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The End of the Cog Economy

You are not a cog. Because cogs are cookie-cutter, replaceable parts used to operate corporate machinery. They are simply a means to an end. And while they are quite effective in maintaining status quo, they are not capable of changing things for the better. They have no hopes, no dreams, and no chance of making a positive impact on a broken system.

The Snapshot Summary

You are not a cog. Because cogs are cookie-cutter, replaceable parts used to operate corporate machinery. They are simply a means to an end. And while they are quite effective in maintaining status quo, they are not of capable changing things for the better. They have no hopes, no dreams, and no chance of making a positive impact on a broken system.

And while the Cog culture was useful for assembly line workers during the industrial revolution, the future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: the altruists, artists, teachers, healers, storytellers, and servant leaders. The future belongs to people like you.

Here's The Problem . . .

The Cog Economy forces us to squeeze into a mold we were never designed to fit. We've been conditioned to conform by the systems around us, because their existence relied on our conformity. (This isn't necessary bad, unless those systems create or perpetuate unhappy equilibriums that are causing some of the world's most terrifying problems.)

We've been pressured to hide our unique voice, so we can quietly accept a culture of consumption, compliance, and conformity. If you had a voice, you were encouraged to lower it. If you wanted to make a change, you should keep it to yourself. As a result, the majority of people around the planet, including and especially in the richest country in the world, are profoundly dissatisfied. We are disengaged from our work; we don't use our gifts on a daily basis; and we are chronically haunted by a bottomless void that no amount of ranch Doritos or Netflix could ever fill. And that is one of the greatest tragedies of our time.

The reason we feel stressed, depressed, and disillusioned is because we are living according to other's expectations of who we should be. We were pushed to work monotonous, mind-numbing, soul-sucking tasks in exchange for a paycheck. Or, we sit tethered to the desks in our corner office with gleaming golden handcuffs. We've sacrificed our dreams, our health, and our sanity in the name of job security. And in the process, we've lost sight of who we actually are, and what we're uniquely designed to do.

Your work is going to take up a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work. And you'll do your greatest work when what you do is aligned with who you are. That requires a careful inventory of your assets, so you have a clear sense of how you've been equipped to make a change that only you can make. Because if you don't, you'll end up a sad statistic.

The Sad Statistics

  • 86% employees are unsatisfied with their jobs (Deloitte)

  • 80% don't use their gifts on a daily basis (Max Lucado)

  • $300B in lost productivity per year (Drive, Dan Pink)

  • 70% of employees experience stress-related illness

  • 33% increase in heart attacks on Monday mornings (LA Times)

  • 25% increase in word-related injuries on Mondays (Entrepreneur Magazine)

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with their gifts still in them. That is a waste of the world's most precocious resource: Human Potential.

So how did we get here?

A Brief History of the Cog Economy

The Industrial Revolution (1760s-1840s) gave birth to the factory worker. And factory workers were required to follow instructions, do as they're told, ask permission, and play it safe. They performed routine, repetitive, mundane, and monotonous tasks. Human beings were literally operating as cogs in a machine, a system in which you could derive little else from a day's work except for the pay at the end of the day.

This doesn't suggest that work was a place utopian bliss prior to the industrial revolution. But the work of farmers, bakers, and candlestick makers, challenging as it may have been, offered people a fair amount of discretion, autonomy, and variety in what they did each day. It gave people a chance to exercise their ingenuity, solve interesting problems, and develop more effective ways of getting their work done. But that spark of human ingenuity was left behind when people walked through factory doors. That's where we've come to have so much resentment towards the notion of 'work.'

The Flawed Logic of Adam Smith

Adam Smith (1723-1790) was considered the father of the Industrial Revolution, and the inventor of the free market. And he presumed that people were inherently lazy. And we wouldn't do anything unless you made it worth their while. And the way you make it worth their while was by incentivizing them, and by giving them rewards. So we created a factory system consistent with that (false) view of human nature.

As capitalism developed, it created a mode of production of goods and services, in which all the intangible satisfactions that come from work (creativity, autonomy, fulfillment) were eliminated. And once that system of production was in place, there was really no other way for people to operate, except in a way that was consistent with that vision of economics. So it created a self-fulfilling prophecy. People worked for pay - nothing more, and nothing less. That is why so many people believe that the goal of work should be to earn money, and that is why so many people became profoundly dissatisfied.

Sadly, this legacy continues until today. The majority of people on the planet do work that is mind-numbing and soul-sucking, whether in factories, call centers, or fulfillment warehouses. They do it for pay. There is certainly no other early reason to do what they do except for pay.

