Why do I hate my job? – Looking for variety in your life

Why do I hate my job?

According to Google, “Why do I hate my job?” is a question that is being asked pretty often.

Google search - Why do I hate my job

Obviously though, you would not take have taken your job initially unless you thought you were going to like it.

What changes between the initial thrill of getting a job and the conclusion that you have emotionally parted company with your former dream?

Buffy : An Adventure Story by Bob Graham

Bob Graham describes one of the reasons people feel their job is not a good fit in a poignant children’s book about a multi-talented dog called Buffy.

Buffy - An adventure story

To cut a short story even shorter, the plot of the book goes like this:

  • Buffy is a stage assistant to Brillo the magician, however Brillo finds that the audience cheers louder for Buffy than for himself, so he fires Buffy.

“OUT! and never come back,” cried Brillo.

  • With his last coins, Buffy buys a tin of dog food and a tin opener in a supermarket and then jumps aboard a moving freight train heading out into the countryside.

And while he slept, the train continued its rhythm:
and never come back.
and never come back.

  • In the morning, Buffy jumps off the train and then goes to try and find a job, however no-one will give Buffy a job because he does not fit into a slot.

Nobody wanted a dancing sheep dog.
Nobody wanted a tiny rope-throwing cattle dog.
Nobody wanted a plate-juggling kitchen dog.
Nobody wanted a guard dog who played the harmonica.

  • Eventually Buffy stops in front of a statue, the words on which read “I am me. No more. No less”. Buffy decides that since he does not fit into a “job slot”, the world will have to accept him for who he is.

“Then one day Buffy stopped. He put down his bag, wiped his brow and looked around him.
“I can go no further,” he said.
“I’m not a sheep dog, a cattle dog, a kitchen dog or a guard dog. So what sort of dog am I?”
“I am Buffy! And I will do what I do. And this time, the world shall come to me.”

The world shall come to me

  • Buffy starts busking, and meets Mary Kelly and the musical Kelly family, who acknowledge his unique talents and adopt him.

Now, each night after dinner, the music starts and each night the floorboards shake. Mary’s and Buffy’s feet beat to the rhythm of the jigs and the reels.
And Buffy lives up there, on the hill, to this day.

Mary Kelly and Buffy

“Filling a role” versus “Who you are”

As Buffy found out, every job requires a very specific skill set to be applied predictably day after day.

Furthermore, the larger a company is, the more precise each process has to be. Every employee has to become expert in the role and responsibility that has been assigned to them, in order that their function will fit into the operations of the company as a whole. This sort of employment does not leave you with a lot of leeway to develop your personality or to apply the multitude of skills that you were born with.

Subsequently, the answer to “Why do I hate my job?”, is probably because the job is not you!

  • You are multi-talented – but your job requires that you focus and refine one specific skill.
  • You are innovative – but your job requires that you do exactly the same thing every day
  • You like relating to people in different ways – but your job requires that you should always be predictable.


Thinking out of the square

It is perfectly possible, that you will not find a job on a job board that will resonate with the unique skills and the unique personality that identify who you really are. Because of this, some people are leaving standard careers to look for greater versatility.

Rather than define their lives and self-worth in terms of a preordained, often constraining, career track, workers are creating their own patchworks of job experiences to suit their lives.

The Opt-out Revolt: Why People Are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers

It is also possible, however, that the risks of breaking with a standard career path do not fit the predictable life that you would really like to have. If so, how can you both find predictability at work, but also fulfillment in your life?

According to the Harvard Business Review, the answer is; “If you want to be happy at work, have a life outside it.”

The bottom line: Satisfaction at work is influenced by factors such as benefits, pay, relationships, and commute length. But all of this boils down to two things being important, regardless of your circumstances: (1) having a life outside of work, and (2) having the money to afford it. If you have a job that grants you both of these, you might be happier than you realize.


If you do have a life outside of work, you will be able to develop and apply the parts of your personality and skills that are not relevant in your job.  Leading a full life will enable you to reap the benefits of being happy at work together with financial stability in your non-working life.

The Kelly family


Personal growth is a natural process

What is the importance of personal growth and development?

What is the importance of personal growth and development?

