We Are Tribal

Cooperation arose from competition, and results in economic organization.

Quote of the Moment

We develop a theory of economic organization grounded in the naturalistic paradigm currently emerging at the intersection of biology and the behavioral and social sciences. The crux of this approach is the recognition that an understanding of the evolutionary origins of human organizational capabilities can inform theories of contemporary economic organization. Modern firms sustain large scale cooperation by applying cultural ‘work-arounds’ to tribal instincts that evolved from simultaneous within-group and between-group competition on a much smaller scale. We translate this insight into ten principles of economic organization.

| J.W. Stoelhorst and Peter J. Richerson, A naturalistic theory of economic organization

I will be taking on a synthesis of the Stoelhorst-Richerson thesis with other foundational insights on human cooperation in the context of work, in a series or a long post for paid subscribers.


In the past few months, I have been struggling with ‘newsletter fatigue’, somewhat accelerated by starting some new writing projects. And it seems I am not the only aspiring media magnate suffering, says Delia Cai:

In the wake of the Summer of Substack, the novelty of launching a newsletter where readers pay directly for your work has given way to the reality of, well, keeping that newsletter up. And keeping those readers happy. And finding new ones when, inevitably, some of those readers decide they’re kind of over you (nicely termed as “churn”). Inevitably, a writer freed from the constraints of pesky editors and SEO dictates must become a writer and a one-person P.R./circulation/audience-development strategist all at once. (Turns out, media companies had those things for a reason?)

Layer in the ongoing Great Resignation energy (and like, a worldwide pandemic), and it’s no wonder that newsletter-writer fatigue has set in as writers begin navigating the logistical implications of signing themselves up as a one-person subscription product: How do you keep up with your publishing cadence? How do you make sure your readers are continuously getting their money’s “worth”? Does it feel fair to take a few weeks off for the holidays when people pay a monthly subscription?

Unlike many of the writers Cai discusses, I am not planning to stop newslettering. And once my feet are back under me — once the turbulence has settled a bit — I expect to be back writing several general posts a week, and at least one meatier post per week for the paid subscribers.

Bear with me.



Jenny Gross, in M.B.A.s are Embracing E.S.G., gives me hope that the world of business is coming to its senses about climate:

Global sustainable investment topped $30 trillion in 2019 — up 68 percent since 2014, according to McKinsey. That has created more jobs in the field, which has pushed salaries higher for workers with the necessary skills. In addition, companies say they’re having an easier time recruiting junior employees than senior leaders in E.S.G. roles, which could give younger workers an advantage in climbing the corporate ladder (or allow them to start at a higher rung) than for the typical jobs for M.B.A. graduates.

Demand for workers who understand E.S.G. will likely continue to grow, said Bethany Patten, the senior associate director of the sustainability center at M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. In particular, she said, businesses will need to hire people to finance renewable energy projects and to disclose the risks they face from climate change, while investment firms will need analysts to evaluate exposure to climate change and make recommendations on sustainable investments.


“Over the last two decades if you ask yourself, ‘What is the thing that really transformed businesses?’ It’s been technology, data, analytics,” Dr. Maglaras said. “If you were to ask what will transform businesses in the future, I believe it’s going to be climate change.”

In Do We Really Need to Meet In Person?, Ed Zitron takes no prisoners:

As many workers begin returning to their office for all or some of the work week, they’re noticing a key change: The pandemic is nearing its conclusion, but meetings are still happening virtually. In many cases, office workers are leaving home, going to their desk, sitting down, putting on their headphones, and connecting to Zoom to chat with people sitting a few feet away from them. The cognitive dissonance that workers may be feeling isn’t because things are different, but because they’re remarkably similar to the way they were at home. While bosses have been braying that we will lose collaboration and mentorship opportunities in a dominantly remote future, workers have been (justifiably) questioning why they have to leave their home at all.

What do you really gain from an in-person meeting that you have been missing the past 19 months?

Not much, it appears.

Meetings were previously a novelty—a mutually agreed-upon way in which we could all use up one another’s time nonspecifically that was nevertheless accepted as “work.” Videoconferencing’s low barrier to entry has removed meetings from this vaunted status, making them just another means to get things done, along with email, Slack, and other productivity tools. Early in the pandemic, everybody’s first instinct was to frame Zoom as the problem, but I think the world has shifted to understanding that we were simply having too many meetings before, and that videoconferencing enables us to diplomatically end them as quickly as we made them.

Novelty? No, since the average manager has more than 10 hours of meeting a week, and (as Zitron points out) meetings doubled during the worst of the pandemic. But he raises the right question:

The next several months will be incredibly telling for how meeting culture will change in the long term. The disingenuous framing of returning to the office as returning to “work” will only look more silly as millions of people realize at once how silly it is to commute to an office to open a web browser and join a videoconference. As people go back to a shared physical space, they’re going to start asking reasonable questions such as “Why am I here?” and “What am I doing here that I can’t do at home?” as they and several colleagues a few feet apart join a 10-minute-long Zoom meeting. And when they do so, they may make the choice to simply work for a different employer—and do that work from home.

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The new era of union action continues:

Kaiser Permanente Averts Strike, Reaching Tentative Deal With Unions | Noam Scheiber

Kaiser Permanente, the health care provider and hospital network, reached a tentative agreement on Saturday with a coalition of unions representing workers in California, Oregon and other states that will avert a strike of more than 30,000 workers scheduled to begin on Monday.

The four-year agreement would provide workers with wage increases and address concerns about adequate staffing. It also abandons a proposal by Kaiser to pay new workers significantly less than current workers, which many had cited as a source of frustration that led to the planned strike.

John Deere Attempts to End Strike With a Third Tentative Deal | Noam Scheiber

Labor experts have said that the two sides can sometimes make adjustments to issues that aren’t strictly economic at this point in a negotiation, such as a company’s disciplinary policies.

The strike comes as many employers across the country are dealing with labor shortages, and workers appear to be taking a more assertive stance toward employers, leading to a rise in work stoppages.

Portugal Makes It Illegal for Your Boss to Text You After Work | Ruby Lott-Lavigna

The Portuguese parliament has passed new labour laws to give workers a healthier work-life balance and to attract “digital nomads” to the country.

Employers could face penalties for contacting employees outside work hours, according to the new laws. The legislation, approved on Friday, comes following the expansion of home working after the coronavirus pandemic, according to Portugal’s Socialist Party government.

Under new rules, employers could be penalised for contacting employees after work and will be forced to pay for increased expenses as a result of working from home – such as gas and electricity bills.

Further rules will be implemented to aid employees at home, such as banning employers from monitoring their workers at home and ensuring workers must meet with their boss every two months to stop isolation.

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