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How to solve (most of) our work problems by taking more naps

Written by How to solve (most of) our work problems by taking more naps

August 18, 2017


Thank you for having me. This is actually my first main stage talk, so I'm a bit nervous. And apologies if I go over, I know I'm gonna go over.

So, this is my talk: How to solve most of our work problems by taking more naps. Okay, I was a little bit nervous about this topic because some audiences, it would not go over well, but I'm glad to see we're all on the same page here. So, I am gonna propose a way to fix our current work culture, our culture of toxic overwork. This will also help us to create better quality, more innovative work, it'll make us happier and healthier, and it'll lead to a better future. It'll also fix climate change, increase diversity in the workplace, and decrease unemployment and poverty. But because this is such a big topic, and I got way too ambitious, I had to put most of it in a blog, 'cuz I only have 3 minutes and 52 seconds.

So this is the status quo right now, this is where we are in our current work culture. These are the people who are innovating, who are funding innovation, funding new technologies, deciding what gets filled. And we know as designers, that the mindset of the people who build the thing, informs how the thing turns out. Right? And so what kind of future what kind of future are we building? If this is who's running innovation? And even if you're not one of the innovators at the top level, a VC or a CEO, they still expect you to work like that. Even if you make content, even if you're creative, even if you're doing work that is never gonna get you that big cash out in the IPO. So, like let's look at this work culture as a design problem, as a user experience problem. What can we gain from doing that as a thought experiment?

So I looked at it this way, and I found out, I determined that there are probably three main factors, there might be others, but these are the primary ones. So why don't we have a more humane work culture that allows us to take naps? Number one: passion, everyone talks about this all the time. We want to create the best quality work. We want to create the most innovative work. We want to push ourselves hard. But I think that this is often an excuse, a cover for other things. But luckily, we can look objectively at this. We can look at research that tells us, what kind of work systems create the best quality work. And that's what I'm gonna do.

So how do we create quality work? One number that has been going around for quite a while, is Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hour rule. And this was in his book The Outliers, and he looked at, he got this number from a study that was done on Berlin Conservatory students studying the violin, that were tracked, all their time was tracked for several years, and graphed, and charted, and they also reported on their feelings, and what they found was actually, 10,000 hours is just an average number of hours they worked, the most successful students, often worked far less than that, and Gladwell didn't report on this.

The most successful students had habits that were very strange to people in our work culture. They worked for about two hours in the morning, they took a nap, and then they worked for about another two hours in the afternoon, and then they didn't work again. And then they got a full night's rest of sleep. Ya know? Like that sounds pretty good, right? Those students who took that nap and who had that extra hour of sleep everyday, did better than the students who slept less and worked more. And, you know we can see this pattern happening over and over again.

A similar study was done on scientists, looking at the quality and prestige of their publishing, compared to how many hours that they worked, the scientists who published, who worked about 45 hours a week, did way worse than the scientists who worked 20 to 25 hours a week. And then various highly, highly productive intellectuals throughout history, we look at their diaries and we can see this. Darwin wrote 19 books on this schedule, and Dickens wrote, I don't even know how many books. And we know from Darwin's right? We know from Darwin's diaries that he took a nap everyday, he went on two walks through the forest everyday, he ate dinner with his family everyday, and yet at the same time, he had time to completely change the way we think about the world and the way we think about humanity.

So I mean, clearly we're not doing ourselves any favors, down here at the bottom. So, you know, I think this is a false a false correlation here, so let's get rid of it. So the next thing, and I think this often what the the excuses about passion, quality work are covering up, is our fear of falling behind, our need to survive, our fear of the consequences of what happens when we don't work as hard as the person next to us. We're always pushing ourselves to try and keep up with our peers, to get ahead of our peers, because we know that layoffs are coming. We know that poverty could be just around the corner. We don't want to feel the shame of getting left behind. And this cause, this fear, drives us to make extreme sacrifices, which then causes this feedback loop, and it causes a race to the bottom.

So this fear, even though it's based on reality, and you're trying to do better for your family, like it creates this system, where because everyone's racing to the bottom, pretty soon you're fighting to the death over scraps. So, we can see, you know, in this system, their fear and survival drive is not actually doing it's job, and it's counterproductive. So let's get rid of that. Now the third factor that I think is contributing to our culture of overwork, is our morality of work.

And this is tricky, and I was really happy to see so many people talking about these deep questions of morality and mindset and trust and consistency, 'cuz now you're all primed to kind of understand this, I don't have to explain it as much. So our morality of work, is based on a Puritan Protestant moral system that says, "Work is good, rest is lazy. Working yourself to the bone, working until you drop, gets you into Heaven. Being lazy, gets you sent to Hell." This is literally what the Puritans believed. And complaining also gets you sent to Hell.

So even though we like to think that we're free of these kind of systems and moralities from centuries ago, they still kind of pervade everything in our culture, and they inform everything around us, in ways that are often invisible to us, until we stop and like, zoom out a little bit. This is 100 hours more per week than people like Darwin, or people like the top scientists, and the top violinists worked; 100 hours more per week.

So this moral judgment, it's not actually helping us at all. And, but it's like, these deep beliefs, they're really hard to change. And often, like when you challenge someone on their deep beliefs, they double down on it, and instead of changing, they do what's called the Escalation of Commitment. So you see this a lot with like, supporters of people, supporters of politicians who lie. Who instead of like saying, "Oh this politician lied, I'm not gonna support them anymore," they make all sorts of excuses, and they actually go harder for that politician. They support them more, they like post more on their Facebook. This is called Escalation of Commitment, if your belief system is threatened, you cling to your belief system, and push away the facts.

So moral judgements are really hard to change, but we're doing a thought experiment, right? Let's just get rid of it. Because if we don't, the moral judgment, interfacing with the fear and survival drive, will actually accelerate and accelerate to drive us further into a race to the bottom. And pretty soon we might actually be fighting to the death over scraps. I mean, how many millennials in here had to do unpaid internships to get into a career? You know, like our parents did not have to do that.

So, unless we change something about this culture, and unless we actually redesign the culture, this culture is gonna continue accelerating and as we make more and more technology within this culture, that technology is going to be informed by this culture, and is gonna continue that acceleration. So, like, we need to change this. I don't know how, but there you go. And what do we get, once we've decided to change our moral judgements around work? Like now we don't really have any reason. So instead of fighting to the death over scraps, we get to have high powered careers, explore the Universe, you know, learn the pan flute. Hang out on rice on our vacations, and everyone gets enough to eat. Thank you.

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