If you google “What is personal growth”, you will get the following search result:

In fact, though, it is unlikely that personal growth has anything to do with reaching your goals by maximizing your potential. This is equivalent to saying, “To make this rose more beautiful, let me find out what I can use it for.”

When we look at somebody and say, “That is a wonderful person,”  what we are seeing is a person who has gone through a process of personal growth that makes their personality shine. This person has become a beam of sunlight to the people around them. We are not looking at somebody who has optimized the functional aspect of their existence.

True personal growth does not depend on external circumstances. Getting ahead in your career, making money, succeeding in sports and gaining academic qualifications all depend on external circumstances that are not in your ability to control. The athletic and academic abilities that you were born with and the earning capacity you have access to are external to your inner personality.

How can we grow and become beautiful human beings that other people will look to for cues on setting their own emotional clock?

Here are 10 personal growth strategies that depend simply and purely on your willpower to become a greater person.


It is only possible for you to experience personal growth if you are your own person. Don’t be swept along with other people’s ideas and feelings. Come to our own conclusions about the way things are, and decide how you feel about the people and things about you.

Autonomy is the ability to use your own mind and to determine your thoughts and actions in your own way. It is the ability to be master of your own life and of your own thoughts and actions. It means being able to decide and choose for yourself. You are not the object of other people’s decisions and choices, and you do not accept opinions, standards of behaviour and established ways of life just because someone tells you to accept them. You accept them only because you have convinced yourself to accept them, because you have your own reasons to do so, and because you know that you can always reject them. You shape your own life.

Homo-Democraticus: On the Universal Desirability and the Not So Universal Possibility of Democracy and Human Rights ,page 403



Be aware of your natural surroundings, don’t get caught up in what you are doing to the extent that you forget about the world you live in.

Awareness requires living in the here and now, and not in the elsewhere, the past or the future. A good illustration… is driving to work in the morning in a hurry. The decisive question is: ‘Where is the mind when the body is here? and there are three common cases…

The fourth case is the person who is aware, and who will not hurry because he is living in the present moment with the environment which is here: the sky and the trees as well as the feeling of motion. To hurry is to neglect that environment and to be conscious only of something that is still out of sight down the road…

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, Chapter 16


Maintain balance in your life; When you look for personal growth, you will find opportunities in many areas. Each endeavor you go for will have its own focus, but none of these areas should clash with each other or take over your life.

We cannot become so obsessed by a beneficial habit that we lose sight of other important areas of life.

Zen and the Art of Wholeness, page 216

Face yourself

Change self-defeating patterns of behaviour; Identify your weak points, what are you scared of, what is holding you back? Create a plan for resolving this inner conflict.

To identify your weaknesses, ask yourself these questions: What do you keep doing that you can’t seem to master? What do you least enjoy doing? What are the aspects of your personality that hold you back? What do other people identify as a weakness for you? …don’t feel compelled to list every weakness you can think of. Limit yourself to the ones that can have a negative impact on the achievement of your dream.

It’s Do-Able!: Power To Unleash Your Dream, Canaan Mashonganyika



Become a giver, not a taker. Get into the habit of giving to something each day which you do not personally benefit from.

How much love can you give? How good a friend can you be? The rewards you will gain by becoming a GIVER will reap for you true peace and a feeling of beautiful wholeness.

Walking on Sunshine, Suzy Harrison Ward


Find inner happiness; Your happiness should be spontaneous, you should be able to walk down the street and just be happy for absolutely no reason. Your happiness should not be dependent on any external stimulation.

‘Take a look,’ I said. ‘If you want to find inner happiness, go outside on a nice day with lots of sun and blue sky. Even if you stand at a window and look out over the city at the cloudless sky, like we’re doing now, you’ll eventually find happiness.

Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex, Anne Frank


Live in harmony; How can you increase the overall balance of good and beauty in the world?

The white man calls us “Wild Indians.” We were never wild, we were just natural. Traditional people, in harmony with the world around us. We do not isolate ourselves from other living things, nor consider one creature superior to another… [The Indians are not a primitive people,] they are a traditional people, that is, a “first” or “original” people… the inheritors of a profound and exquisite wisdom distilled by long ages on this earth. The Indian concept of earth and spirit has been patronizingly dismissed as simplehearted “naturalism” or “animism,” when in fact it derives from a holistic vision known to all mystics and great teachers of the most venerated religions of the world.

