Why We Work by Barry Schwartz

The recent New York Times' story on employment at Amazon evoked a slew of visceral reactions, even one from Jeff Bezos himself. It turns out that everyone holds strong opinions about work. In hindsight, though, the Times' story and subsequent brouhaha was more about what we do at work--not why we do it. One could argue that the latter question is even more important than the first. Against this backdrop, Why We Work by Barry Schwartz arrives at a propitious time.

Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy without further obligation.

Invoking plenty of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and even a bit of Bruce Springsteen, Schwartz's inspiring manifesto forces us to question the very nature of modern-day work. Why is it generally so dismal? Is it designed because we are "money hungry" or is the causal chain reversed?

Via fascinating anecdote and plenty of data, the book forcefully claims that how we work isn't working--at least not to the extent to which it should. Schwartz cites some interesting examples of employees who go way beyond their job descriptions for nothing other than the desire to help. In fact, as many studies have proven, offering money significantly changes our feelings about social mores (PDF).

Brass tacks: We need to get more out of our jobs than a paycheck. We need meaning. We need purpose. Maybe Abraham Maslow was right after all?

People looking for "the five ways to get started" will find themselves disappointed. This is a big-idea book, not a not a how-to or tactical text.

I only wish that it was longer, but TED books are deliberately short.