State of the Modern Workplace: Showing up to Book Club without Reading the Book

More than a century later Taylorism continues to shape how we think of work.

Over the past few years I’ve become sensitive to a common workplace characteristic: an intellectually dishonest work environment.

Now the word intellectual itself comes with its own set of baggage. Associating with pompous verbosity.

But intellectual honesty is personal, it means using your own intellectual tools of doing and reflecting applied to the job at hand. Specifically it means guarding against dishonesty by omission. Leaving space for knowledge that is not known.

Today roughly 30% of people with a college education, don’t do any reading for work.

The underlying problem harks back to Taylorism. The modern workplace puts a foundational emphasis on “know-how” for workers how to technically do the job or complete a task and leaving the concept of “know-what”, the knowledge of identifying the actions worth doing for “leadership”, who in turn lack the pre-requisite context to cultivate this type of knowledge well.

Work is working just as Frederick Winslow Taylor intended. We separate skilled vs. unskilled. Manager from employee. “Know-what” from “know-how”.

The outcome is that 46% of our work force, including highly compensated professions, where thinking is the core productivity activity–where very little thinking is applied to the work itself.

We show up to work everyday and make decisions focused on an inside the head perspective of the world, as opposed to seeking information from the world to bring to bear on today’s challenges. In short people aren’t doing work about work.

At best discussions are reduced to an exhaustive search for the datapoint that answers all. At worst, work becomes a type of improv routine where success is a happy audience and not informed decisions. We react only to the information which is “in the meeting” or from our experience and nothing from without.

We’ve accepted this way of being for too long and it’s on us to change it. I expect every individual, in particularly product managers, designers, and engineers to be able to attack problems from a first principles perspective. And to bring insights not just from your direct experience but from case studies and perspectives beyond the walls of the building.

Our job is to offer an informed perspective and when ~25% of people earning $75k+ don’t read anything related to work–we’ve gotten accustomed to a world where everyone shows up to work, without doing the work.

It’s like showing up to book club, day in and day out, without having read the book.

That’s why people should do what they love —folks out here joining the wrong book club.
– Kami, my big sister

about the author

Mikal is a reformed startup CEO and experienced Product Executive based in Austin, TX. After years leading product teams at Microsoft, Nordstrom and most recently VP of Product at RetailMeNot, he now serves as a product coach helping teams in growing tech markets work their way up The Product Team Ladder.

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