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Posts tagged work

from "What did people do in a Medieval City?," by Shawn Vincent, 1999–2005 :: via kottke

booth man - one who sells grains
chapman - traveling merchant
collier - one who makes or sells charcoal
colporteur - seller of religious books
costermonger - fruit seller
drover - one who drives sheep or cattle to market
eggler - an egg-merchant

from "The Case for Working With Your Hands," by Matthew B. Crawford,, 24 May 2009 :: via more than 95 theses :: first posted here 23 May 2009

Seeing a motorcycle about to leave my shop under its own power, several days after arriving in the back of a pickup truck, I don’t feel tired even though I’ve been standing on a concrete floor all day. Peering into the portal of his helmet, I think I can make out the edges of a grin on the face of a guy who hasn’t ridden his bike in a while. I give him a wave. With one of his hands on the throttle and the other on the clutch, I know he can’t wave back. But I can hear his salute in the exuberant “bwaaAAAAP!” of a crisp throttle, gratuitously revved. That sound pleases me, as I know it does him. It’s a ventriloquist conversation in one mechanical voice, and the gist of it is “Yeah!”

After five months at the think tank, I’d saved enough money to buy some tools I needed, and I quit and went into business fixing bikes. . . . The business goes up and down; when it is down I have supplemented it with writing. The work is sometimes frustrating, but it is never irrational.

And it frequently requires complex thinking. In fixing motorcycles you come up with several imagined trains of cause and effect for manifest symptoms, and you judge their likelihood before tearing anything down. This imagining relies on a mental library that you develop. An internal combustion engine can work in any number of ways, and different manufacturers have tried different approaches. Each has its own proclivities for failure. You also develop a library of sounds and smells and feels. For example, the backfire of a too-lean fuel mixture is subtly different from an ignition backfire.

As in any learned profession, you just have to know a lot. If the motorcycle is 30 years old, from an obscure maker that went out of business 20 years ago, its tendencies are known mostly through lore. It would probably be impossible to do such work in isolation, without access to a collective historical memory; you have to be embedded in a community of mechanic-antiquarians.

from "The IKEA Effect," by Michael I. Norton, Harvard Business Review, February 2009 :: via more than 95 theses :: first posted here 9 September 2009

When instant cake mixes were introduced, in the 1950s, housewives were initially resistant: The mixes were too easy, suggesting that their labor was undervalued. When manufacturers changed the recipe to require the addition of an egg, adoption rose dramatically. Ironically, increasing the labor involved – making the task more arduous – led to greater liking….

When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. We call this phenomenon the IKEA effect, in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.

In one of our studies we asked people to fold origami and then to bid on their own creations along with other people’s. They were consistently willing to pay more for their own origami. In fact, they were so enamored of their amateurish creations that they valued them as highly as origami made by experts.

We also investigated the limits of the IKEA effect, showing that labor leads to higher valuation only when the labor is fruitful…

from Man, play, and games, by Roger Caillois, 1958, translated by Meyer Barash

A characteristic of play, in fact, is that it creates no wealth or goods, thus differing from work or art. At the end of the game, all can and must start over again at the same point. Nothing has been harvested or manufactured, no masterpiece has been created, no capital has accrued. Play is an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money ... As for the professionals—the boxers, cyclists, jockeys, or actors who earn their living in the ring, track, or hippodrome or on the stage, and who must think in terms of prize, salary, or title—it is clear that they are not players but workers. When they play it is at some other game.

Patience and Fortitude sponges, $9, designed by Reed Seifer for Supermarket :: via swissmiss
from Job Voyager, a sample application powered by the Flare open-source data visualization toolkit :: via GOOD
"It's Too Damn Hot for This !!!," a light test for a BusinessWeek photo shoot, photo by Brad Trent of his assistant Kaz Sakuma, on a roof in the South Bronx,, 18 August 2009 :: via

from Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford, p. 196–197

I like to fix motorcycles more than I like to wire houses (even though I could make about twice as much money wiring houses). Both practices have internal goods that engage my attention, but fixing bikes is more meaningful because not only the fixing but the riding of motorcycles answers to certain intuitions I have about human excellence. People who ride motorcycles have gotten something right, and I want to put myself in the service of it, this thing that we do, this kingly sport that is like war made beautiful.

My job of making motorcycles run right is subservient to the higher good that is achieved when one of my customers leans hard through a corner on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the point of deliberately dragging his well-armored knee on the inside. This moment of faith, daring, and skill casts a sanctifying light over my work. I try to get his steering head bearings as light and silky as they can be without free play, and his swing arm bushings good and tight, because I want him to feel his tires truly. . . .

