Fireflies and Algorithms

fireflies

We’ve been looking at workfare — the legislated link between jobs and the social safety net. An article published last week  — Fireflies And Algorithms — The Coming Explosion Of Companies[1] brought the specter of workfare to the legal profession.

Reading it, my life flashed before my eyes, beginning with one particular memory:  me, a newly-hired associate, resplendent in my three-piece gray pinstripe suit, joining the 4:30 queue at the Secretary of State’s office, clutching hot-off-the-word-processor Articles of Incorporation and a firm check for the filing fee, fretting whether I’d get my copy time-stamped by closing time. We always had to file today, for reasons I don’t remember.

Entity choice and creation spanned transactional practice:  corporate, securities, mergers and acquisitions, franchising, tax, intellectual property, real property, commercial leasing….  The practice enjoyed its glory days when LLC’s were invented, and when a raft of new entity hybrids followed… well, that was an embarrassment of riches.

It was a big deal to set up a new entity and get it just right — make sure the correct ABC acquired the correct XYZ, draw the whole thing up in x’s and o’s, and finance it with somebody else’s money. To do all that required strategic alliances with brokers, planners, agents, promoters, accountants, investment bankers, financiers…. Important people initiated the process, and there was a sense of substantiality and permanence about it, with overtones of mahogany and leather, brandy and cigars. These were entities that would create and engage whole communities of real people doing real jobs to deliver real goods and services to real consumers. Dissolving an entity was an equally big deal, requiring somber evaluation and critical reluctance, not to mention more time-stamped paperwork.

Fireflies And Algorithms sweeps it all away — whoosh! just like that!– and describes its replacement:  an inhuman world of here-and-gone entities created and dissolved without the intent of all those important people or all that help from all those people in the law and allied businesses. (How many jobs are we talking about, I wonder — tens, maybe hundreds of thousands?) The new entities will do to choice of entity practice what automated trading did to the stock market, as described in this UCLA Law Review article:

“Modern finance is becoming an industry in which the main players are no longer entirely human. Instead, the key players are now cyborgs: part machine, part human. Modern finance is transforming into what this Article calls cyborg finance.”

In that “cyborg finance” world,

“[The “enhanced velocity” of automated, algorithmic trading] has shortened the timeline of finance from days to hours, to minutes, to seconds, to nanoseconds. The accelerated velocity means not only faster trade executions but also faster investment turnovers. “At the end of World War II, the average holding period for a stock was four years. By 2000, it was eight months. By 2008, it was two months. And by 2011 it was twenty-two seconds….

Fireflies And Algorithms says the business entity world is in for the same dynamic, and therefore we can expect:

“… what we’re calling ‘firefly companies’ — the blink-and-you-miss-it scenario brought about by ultra-short-life companies, combined with registers that remove records once a company has been dissolved, meaning that effectively they are invisible.”

Firefly companies are formed by algorithms, not by human initiative. Each is created for a single transaction — one contract, one sale, one span of ownership. They’re peer-reviewed, digitally secure, self-executing, self-policing, and trans-jurisdictional — all for free or minimal cost. And all of that is memorialized not in SOS or SEC filings but in blockchain.

“So what does all this mean?” the article asks:

“How do we make sense of a world where companies — which are, remember, artificial legal constructs created out of thin air to have legal personality — can come into existence for brief periods of time, like fireflies in the night, perform or collaborate on an act, and then disappear? Where there are perhaps not 300 million companies, but 1 billion, or 10 billion?”

Think about it. And then — if it hasn’t happened yet — watch your life flash before your eyes.

Or if not your life, at least your job. Consider, for example, a widely-cited 2013 study that predicted 57% of U.S. jobs could be lost to automation. Even if that prediction is only half true, that’s still a lot of jobs. And consider a recent LawGeex contest, in which artificial intelligence absolutely smoked an elite group of transactional lawyers:

“In a landmark study, 20 top US corporate lawyers with decades of experience in corporate law and contract review were pitted against an AI. Their task was to spot issues in five Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), which are a contractual basis for most business deals.

