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The Fastest Path to Done
Quote of the Moment
The fastest path to done is don’t.
| Stowe Boyd
Contemplating the art and science of saying no.
I just reread Barbara Ehrenreich’s Blood Rites, a deeply researched examination of ‘the origins and history of the origins of war’. I am just plucking out one insight that occurred to me, as she makes the case for war being a self-perpetuating meme (‘meme’ as used in the Richard Dawkins sense, not in the modern social media derivative sense).
Ehrenreich quotes Dawkins, who was the one who first wrote about the concept of memes in The Selfish Gene:
"What we have not previously considered" Dawkins writes, apparently referring to a century of social science, "is that a cultural trait may have evolved in the way that it has, simply because it is advantageous to itself."
She makes the connection to the institution of war, writing
So war has come to depend less on the human social institutions that have sustained it for centuries, if not millennia. One of these is male supremacy, as embodied in the all-male warrior elite; another is that superb social instrument of war, the nation-state, in whose name all major wars have been fought for more than two hundred years. To anyone who had believed that war could be abolished by severing its links to male privilege, or by healing the artificial division of our species into nations, the end of the twentieth century can only bring gloom. War has little loyalty to even the most warlike of human institutions and may, ominously enough, have little use for humans themselves.
| Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites
War acts like a virus that infected us millennia ago, and is now endemic across all cultures, without any certainty that we can gain immunity.
Consider the proposition that hierarchy in culture (and, consequently, in business) is an exaptation, a social system that was originally evolved for waging war by large groups and lately by nation-states, but now exapted to other social contexts. Such a system is a cultural trait of the sort Dawkins was referring to, one that 'evolved in the way that it has, simply because it is advantageous to itself.'
Hierarchy perpetuates itself, drawing groups, individuals, and entire societies into its patterns, for its own purposes, not those of the participants, per se. That some participants benefit while others don't isn’t the goal of the system, to the extent that memes can be considered to have goals.
Instead, the power inequality of hierarchy is a byproduct of the system perpetuating itself and does not reflect some foundational moral principle, some 'golden rule' of culture. But this meme has seeped into everything, everywhere, just like war, and to such an extent that altering any part of the infrastructure underlying hierarchy may require reforming the entire complex of business, markets, and society as a whole.
Perhaps we are no more likely to see an end of hierarchy than of war or pandemics.
Workism is a state of mind that leads people to working more than is good for them, and which can break the barrier between a work identity and self identity. In the worst cases, people can collapse under the weight of their expectations, or great mental distress if — for example — they lose a job. Many organizations implicitly or even explicitly promote overwork as a cultural norm.
The impact of the Omicron surge? A lot fewer people back in the office:
Average office population in the country’s largest metro areas fell from nearly 40% in mid-December to 28% the week of Jan. 5, according to Kastle Systems, which provides key-card entry systems used by many companies and tracks patterns of workers’ card swipes.
And in the long run, businesses may find a sizable contingent of workers will balk at a return to the office:
Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a recent survey by international workforce consulting firm Korn Ferry said they would return to the office now if mandated to do so, but 27% said they would refuse to go back in, even part-time, or would simply quit.
While 64% said it would make them “happy” to socialize with their co-workers again and nearly half said a return to the office would be good for their mental health, 51% said coming back to the office would have a negative effect on their mental health.
The split on how people feel the office would affect their psychological well-being reflects today’s uncertain times, including the waxing and waning pandemic, said Dan Kaplan, a senior partner at Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry.
“Seemingly every day we think we finally have stability, and then we don’t,” Kaplan said. “Back-to-the-office is caught in the middle of that.”
For its part, Korn Ferry will continue to maintain offices, he said, but is not forcing people back to work.
“Our expectations will remain fluid,” Kaplan said.
As they should.
A thread on Twitter:
Amelia Tait believes Boris Johnson Should Have Skipped the Office Party, which leads to good recommendations for all management.