motion a dual expectation: the employer expects us to make good on our claims and we, as employees are instantly aware of the gorge between claims and actions.

An ideal working environment is one in which this human need for personal involvement is celebrated. It is no surprise that the only real measure of quality office software is the level of interaction that it creates among colleagues. Nobody really cares that you use a nice font, when it gets down to getting the project done the program that achieves the end result is the program that gets picked. Managers and employees should recognize the need for personal involvement and create an environment where new ideas can be collected easily. A “mind dump” or area when all employees could post random ideas would function as a junk drawer of new ideas.

The battle against stagnation is one fought only with activity. Despite Pareto’s Principle that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the employees, the need for human interaction guarantees that the minor players are able to chirp up with new ideas and make the task of the 20% a more efficient experience.

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