Why we work.

Anyone who has been awake during the last years must have noticed how much talk there is about purpose and meaning in business. It is as if we accepted work without meaning before, or at least we did not talk about it as much. So why is this? Why do we suddenly care so much about the meaning of work? 

Perhaps we have reached our materialistic dreams in the West? Perhaps we need a new dream, a higher ideal, deeper purpose and meaning? In developing countries, people are still chasing that standard of living which most developed countries reached in the 19th century. In a sense, the East is the new West, and the West is the new East. We are trying to adopt the spiritual, meaningful, while people in the East are chasing materialistic wealth. In other words, we are making the final leap for the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We now want self-actualization. 

This would at least explain one observation I have made in recent years. Here in Finland, where I live, we tend to be less hungry, less ambitious than our Eastern friends. In my work as a brand and innovation consultant, I hear more and more people complaining these days. The complaints are usually directed at corporations.

It seems like we are standing in front of some kind of revolution-at-work. Something is not right. Are we becoming too comfortable? Do we need a new dream? A new ideal or purpose? What are we working for?

I think it has to do with lack self-actualization and fulfilment. And perhaps this relates to how we go about running our companies. Maybe it's because people feel their work does not make a difference? There are just too many things that seem out of sync about (large) corporations. A recent study conducted by Universum confirms this. For people fresh out of university, more and more people opt for start-ups and small companies than ever before.

So many of the ways that we design and manage businesses are based on old principles - in fact they were invented to serve the Industrial Age. Those principles aimed at producing efficiency and productivity, low cost for mass-production. Central ideas included division of labor and the assembly line. 

Today, these ideas do not cut it. Command and control is not efficient any longer. The problem is, managers need to get access to other body parts than the hands, the back etc. These could be used by command. But in world where creativity, knowledge and networks are king, we now need access to people's brains. Now there's a problem. Brains don't work well by command and control. We actually need to motivate people if we want their best. That means we must address the big question of Why. 

Why do we work, besides exchanging our precious time for money? Time is money, the saying goes. But that is not really true. Time is much more precious than money. You can always get more money, but never more time. So why do we work? Because we have to? Because we are "supposed to"? Because, what else would we do?

If you are looking for purpose, meaning and direction in your career, try thinking about this. 

This is your life. It is happening now. Every day. If you continue drifting aimlessly, you will keep getting more of the same. Your life happens now. What do you want to make of it? How do you want to make it matter? 
This is what I once though to myself. After I first thought of these questions, I soon quit my job and started something new, the company I now run. It was scary, but I have never felt more alive than after I made that decision. And I have never looked back. If you go to work without feeling fulfilled for more than 2-3 months, I suggest you try it, then follow your heart. You cannot lose if you do it. No, really. Do it. You deserve to do meaningful work. And by doing meaningful work, you become creative and productive. And by being creative and productive, you can make a difference in this world.