Two Black Bears: Chief of Navajos, Charles D. Taylor

Integrate your personality

Different parts of you naturally want to head off in different directions. Become aware of everything that motivates you, and of all the different directions your ambitions drag you in, then find inner unity.

Without [inner unity] we are likely to live fragmented lives, never quite fulfilling the unique gift to human history each of us is privileged to carry.

Empowering Leaders, David A. Ramey


To find out who you really are, step outside yourself and observe how you live and how you interact with other people.

Step outside yourself. Watch yourself going through your day as if you were the star of your own television show. You can make it a comedy or a drama. Hospitals are suited to both. Try playing a laugh track in your head when something preposterous happens — as it often does. The show also keeps you company as your colleagues go home and you’re left alone in the hospital. It turns the clerks, nurses, residents from other services, and even patients into a colorful supporting cast for your lead.

Hospital Survival: Lessons Learned in Medical Training, Grant Cooper


Tune into other people’s feelings, even if other people hide what bothers them, they will still appreciate if you identify with their concerns.

As we develop our capacity for empathy, we must shift from tuning in to our thinking to tuning in to another person’s perspective. As we begin this shift, many of us will struggle with socialized thinking habits that maintain our self-focused thinking…

When we start to tune in to other people’s perspectives, these old habits may cause us to experience some interference. Often we first struggle with the assumption that everyone thinks and feels as we do. This assumption occurs as we struggle to apply other people’s life experiences to the situation. First we must consider the other person’s life and then extend that consideration to the current situation. If we can extend our perspective in this way, we may discover that the individual’s experience is very different.

Developing Practice Competencies: A Foundation for Generalist Practice, D. Mark Ragg

You can cycle through some of these ideas, to see which ones work best for your own personal growth.

Finding inspiration when things go wrong

Finding inspiration when things go wrong (as they sometimes will)

Finding inspiration when things go wrong

There are two ways you can find inspiration

  • You can be inspired by the positivity you find when things go right.
  • You can be inspired when things go wrong, because you know you don’t want to carry on living that way.

The Zohar says that negative inspiration is more powerful than positive inspiration.

דלית נהורא אלא ההוא דנפיק מגו חשוכא

There is no light other than that which emanates from within darkness.


  • Why are you in a better position to change and grow when things go wrong, than when things go right?
  • Why does the Zohar say that light emanates from darkness, which implies that the darkness itself is the source of light?



A quote often attributed to Einstein is, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Although this seems obvious, what is not obvious is we fool ourselves into thinking we are doing something different now. In fact we are doing exactly now as the time things went wrong, just in a different time and place.

How can we know when we have actually changed?



The Zohar offers the following clue.

דהא ודאי אמר קהלת (קהלת א’ ט’) “אין כל חדש תחת השמש” אבל למעלה מן השמש יש לו

“It is true that ‘There is nothing new under the sun’, but beyond the sun there is.”


Most people are not good at everything. We are born with natural tendencies, and we develop these tendencies into our own way of doing things. There are things we are really good at, but there are weak areas which drag us down in challenging situations.

To change, we need to identify the areas in which we’re not strong, and then find someone brilliant in this area. We need to connect with and learn from someone who conquered in their own lives what we are struggling with. By doing this, we rise above the natural level of “under the sun” existence that we were granted at birth.

Positive inspiration can make your life shine, but negative inspiration has a more powerful potential for change. The realisation that we need to live on a higher plane forces us to rise above our natural operating level. Through seeing the need for change we incorporate the light from other people into our natural way of doing things.

When disappointment shows that life can be better, inspiration forces us to grow beyond our natural selves. In retrospect, the obstacles that made us to think out of our mindset were the source of our progress.

So the darkness itself, is the source of light.

Interdisciplinarity, risk and opportunity


The development of new products and services to bring to the marketplace can be driven by scientific advances such as the development of antibiotics, plastics and microchips. However sometimes new and exciting market offerings can be created by bringing together existing technologies and skills sets.