I try to be a good motorcycle mechanic. This effort connects me to others, in particular to those who exemplify good motorcycling, because it is they who can best judge how well I have realized the functional goods I am aiming at. I wouldn’t even know what those goods are if I didn’t spend time with people who ride at a much higher level than I, and are therefore more discerning of what is good in a motorcycle. So my work situates me in a particular community. The narrow mechanical things I concern myself with are inscribed within a larger circle of meaning; they are in the service of an activity that we recognize as part of a life well lived. This common recognition, which needn’t be spoken, is the basis for a friendship that orients by concrete images of excellence.


[T]here is a whole ideology of choice and freedom and autonomy, and . . . if one pays due attention, these ideals start to seem less like a bubbling up of the unfettered Self and more like something that is urged upon us. This becomes most clear in advertising, where Choice and Freedom and A World Without Limits and Master the Possibilities and all the other heady existentialist slogans of the consumerist Self are invoked with such repetitive urgency that they come to resemble a disciplinary system. Somehow, self-realization and freedom always entail buying something new, never conserving something old.

from Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford, p. 51–52

The truth, of course, is that creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice. It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra). Identifying creativity with freedom harmonizes quite well with the culture of the new capitalism, in which the imperative of flexibility precludes dwelling in any task long enough to develop real competence. . . . We're primed to respond to any invocation of the aesthetics of individuality. The rhetoric of freedom pleases our ears. The simulacrum of independent thought and action that goes by the name of "creativity" trips easily off the tongues of spokespeople for the corporate counterculture. . . .

What is it that we really want for a young person when we give him or her vocational advice? The only creditable answer, it seems to me, is one that avoids utopianism while keeping an eye on the human good: work that engages the human capacities as fully as possible. . . .

So what advice should one give to a young person? If you have a natural bent for scholarship; if you are attracted to the most difficult books out of an urgent need, and can spare four years to devote yourself to them, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. But if this is not the case; if the thought of four more years sitting in a classroom makes your skin crawl, the good news is that you don't have to go through the motions and jump through the hoops for the sake of making a decent living. Even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers. You're likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems or low-level "creative."

excerpt Add a little
from "Brain Gain," by Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 27 April 2009

“One of the most impressive features of being a student is how aware you are of a twenty-four-hour work cycle. When you conceive of what you have to do for school, it’s not in terms of nine to five but in terms of what you can physically do in a week while still achieving a variety of goals in a variety of realms—social, romantic, sexual, extracurricular, résumé-building, academic commitments.” Alex was eager to dispel the notion that students who took Adderall were “academic automatons who are using it in order to be first in their class, or in order to be an obvious admit to law school or the first accepted at a consulting firm.” In fact, he said, “it’s often people”—mainly guys—“who are looking in some way to compensate for activities that are detrimental to their performance.” He explained, “At Harvard, at least, most people are to some degree realistic about it. . . . I don’t think people who take Adderall are aiming to be the top person in the class. I think they’re aiming to be among the best. Or maybe not even among the best. At the most basic level, they aim to do better than they would have otherwise.”

from "THE GOOD BISHOP WEIGHS IN--TOM WRIGHT ON 'SURPRISED BY HOPE'," by Ben Witherington, 13 March 2009 :: all excess capital letters supplied by Ben Witherington

We are not building the kingdom by our own efforts, no. The Kingdom remains God’s gift, new creation, sheer grace. But, as part of that grace already poured out in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit, we are building for the kingdom. I use the image of the eleventh-century stonemason, probably illiterate, working away on one or two blocks of stone according to the orders given to him. He isn’t building the Cathedral; he is building for the Cathedral. When the master mason/architect gathers up all the small pieces of stone at which people have been working away, he will put them into the great edifice which he’s had in mind all along and which he alone can build—but for which we can and must build in the present time. Note 1 Corinthians 3, the Temple-building picture, and the way it relates directly to 1 Cor 15.58: what you do in the Lord is not in vain, because of the resurrection.

I have absolutely no idea how it might be that a great symphony or painting, or the small act of love and gentleness shown to an elderly patient dying in hospital, or Wilberforce campaigning to end the slave trade, or the sudden generosity which makes a street beggar happy all day—how any or all of those find a place in God’s eventual kingdom. He’s the architect, not me. He has given us instructions on the little bits of stone we are meant to be carving. How he puts them together is his business.

a post, 6 February 2009

In a 10-minute video, Randy Nelson, the Dean of Pixar University, talks about how Pixar hires. One thing they look for is people who are interested rather than interesting.

excerpt This old webcam

JU: Now there are certainly many people who will feel that these methods they get paid to practice are proprietary knowledge they wouldn’t want to reveal. My argument is that in a lot of cases, by demonstrating expertise you’ll attract more work than you lose, and that it’ll often be more interesting and rewarding work. What’s your experience?

