Most of us would say money. And yet money alone does not motivate better work or increase job satisfaction. Do we work for money because there is an underlying premise that people don’t like to work and must be bribed to do it?
That may have been true for the industrial revolution, but a key difference between the industrial economy and the digital economy is that the role of the worker has shifted from brawn to brain. Knowledge is now a key differentiator, so is it also time to revisit this most fundamental value equation?
A year ago, Seth Godin wrote about the passionate worker:
A new class of jobs (and workers) is creating a different sort of worker, though. This is the person who works out of passion and curiosity, not fear. The passionate worker doesn’t show up because she’s afraid of getting in trouble, she shows up because it’s a hobby that pays. The passionate worker is busy blogging on vacation… because posting that thought and seeing the feedback it generates is actually more fun than sitting on the beach for another hour.
A recent Businessweek article, “Will Work for Praise” describes how web entrepreneurs are making money through armies of volunteers willing to work for free to build their own personal brands. In a web 2.0 world, there is an implicit symbiotic relationship in place around resource exchange: entrepreneur(s) with money provide(s) platform and technology, volunteers with time provide relevant content to build a personal brand and help others.
Adam Smith, who is widely regarded as the father of modern economics, lived and wrote during a similarly challenging transition from an agrarian to industrial society. Before he published The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote a classic treatment of ethics that laid the foundation for his free-enterprise classic. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith proposed that beyond economic pursuits, there are moral pre-requisites to capitalism. Human nature isn’t just about self-interest but it also includes important motivators: sympathy, empathy, friendship, love and the desire for social approval.
The Wealth of Nations draws on situations where man’s morality is likely to play a smaller role — such as the laborer involved in pin-making — whereas the Theory of Moral Sentiments focuses on situations where man’s morality is likely to play a dominant role among more personal exchanges.
If people want to work and are willing to do it for free or some other value exchange in the digital economy, should businesses adapt to this new sensibility?