The ability to successfully combine existing knowledge and skills in different areas is referred to as interdisciplinarity.

Interdisciplinarity involves the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It is about creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them.


For example, a company may already possess the component parts of the knowledge required to make a quantum leap forward, however these bits of knowledge are held in siloed areas. To find new opportunities, the specialised knowledge in different departments must be combined and made to work together.

A major route left for economies to stay innovative is better coordination among knowledge communities aimed at sparking synergy creation… For individual firms, this means management’s ability to combine knowledge of individual technologies and consolidate corporate-wide technologies and skills within their organisations.

Competing for Knowledge: Creating, Connecting, and Growing. Page 27

Personal interdisciplinarity

Personal success may also rely on the individual’s ability to combine knowledge and skills in different areas. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci combined scientific knowledge in different areas to advance mankind’s understanding of the body.

Leonardo’s notebooks clearly reveal his fascination with human development… He studied the anatomical composition of muscles and bones… To complete his work in this area, he described human movement as a mechanical system of interlocking parts, claiming his place as one of the first to conceptualize this idea. His notes in this field demonstrate the amazing combination of engineering and medical knowledge Leonardo possessed.

Amazing & Extraordinary Facts – Da Vinci, Notable Notebooks

Steve Jobs combined his deep understanding of humanities and the sciences to produce technically brilliant and attractive consumer electronics.

“I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” Jobs told me on the day he decided to cooperate on a biography. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” It was as if he was describing the theme of his life, and the more I studied him, the more I realized that this was, indeed, the essence of his tale.


Both at the corporate and at the individual level, opportunity is created when different disciplines are combined to create a multi-faceted result that satisfies difficult-to-reconcile requirements.

Risk and reward

Since opportunity presents itself at the intersection of discipline specific knowledge areas, it would appear that the more disparate the knowledge areas are, the more likely it is that their successful combination will result in a breakthrough.

On the other hand, the more disparate the disciplines are that must be combined to solve a problem, the harder it will be to develop the knowledge in each discipline to a level that will enable convergence of these knowledge areas, therefore the less likely the chances are of success.

The delivery of fusion electricity is not just about understanding plasma. You also have to know the materials you’re going to build the reactor out of. You then need to know how to build the reactor and put all the pieces together. You have to be able to maintain it and it’s really important that you factor this in right at the start. It is absolutely vital that you do all this in an integrated way. You can’t just say that we’re going to make something 10 times hotter than the Sun and it will work. You have to think about the integrated solution.

Professor Ian Chapman, chief executive, UK Atomic Energy Authority

We can therefore identify a correlation between risk and opportunity in interdisciplinary ventures

  • If the disparity between the required knowledge areas is great, then the venture may have great potential but will also have a high risk of failure due to the difficulty involved in overcoming the incompatibilities between the knowledge domains.
  • On the other hand, if the disparate knowledge areas easily exhibit homogeneousness, then the risk of not being able to get to the required result is small, but the outcome of combining the knowledge domains will be less significant and will have a lower return.

In conclusion

People and companies often look outwards for new opportunities, however their true path to success may lie in bridging the gap between their existing disparate skills and knowledge areas.

It may be necessary to look outwards for the catalyst that will enable existing skills and knowledge areas to combine, but real growth is almost always the result of grassroots inspiration.

Going to work

Once upon a time, people used to go to work in the morning and come back home from work in the evening. They would bring a pay-cheque that enabled them to provide their families with shelter, food, clothing and some luxuries now and again. Work was not much fun but people put up with that because

  • Life was tough
  • People were used to doing what they were told
  • And it was understood that the payoff for putting up with going to work, being the ability to be a provide for your family, was more than ample compensation for the vicissitudes of working life.

Quality of living, meaningfulness and leadership were provided by family life, the village social scene, religious institutions and patriotism. People did not “live for work”, but rather “going to work” was a necessity that had to be endured in order to provide for “the important things in life”.


Post-modern utopia

The post-modern era has challenged this idea of “what life is all about” and is of the opinion that “work” should be at least as much fun, if not more fun, than anything else you do.