JL: Both of those ideas do play strongly in the building trades. It’s a real tradition to keep secrets. Going back hundreds and hundreds of years, with the guild systems, there were ways to control the sharing of that kind of knowledge. And it’s still the case. Not every plasterer who can do those decorative Ionic capitals wants everybody to know exactly how they do it. But they do want everybody to know that it can be done.

You’re right, this is how artisans can do good marketing — by letting people know what is involved, by showing some of these methods, and they don’t have to give up all their secrets in order to do that. But you can help people to understand that it’s not just a machine spitting out product, it’s people making stuff with their minds and their hands and their hearts.

from "Mission and Recession," by Skye Jethani, Out of Ur, 10 December 2008

A church with 100 adults would be considered truly remarkable if 40 members each give 5 hours per week of leisure time to the institution’s mission. That would be double what most churches experience, and many pastors would be thrilled to see similar stats in their congregation. But even this would represent less than 2 percent of the church members’ total available time. Is this being missional (however you define the word)? Is that loving God will all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength? . . .

Pastors should be asking what would happen if we built our mission on people’s core time rather than leisure time. What if we could tap into the 80+ hours people spend every week on the job, with their families, and engaging in life’s ordinary responsibilities? Of course, this would require a fundamental shift in the way we think about mission and institution. Here are a few implications:

1. It would mean helping people see the missional dignity of ordinary work; communicating that their jobs matter to Christ and his kingdom, not just what happens within the walls of the church.

2. It would mean elevating the role of family and household relationships as vehicles for spiritual growth and missional engagement. Yes, raising children and caring for aging parents honors God and advances his kingdom just as, if not more, than institutional church programs.

3. It would mean not extracting people from their lives and communities to engage in church programming or committees unless absolutely necessary, but equipping them to live in communion with Christ within the context he has placed them.

4. It would shift the focus of Sunday worship away from mission and outreach to a time of celebration and encouragement for Christians who are engaged in mission the other six days of the week.

5. It would mean deploying church leaders outside the institution to engage members in their native contexts; mentoring and coaching on their turf rather than ours.

6. It would mean a radical adjustment in what the church celebrates—not institutional expansion or programmatic growth, but stories of ordinary people incarnating Christ at home, at work, at school . . . everywhere life happens.

from "Life on the 5," drawings by Stephen Gardener, Urban Sketchers, 13 November 2008
from "Au revoir to long lunch as French tighten belts," by Angelique Chrisafis,, 24 September 2008

It is seen as the mark of civilised eating, distinguishing well-fed French workers from the English who wolf prawn sandwiches at their desks. But France’s tradition of the three-course restaurant lunch is in danger of being killed off by the economic crisis.

Around 3,000 traditional French restaurants, cafes and bars went bust in the first three months of 2008 and unions predict a further rush of closures as people worry about making ends meet. The number of French restaurants going bankrupt rose by 25 percent from last year, and cafes forced to close were up by 56 percent.

Le Figaro’s renowned restaurant critic François Simon said yesterday that French consumers’ frugality had changed national eating habits and forced restaurant owners to the brink. Diners were now skipping the traditional aperitif, avoiding starters, drinking tap water, passing on wine and coffee and—at most—sharing a pudding.

from "Why don't architects ever retire?," by Witold Rybczynski, Slate, 9 September 2008

What is it with architects that they don’t—or can’t—retire? In part, it is the nature of their profession. Architecture is a delicate balancing act between practicality and artistry, and it takes a long time to master all the necessary technical skills as well as to learn how to successfully manipulate the thousands of details that compose even a small building. Requisite skills for the successful practitioner include dealing with clients: individuals, committees, communities, boards. The architect, proposing an as-yet-unbuilt vision of the future, must be able to persuade, and it’s easier to be persuasive if you have a proven track record.

For all these reasons, architectural wunderkinds are few and far between; architects have traditionally hit their stride in late middle age. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was 62 when he started designing the Lake Shore Drive apartments, which became the model for all subsequent steel-and-glass towers; Le Corbusier was 63 when he built the marvelous chapel at Ronchamp, setting the architectural world on its ear; Louis Kahn was 64 when the Salk Institute was built; and Frank Gehry was 68 when he produced the Bilbao Guggenheim. So once you finally get really good at it, why stop?

It’s not so hard for an architect to keep going. Since building is a team endeavor, the old master is surrounded by scores of assistants. For any slowing down that occurs in later years, there are plenty of younger hands and minds to pick up the pace. The younger minds propose, but the master disposes, and the big decisions still benefit from years of practice and experience. From the client’s point of view, since buildings represent large investments, it is safer, by far, to know that a seasoned practitioner is overseeing the process.