June 10, 2009

Autonomy, Complexity and Connection

I'm reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers and learning so much about my family's history as Jewish immigrants in NYC. Why were Jews so involved in business, banking, garment industry when they immigrated to the US? Because they had not been allowed to own land in Europe and so were city dwellers who ran businesses.

Gladwell writes about the Jewish immigrant Louis Borgenicht who was able to first survive and then thrive in NYC because he and his wife Regina had expertise in sewing and the business of making dresses.

"When Borgenicht came home at night to his children, he may have been tired poor and overwhelmed, but he was alive. He was his own boss. He was responsible for his own decisions and direction. His work was complex: it engaged his mind and imagination. And in his work, there was a relationship bet wen effort and reward: the longer he and Regina stayed up at night sewing aprons, the more money they made the next day on the streets.

Those three things - autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward - are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It's whether our work fulfills us. If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I'm guessing the former, because there is a complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that's worth more to most of us than money."

I agree with Gladwell's assumptions and am certainly have chosen a career that lives out those beliefs. However, I do not believe that everyone would agree with these values. Gladwell is speaking to a particular market/audience that is attuned to his research and "fans" of his analytical approach to the "every day". However, there are certainly people out there who are working in jobs they hate but do it to bring home the pay check. What I am appreciating is an understanding of my values and why, although I do not make a large income, I have chosen to be a consultant in arts and non-profits. Autonomy, Complexity and Connection.