In order to accomplish this new state of affairs, corporations spend much time and effort in creating a submersive organisational culture which gives employees a sense of belonging. The company work scene becomes the place where employees feel at home and where they can be part of the societal fabric.

Consider yourself at home.
Consider yourself one of the family.
We’ve taken to you so strong.
It’s clear we’re going to get along.


A bizarre side-effect of this new way of living is that carried to an extreme of reductio ad absurdum, the ultimate effect of the submersive corporate culture is that employees see their careers as the focal point of their lives, so that anything that they do or experience outside of working hours becomes subsidiary to their life at work. Life events such as marriage, child-bearing and buying a house become “something to talk about at work” or something employees feel they were only able to accomplish due to the kindness afforded to them by the company.

New recruits were socialized into believing that Arthur Andersen was a special and exclusive organization. Arthur Andersen offered something special: a way of life… getting a job there meant making it.

Corporate Governance, Ethics and CSR, pg. 79

 Commercial reality

In reality, however, the reason corporations invest precious resources in order to create an internal self-contained society is purely and only for the financial welfare of the corporation (see a previous post on this here). Therefore the utopia of being emotionally molly-coddled at work may seem to be a normal state of affairs, but it is only the ongoing financial imperative of the corporation’s balance sheet that feeds the efforts invested to create a semblance of a warm and loving society.

Subsequently if a change in market conditions, or the financial imperative to “grow the company” call for a readjustment of the internal social order, then the structure of the corporate society must change in order to be in equilibrium with its financial accommodation.

The lack of this realisation is possibly the reason why many people search the Internet for the explanation of behaviour that their manager has displayed towards them which they feel is unwarranted, whereas it is possible that their questions do not necessarily have an answer.


All of these questions assume that the employee will be “emotionally provided for” at work. Within this context, if an employee experiences managerial behaviour which they find upsetting, the employee will deduce that that there must be a reason for their manager’s behaviour which makes sense within the context of the company social scene.

However since the illusion of a “self-contained society at work” is exactly that (an illusion), and since the driving force behind the maintenance of this society can only ever be financial, employees will invariably encounter shards of managerial behaviour that have little to do with the rosy prospect of utopia at work but have more to do with the raging financial pressures that typify the modern volatile and demand-driven marketplace.

Possibly the only viable personal response to situations that offer questions like these is a re-evaluation of the meaningfulness of individual life as it used to be, prior to the enticements offered by modern corporate culture.

Perfecting informal organisations

From a purely financial perspective, the relationship between management and employees is the purchase by management of goods and services (that have been requested by customers) from the employees.


In traditional manufacturing companies very little veneer covers  the commerciality of this arrangement. The financial interests of the employees may be represented by trade unions who negotiate on their behalf with management, sometimes with equanimity and sometimes forcibly.


However, since modern corporations seek to create their own internal society in which money is not seen to be the driving factor, the relationship between management and employees cannot be allowed to remain soul-less and impersonal.

Instead, a more nuanced understanding is fostered in which it is understood that management are “the people who have to get things done” and employees are “the people who need to feel at home while doing their tasks”. The needs of management are functionally driven yet management remain “human”, and the needs of the employees are socially driven yet “they have to get the job done”.

Subsequently, management demand that employees “get the job done” but in return accommodate the employees personal and social needs. Employees, on the other hand, demand that management accommodate their personal and social needs but in return they “will get the job done”.

Interactions - complex

The greater the mutual understanding that develops between management and employees, the more they will work in harmony. How can companies strive to achieve this happy state of affairs?


From the perspective of the management – employee relationship, both management and employees are inherently in a state of conflict.

  • Management wish to be as personable as possible to the employees, however they are constrained from indulging the employees due to the need to demand the output of goods and services from them.
  • Employees wish to provide management with the greatest output of goods and services possible, but they are constrained from indulging management due to the need to enjoy their work-life balance.

The more employees enjoy their jobs, the smaller management’s quandary of how to maximise employee output while simultaneously providing for their personal and social needs will be. In other words, when employees perceive that their personal success and enjoyment lies in their work, they will not need management to goad them on to excel in their tasks.

