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Home » The Way We Think About Work Is Broken by Barry Schwartz at TED (Transcript)

The Way We Think About Work Is Broken by Barry Schwartz at TED (Transcript)

Barry Schwartz

Full text of psychologist Barry Schwartz on The Way We Think About Work Is Broken at TED conference. 

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – The Way We Think about Work Is Broken by Barry Schwartz at TED Talks


Today I’m going to talk about work. And the question I want to ask and answer is this: Why do we work? Why do we drag ourselves out of bed every morning instead of living our lives just filled with bouncing from one TED-like adventure to another?

You may be asking yourselves that very question. Now, I know of course, we have to make a living, but nobody in this room thinks that that’s the answer to the question, “Why do we work?” For folks in this room, the work we do is challenging, it’s engaging, it’s stimulating, it’s meaningful. And if we’re lucky, it might even be important.

So, we wouldn’t work if we didn’t get paid, but that’s not why we do what we do. And in general, I think we think that material rewards are a pretty bad reason for doing the work that we do. When we say of somebody that he’s “in it for the money,” we are not just being descriptive.

Now, I think this is totally obvious, but the very obviousness of it raises what is for me an incredibly profound question. Why, if this is so obvious, why is it that for the overwhelming majority of people on the planet, the work they do has none of the characteristics that get us up and out of bed and off to the office every morning? How is it that we allow the majority of people on the planet to do work that is monotonous, meaningless and soul-deadening? Why is it that as capitalism developed, it created a mode of production, of goods and services, in which all the nonmaterial satisfactions that might come from work were eliminated? Workers who do this kind of work, whether they do it in factories, in call centers, or in fulfillment warehouses, do it for pay. There is certainly no other earthly reason to do what they do except for pay.

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