The search for meaning

Good quote spotted by Anita Sharpe at Worthwhile:

“Every age has a critical shortage. In the industrial age it was money. People in industrial society were willing to give up time for money, and in many areas of the country that is still true. In a postindustrial age, the critical shortages are time and meaning. And people will only give up their time for meaning.

“It follows then, that one of the challenges facing American business is to add meaning to commercial life. That’s difficult for a company to do unless it is able to impart to its employees the meaning of the company. A lot of companies have lore; they have history; they have tradition; they have huge markets; but they have no meaning

“Why are we here on earth? What am I doing? Who benefits from this? These are valid questions for businesspeople to ask — and answer, with no words over three syllables and no business terms. When you look at your business with these questions in mind, it looks very different.” — Entrepreneur and environmentalist Paul Hawken

I so agree with Hawken. So much brand communication leaves me wondering, why, apart from the money, would anyone want to do this? (See my rant on Cheerios’ efforts to hijack motherhood for a vivid example of what feels pretty meaningless work to me.)

Perhaps my only pushback on this quote, and a gentle one, is on the suggestion that it is for the company to impart meaning to the worker. While that sounds laudable, I think the deeper reality is that this is a collaborative thing, not a doing-to exercise.


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