Andy Capp

Quid pro quo

If the staff of an Internet Service Provider are wildly interested in networking connectivity and the Internet, it is likely that the ISP will be more successful than if staff feel that they have to put up with the drudgery of yet another day of enabling customers to surf the web.

In the first scenario (ISP staff are wildly enthusiastic about networking), there is very little “distance” between the functional exterior and the personal core of the ISP’s employees.

employee (1)

Because of this, there will be commensurately very little requirement for management to make purely functional demands on the self-motivated ISP staff. Instead, they will enjoy a “warm” relationship with their employees, who will nevertheless”get the job done”.


However, in the second scenario, there is a large gap between the disinterested employees’ personal involvement in their work and the results they have to accomplish.

employee (2)

In this case, management will have to adopt a functional communication style when interacting with employees. The relationship will be “cold” and factual.

ISP 4.png

Therefore it seems that the success of the informal company is directly proportional to the degree of personal interest that employees have in their own work.

The reason Google used to allow employees 20% of their time to develop their own projects, is not necessarily because this was the most efficient way to invent new products, but because Google knew this was the best way to enthuse employees generally about their work.


Every company in every industry, probably has to seek a different path to allowing employees to personally identify with their work and be excited about the difference they can make every day, however.

Knowledge momentum

There is a fundamental difference between the knowledge that a car is about to run you over and the knowledge that a triangle contains 180 degrees.

The knowledge that a car is about to run you over is not verbally expressed in your thoughts. That is, if you look up while crossing the road and you see a car in a collision course with you, it is highly improbable that the following thoughts will go through your mind: “It would appear to me that given my direction of travel and that car’s direction of travel, and considering our respective velocities, it is probable that the car and myself will collide in 3.2 seconds which would result in severe injury.” Instead, it is more likely that you will jump out of the way without thinking about your high-school applied maths.

This type of knowledge is often referred to as Knowledge by Acquaintance

We shall say that we have acquaintance with anything of which we are directly aware, without the intermediary of any process of inference or any knowledge of truths.

On the other hand, if you are performing an experiment to see if triangles really do contain 180 degrees, it is likely that you will verbally think through your conclusions, “It would appear that this triangle contains less than 180 degrees,” before transcribing the results.

This type of knowledge is referred to as Knowledge by Description

To know some thing or object by a definite description is to know that it is the so-and-so or that the so-and-so exists.

The reason for this difference is that being run over by a car is a natural (if unwanted) part of your everyday life, but the different flavours of geometry predicted by the Big Bang theory are not. Because the desire not to be run over is something that you experience personally, there is no need for you to mentally verbalise aspects of the situation that presents this danger in order for you to determine the actions you need to take to avert an undesirable outcome.

On the other hand, the predictions of the Big Bang theory on whether the universe will expand indefinitely or will ultimately collapse and the ways that we can determine the type of universe that we live in are not part of your natural everyday life. Therefore in order to process the facts and figures that relate to this aspect of reality you have to mentally ascribe words to the elements of this sphere of thought and to the interactions between these elements, in order to cogitate about the subject matter.

Different approaches to the same body of knowledge

It is not always obvious what knowledge you have assimilated as Knowledge by Acquaintance so that the knowledge becomes a natural part of your life and is integrated into your natural perception of the world, and what knowledge you have kept at an arm’s length internally, so that the knowledge is merely appended to your internal Knowledge by Description information-store.

For example, a watchmaker who has spent their entire life perfecting their knowledge of watches is likely to have absorbed the knowledge of watch mechanics into their personal Knowledge by Acquaintance perception. The watchmaker will not have to mentally verbalise which cog should mesh with another and will be able to intuitively diagnose why a watch is not working.


On the other hand, an accountant analysing their client’s balance sheet for anomalies is likely perceive the numbers before them as Knowledge by Description in order to verbally cogitate on the problem.


Furthermore, it is possible that two people could perform exactly the same job after acquiring exactly the same body of knowledge, but one will allocate the requisite body of knowledge to their personal Knowledge by Acquaintance perceptions and the other will allocate the same knowledge to their “impersonal facts-and-figures” Knowledge by Description information store.