“The study, carried out with leading legal academics and experts, saw the LawGeex AI achieve an average 94% accuracy rate, higher than the lawyers who achieved an average rate of 85%. It took the lawyers an average of 92 minutes to complete the NDA issue spotting, compared to 26 seconds for the LawGeex AI. The longest time taken by a lawyer to complete the test was 156 minutes, and the shortest time was 51 minutes.”

These developments significantly expand the pool of people potentially needing help through bad times. Currently, that means workfare. But how can you have workfare if technology is wiping out jobs?

More on that next time.

[1] The article was published by OpenCorporates, which according to its website is “the world’s largest open database of the corporate world and winner of the Open Data Business Award.”

Utopia For Realists Cont’d.

“Like humor and satire, utopias throw open the windows of the mind.”

Rutger Bregman

utopia for realistsContinuing  with Rutger Bregman’s analysis of utopian thinking that we began last week:

“Let’s first distinguish between two forms of utopian thought. The first is the most familiar, the utopia of the blueprint. Instead of abstract ideals, blueprints consist of immutable rules that tolerate no discussion.

“There is, however, another avenue of utopian thought, one that is all but forgotten. If the blueprint is a high-resolution photo, then this utopia is just a vague outline. It offers not solutions but guideposts. Instead of forcing us into a straitjacket, it inspires us to change. And it understands that, as Voltaire put it, the perfect is the enemy of the good. As one American philosopher has remarked, ‘any serious utopian thinker will be made uncomfortable by the very idea of the blueprint.’

“It was in this spirit that the British philosopher Thomas More literally wrote the book on utopia (and coined the term). More understood that utopia is dangerous when taken too seriously. ‘One needs to be believe passionately and also be able to see the absurdity of one’s own beliefs and laugh at them,’ observes philosopher and leading utopia expert Lyman Tower Sargent. Like humor and satire, utopias throw open the windows of the mind. And that’s vital. As people and societies get progressively older they become accustomed to the status quo, in which liberty can become a prison, and the truth can become lies. The modern creed — or worse, the belief that there’s nothing left to believe in — makes us blind to the shortsightedness and injustice that still surround us every day.”

Thus the lines are drawn between utopian blueprints grounded in dogma vs. utopian ideals arising from sympathy and compassion. Both begin with good intentions, but the pull of entropy is stronger with the former — at least, so says Rutger Bregman, and he’s got good company in Sir Thomas More and others. Blueprints require compliance, and its purveyors are zealously ready to enforce it. Ideals on the other hand inspire creativity, and creativity requires acting in the face of uncertainty, living with imperfection, responding with resourcefulness and resilience when best intentions don’t play out, and a lot of just plain showing up and grinding it out. I have a personal bias for coloring outside the lines, but I must confess that my own attempts to promote utopian workplace ideals have given me pause.

For years, I led interactive workshops designed to help people creatively engage with their big ideas about work and wellbeing — variously tailored for CLE ethics credits or for general audiences. I realized recently that, reduced to their essence, they employed the kinds of ideals advocated by beatnik-era philosopher and metaphysicist Alan Watts. (We met him several months ago — he’s the “What would you do if money were no object?” guy. )

alan watts cartoon

The workshops generated hundreds of heartwarming “this was life-changing” testimonies, but I could never quite get over this nagging feeling that the participants mostly hadn’t achieved escape velocity, and come next Monday they would be back to the despair of “But everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way.”

I especially wondered about the lawyers, for whom “I hate my job but love my paycheck” was a recurrent theme. The Post WWII neoliberal economic tide floated the legal profession’s boat, too, but prosperity has done little for lawyer happiness and well-being. True, we’re seeing substantial quality-of-life change in the profession recently (which I’ve blogged about in the past), but most have been around the edges, while overall lawyers’ workplace reality remains a bulwark of what one writer calls the “over-culture” — the overweening force of culturally-accepted norms about how things are and should be — and the legal over-culture has stepped in line with the worldwide workplace trend of favoring wealth over a sense of meaning and value.