Adam Smith was mistaken about our attitudes and aspirations about work. And as capitalism developed in his shadow, under the sway of the 'incentive theory of everything', a mode of work evolved in which all other satisfactions were neglected or eliminated. We worked exclusive for the Profit Motive (salary, status, selfishness, success), and neglected the Purpose Motive (contribution, service, significance).

The Consumption Economy

The Profit Motive dominated our concept of capitalism. And humans continued to operate as corporate cogs, doing monotonous, mind-numbing tasks in exchange for a pension and a paycheck. And we'd have to wait until the end of our lives before we started to live.

Many walls can cage a prison. Your prison can be a cubicle, or corner office; hospitals or law firms. Yes, even esteemed professionals, our doctors and lawyers, have found that even the most respectable prisons are still a prison. What's important is not the walls that frame your story; but the gnawing sense that something's missing.

Then the Profit Motive evolved into Profit At All Costs (PAAC), or Bad Capitalism. Business practices prioritized Profit At All Costs, including people, planet, and plain ethics. This was emblematic of Wall-Street Wolf: cut-throat competition, sleazy sales tactics, and borderline (or blatant) psychopathic behaviors. Corporations became as large and powerful as they are, by prioritizing profit at the expense of everything else, including the fabric of democracy. And we, as individuals, began to be warped by this culture.

The Economic Crash

But as technology advanced, and markets crashed, jobs were being outsourced, automated, or completely eliminated to preserve corporate bottom lines. Job security became an adorable notion from an idyllic past. And we realized that 'security' would never come from a company, a government, or a $600 stimulus check. Real security came from knowing what it is we do well that adds value to others.

The skills we once valued at top dollar - computing, sequential thinking - were being done better and faster by technology. And as robots began to replace us, we realized the only thing robots couldn't beat us at are the things that make us distinctly human.

Creativity, connection, communication, collaboration, empathy - the "right brained" skills that society often overlooked and undervalued, are the ones that mark the line between who thrives in this new economy, and who doesn't. And this is reinventing the way we think about work, business and success. Because we used to think business looked a certain way. Like The Wolf of Wall Street, or The 1980s car salesman, or the YouTube entrepreneur surrounded by lambourginis and girls in bikinis. And that used to repel people like us.

The Contribution Economy

"Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein, he cannot be replaced, nor his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as his opportunity to implement it. -Viktor Frankl

Today's economy rewards authenticity, generosity, and distinctiveness, which is creating an entirely new space for a new kind of entrepreneur. Because the future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: the altruists, the artists, the teachers, the healers, the storytellers, the servant leaders. The future belongs to people like you.

But one of the biggest problems we face today, as a result of this Cog Economy (even among top-level CEOs) is the lack of personal awareness. We've either ignored our unique strengths, in order to fit into a mold of 'success'. Or we've taken our greatest gifts for granted, because they come so naturally to you. So it can be so easy to overlook, and undervalue, the very things that make you stand out.

The Contribution Economy is about generosity, risk, intention, and intimacy. Author Scott Page explains that as systems get more complex, diversity creates ever greater benefits. And diversity comes from the odd combinations, the unique perspectives, and the distinct voice you bring to the conversation.

You are not a cog. Each of us is strange in our own way. Strange is a choice, an opportunity to bring your own experience and your own point of view to your work. Your contribution, the one you want to make, the one you were born to make, that's what we're waiting for. And that's what the world needs more than ever.

The Future of Work

The Cog Economy is drawing to a close. For centuries, people's lives had a predictable pattern. You went to school, learned a skills, went into the work force, and made a good living repeating the same skill over the course of your career. It thrived on hiding your peculiarity, ironing out your wrinkles, buffing out your rougher edges. It was organized around cogs, replaceable parts. And it drove the endless drive to fit in as much as possible.

But we must enlarge our concept of work itself. Work isn't a necessary evil; it can be the highest expression of your gifts. And in today's climate, the world needs your gifts more than ever. Because as people like you step into this new economic landscape, we will create a new economy that leaves the world better than we found it. Which is the whole point of living.

Change starts with you. You change the world when you hold up a new and more attractive way to live. And as technology can do all the tedious and time-consuming tasks, it's given us the ability to bring our unique contributions to the table.

Your dreams and fears and contributions are yours - peculiar to you; idiosyncratic. Ultimately, the goal is to become the best in the world at being you. To bring useful idiosyncrasy to the people you seek to change, and to earn a reputation for what you do and ow you do it. Your perspective, your assertions, and your art.

"None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to the whisper which is heard by him alone." -Thomas Carlyle


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