A microprocessor architect who is in love with the x86 microprocessor architecture will ascribe the same quality of feeling to their knowledge that the 8086 architecture is beautiful and their knowledge that a vivid sunset is beautiful. Subsequently, just as watching a nice sunset is a natural part of their everyday life, so too developing x86 microprocessors will be a natural part of their everyday life.

This may contrast starkly with another microprocessor engineer who may have very firm opinions about not letting their professional work become intertwined with their personal life and makes sure that their professional knowledge remains exactly that.


Another personal aspect of knowledge acquisition in which people differ is the degree to which they make promises to themselves that their acquisition of a certain body of knowledge will further their progress in life.

This means that because the effort required to acquire knowledge or skills may not be intrinsically enjoyable, you may promise yourself during the course of the acquisition of this knowledge that in the future, through application of your newfound knowledge, you will more than compensate yourself for the self-sacrifice involved in study through the gains that you will make by application of your knowledge and skill set.

For example, a doctor who studies for 10 years to qualify will promise themselves, during the course of their studies, that the career opportunities and lifestyle afforded by their professional qualifications will be just recompense for the hard slog of qualification.

Because of the need to fulfill this self-promise after they qualify, the doctor will be driven to apply their knowledge in a profitable manner so that their societal status and remuneration will compensate them for the hardship endured while studying and training.

Life trajectory

We can therefore identify at least two factors which will influence the degree to which acquisition of knowledge will later cause your life to proceed inexorably in a particular direction.

  • Knowledge by Acquaintance: If you have acquired professional knowledge in a way that it becomes part of your natural understanding of life, then you will see this area of knowledge as a permanent and ongoing part of your everyday life.
  • Self promise: If during the course of knowledge acquisition you promised yourself that your later gains through application of this knowledge would compensate you for the duress endured studying, then after qualifying you will feel internally compelled to “get your money’s worth” from the body of knowledge through professionally leveraging this knowledge to your advantage and progressing your career.

These two factors can combine to determine the degree to which your future life will be molded by your acquisition of a body of knowledge.

knowledge - life influence 2

Knowledge momentum

The operational momentum of a company is only equivalent to the sum of the personal momentum of its employees.

In times of stability it is healthy for a company’s employees to be as committed as possible to their current job knowledge. If staff identify personally with their job-related knowledge and are motivated to further their careers through the application of and the development of their hard-won knowledge, this will make for highly motivated staff who will bring the company success and advancement in its current line of business.

However, when external circumstances change and corresponding company change is required, it is beneficial to have staff who can change job-direction easily. That is, it will be beneficial to have staff who have not made their current job knowledge into a natural part of their lives and who have also not promised themselves that this same body of knowledge will take care of them forever.

Is there any way to bridge the gap between high knowledge momentum, which is beneficial in stable market conditions, and low knowledge momentum, which is beneficial in times of change?




Corporate mind-space

According to a popularly quoted article printed in the The New York Times Magazine

The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits

This may seem like a sensible statement from the vantage of the company’s investors, however thinking this all day long would probably be a depressing proposition for the company’s employees. In fact it is likely that internalising this corporate raison d’être would very quickly lead to the motivational collapse of even the most hardened company woman or man.

Subsequently people have the need to believe in a higher purpose in their daily tasks other than financially rewarding the company’s shareholders.

In response to this existential need, companies deliberately or unwittingly create an internal mind-space which incorporates all of the abilities and the motivational drives that its staff must possess and feel in order to progress the company’s success.

Within this corporate mind-space

  • The staff must believe that what they are doing is fundamentally “good”. That is, they must believe that they are involved in something of intrinsic worth and of fundamental value.


  • The staff must believe that what they are doing is “important”. That is, they must believe that they are involved in doing something which if not done will have a deleterious effect.

Once company staff believe that what they are doing is both “good” and also “important” they can become passionate about their work. If a “good” result is achieved this may bring them happiness so that they will strive towards this outcome. If a negative event transpires they may take this to heart and anxiously work to prevent such an occurrence.