Alan Watts’ ideals were widely adopted by the burgeoning self-help industry, which also rode the neoliberal tide to prosperous heights. Self-help tends to be long on inspiration and short on grinding, and sustainable creative change requires large doses of both. I served up both in the workshops, but still wonder if they were just too… well, um…beatnik … for the law profession. I’ll never know — the guy who promoted the workshops retired, and I quit doing them. If nothing else, writing this series has opened my eyes to how closely law practice mirrors worldwide economic and workplace dynamics.  We’ll look more at that in the coming weeks.

Professional Paradigms New and Old (2): You Had Me At The Creds

I met a friend for a beer last Thursday, and told him about my blog post that day about the future (actually the end) of the professions.

“I’ve got a story for you about that,” he said. “I thought now that I’m retired, I should get my affairs in order.”

I practiced estate planning, so my ears perked up. He told me about all the useful information, forms, and software he’d found online, also about the estate planning seminars he’d attended and the presenting lawyers’ “don’t try this at home” pitches. And his incredulous response to their fee quotes “for things I could do myself.”

He’s newly retired from an illustrious teaching career — an Ivy League grad, six published books, awards and accolades everywhere. He has a huge and healthy respect for the professions and professionalism. And he had more to say.

“In education, it’s gotten to the point where it’s, why even bother to go to school? It’s all available online. You can learn what you want, your own way.”

Then he paused. “But I still wouldn’t go to a surgeon who didn’t have the credentials.”

Ah, the credentials. Is that why people still go to law school, med school, get a CPA, a teaching certificate?

Yes, in part, but the world of professional credentials is changing. I talked about this in a post last March called Strange Bedfellows:  Commercial Law and Legal Ethics. Here’s an excerpt:

“Peer-to-peer is what’s driving the new sharing economy. Consider this from a recent article in Time Magazine:

“The key to [the sharing economy] was the discovery that while we totally distrust strangers, we totally trust people — significantly more than we trust corporations or governments. Many sharing-company founders have one thing in common:  they worked at eBay and, in bits and pieces, recreated that company’s trust and safety division. Rather than rely on insurance and background checks, its innovation was getting both the provider and the user to rate each other, usually with one to five stars. That eliminates the few bad actors who made everyone too nervous to deal with strangers.”

In that post, I made these two predictions (among others):

  • The peer-to-peer dynamic will prevail in significant economic sectors — including the professional service sector of which the legal profession is a part.
  • The resulting consumer satisfaction data will have a curious side effect as a new kind of legal ethics watchdog.

As for the latter, I said this:

“Peer-to-peer is the ultimate in self-policing, which makes its extension to legal ethics unlikely but logical. Rule 8.3 — the duty to report unethical behavior among our peers — has long been a part of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but has been more honored in the breach than the observance. The new, democratized marketplace will take this matter into its own hands.”

In other words. the professional paradigm will shift — in fact, is already shifting — to include peer-to-peer review as an alternative form of professional credentialing.

True, the typical consumer still wants law school and bar admittance credentials for the legal equivalent of surgery, but for the rest, we’re seeing a major shift in consumer attitudes toward my friend’s — to the point where the consumer is more likely to buy from someone (lawyer or not, which is its own topic) who gets 20 five-star ratings for estate planning offered at a reasonable price (which my buddy gave as 10% of what the seminar lawyers were charging). They’ve got the creds the consumer wants… just a different kind.

Like it or not, it’s happening out there in the New Economy marketplace, and we’ll see more of it in our house. We’re not all the way to lawyers posting client ratings on a five-star scale yet, but one day… I’ll bet it happens. I also bet that day will come way sooner than most lawyers would care to predict.

