“In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work.”
— Peter Thiel
Not long ago, we met an executive from a global pharmaceutical company. He had been participating all day in a workshop on the future of health care and was standing outside the hotel, catching some fresh air. We talked about how the health-care business was changing and what challenges the company was facing with rising health-care costs , low R& D productivity, and a broken sales model . We asked him his thoughts on the challenges ahead.
He looked at us with somewhat tired eyes, squinted up in the sky, and said, “Well, first, I am going to have myself a big, fat sushi dinner, and then I suppose I will get back to the office tomorrow and do the usual stuff— you know: hire some people, fire some people, and make some strategies.”
He was not being ironic. He was being brutally honest about a feeling that many executives feel from time to time: What does it matter, anyway? Over time, as management has become increasingly professionalized, you can sense a kind of nihilism or loss of meaning in the executive layers. This sense of nihilism is strongest in large corporate cultures where management is seen as a profession in and of itself with no strong connection to what the company actually makes or does. What happens when satisfaction from work comes from managing— reorganizing, optimizing the operation, hiring new people, and making strategies— and not from producing something meaningful? How do you feel when it doesn’t really matter whether you make beauty products, soft drinks, fast food, or musical instruments?
If you can’t relate to what you’re doing, ultimately you don’t care. If you don’t care, everything becomes properties. As a consumer you see the differences between businesses that care and those that don’t. Caring about what you do and your customers won’t make you successful, but not caring will almost certainly result in failure over time.
Philosopher Martin Heidegger claimed that care — what he called sorge — is what makes us human.