Activity Value Importance
Mining coal Power factories and trains If not done, factories will lose power and trains will be unable to run
Providing drinking water The townspeople will have drinking water If not done, the townspeople will go thirsty
Securing a website against cyber-attacks Customers will have an enjoyable online shopping experience If not done, customers will not be able to shop online


Dichotomy and leadership

We are therefore confronted with a dichotomy between the purpose of the company as viewed by its shareholders (which is to increase profits), and the purpose of the company as it professes to its employees (which is to improve society).

In other words, we encounter a contradiction between the external face of the corporation, whose purpose is to offer goods and / or services in the most lucrative manner possible, and the internal “let’s pretend we don’t get paid for working here and are here for the universal good” feeling that must pervade the office space in order to motivate the company’s staff and coalesce them into a working unit.

Furthermore, because every company exists in the external commercial world and also contains its own internal world of personal endeavour, there must be at least one person or possibly a group of people within the company who are able to view everything within the company from both perspectives. Without this ability it would be impossible to translate external commercial pressures into direction within the company’s internal life. Conversely, it would be impossible to align the internal staff motive with the external commercial reality.

Formally the CEO is tasked with the ability to simultaneously maintain this dual paradigm and juggle both viewpoints in their mind, whereby to find the sweet-spot that maximises  the interaction between external commercial pressure and personal striving within the company. In reality however, the CEO may be part of a group of people who jointly translate the different functional areas of the business between the external and the internal paradigms. The CEO will have the “speaking part” within this group, however.

(The further staff are from the upper echelons of management the less they need be aware of the external commercial reality that the company faces. Successive layers of management may be tasked with the gradual transformation of external pressures into internal emotional drivers.)

Hence it would seem that

  • The fate of the entire corporate balance-sheet is in the hands of the individual or group that translates the real-world “commercial speak” into the internal company motivational parlance.
  •  Any misalignment of these contradictory but interdependent viewpoints will spell disaster for the company’s investors or for the morale of the company staff.

Is it reasonable to expect that senior management can maintain this razor-edge balance indefinitely, especially when the technological, socio-demographic and market environment in which companies operate today can change so rapidly?

The world within

Traditionally, corporations, even very powerful ones, do not last longer than one or two hundred years. For example, the Dutch East India Company which for a while was more powerful than some European governments, was founded in 1602 and became bankrupt in the late 1700’s.

As the BBC pointed out in 2012

The past few years have seen previously unthinkable corporate behemoths – from financial firms such as Lehman Brothers to iconic car manufacturers such as Saab – felled by economic turmoil or by unforgiving customers and tough rivals.

Is there a fundamental reason that corporations cannot last forever, or will we see a future that contains 1000 year old “Microsoft”s and “Oracle”s that will become indelibly entrenched in the world’s economy and work-style, like the God Emperor of Dune?

The Smartest Guys in the Room is a book (and later a movie) which describes the factors that led to the collapse of Enron. The title of the book hints at a syndrome in which people demur to the opinion of the person who is perceived to be “the smartest guy in the room”, regardless of whether the advice being advocated would stand up to objective scrutiny by a company outsider.

This type of introverted thinking is the classical reason why corporations fail, an extreme example of this mindset is the “I think film’s coming back” comment attributed to a Kodak executive during the death throes of the industry icon.

The question seems to be, is it possible to identify structural organisational flaws that lead to this type of myopia or is every large corporation ultimately doomed to become a runaway behemoth hurtling towards the edge of a Dilbert’esque reality cliff?

Laws such as the Sarbanes–Oxley Act ensure there is a realistic feed-back loop between the real financial performance of a company and the stock exchange’s evaluation of the company by providing meaningful data that is available for external appraisal and evaluation. However no law can control the development of an internal attitude that is at odds with realities that do not immediately affect the company’s share price.

Paradoxically it would seem that the more successful a company is, the more it is in danger of having the luxury of defining its own internal reality, which may later prove its undoing in true Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire style.

“This is the way we do it” and “She / he thinks the way we do” may seem like happy sounds as long as external factors align with the internally ripened mindset, but may more begin to resemble the sound of a runaway train when the world changes and leaves the “happy” paradigm behind.

Is it healthy for a company to promulgate its own way of thinking to employees, and is the alternative internal dissonance which would make the running of a large corporation unmanageable?

(This blog is Part 1 in a series on People and Corporate knowledge, TBC…)