For Bill Gates’ take on the value of a college education credentials, check out his post yesterday on LinkedIn Pulse.

And for a toe dip into the New Economy, take a look here and here.

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4  33%

 

Check out this collection of last year’s Future of Law blog posts. It’s a FREE download. Also included is the Culture of Law series from the second half of 2015. Click this link or the cover for downloading details.

The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ (Part Two)

Legal Times banner (2)

(The following is taken from the Preface to a just-published collection of my blog posts from the past year. This is the second of a two-part miniseries.)

The Culture of Law

Having followed new practice models and technologies all the way to a new role for the law in human culture, I stumbled across one more stunning realization:  In order for the legal entrepreneurial practice models and technologies to sustain themselves within a context still recognizable as what we consider to be the legal profession today, a new law culture would need to arise with them. Without a new law culture, the new law would be patched onto the old version of the legal profession and the garment would tear, leaving what was left of the profession to degenerate into non-visionary squabbling over issues like non-lawyer ownership of legal services and multi-jurisdictional legal entities. The big picture would be lost in a myopic preoccupation with making new developments fit existing paradigms. Meanwhile the larger legal paradigm would keep shifting, resulting in a haphazard and messy arrival.

That realization led to a follow up series on The Culture of Law, which occupied the second half of 2015. Following Prof. Austin’s lead and my personal interest in neuroscience, I examined how culture is formed from the inside out — beginning literally with how lawyers’ brains are re-wired in law school and entry into legal practice. Among other things, I learned that culture is formed and changed in individual brains, and is transmitted from one brain to another until the Tipping Point is reached and the collective brains of the culture find themselves wondering how it is that the old culture seems so entirely gone and the new one so entirely present. When that day comes, the New Normal will be the only normal some people in the law culture have ever known. Pause for a moment and try to get your head around what that would be like, if that were true of you.

Why this collection?

Dylan album for book coverYou noticed, of course, that its cover and title mimic Bob Dylan’s seminal 60’s album and its anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Referencing Dylan and the 60’s is not a me-too grab for social revolutionary status, it’s a recognition of the social revolution that is already upon us. Something much, much bigger than new practice technologies and non-lawyer ownership of legal service providers is shaking underfoot. The practice models and cultural dynamics that make up the legal profession’s status quo today simply will not be with us in 50 years. Some won’t be here in 20, maybe not in 5 or 10. Some are gone already. As they disappear — one by one, and in batches — a new world of law will emerge to replace them. And when it does, the law’s role in human society — and thus human society itself — will have changed with it. All of that will happen though a process that is evolutionary, inevitable, and already well underway — begun, literally, in the re-wiring of law student and lawyer brains.

And yet…

In the midst of all of this seismic change, there is yet one essential element waiting to fully play its hand:  us — that is, those of us who inhabit the legal profession, who consider it an essential milieu of our work and our lives, and who care enough to lend a hand in creating its new future and culture, which wait for our participation to bring them fully into existence. The question is not whether the new future and culture of law will arrive, it is whether we’ll lend a hand in bringing it about.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Suddenly Dylan’s lyric has new relevance:

“Your old road is rapidly fading/
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”

The lyric is both a challenge and an invitation, which brings us back to that question about the legal profession’s curious indifference to its own welfare. As it turns out, our neurological wiring has such an innate allegiance to status quo — even to our own detriment — that most of us simply won’t get the invitation, or won’t open it if we do. But for those who do, and who choose to engage with the massive professional and societal developments already underway, change will become not merely evolutionary, but revolutionary. For them, the times will become a once-in-forever passion and opportunity.

Revolutions spawned in changing times require extraordinary visionary courage, expressed ultimately not merely in ideas but in action. Which is why both the Future of Law and Culture of Law blog series ended the same way, with the same insight:  “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And why both offer us the same choice:

Will we rise to the challenge and create the future of law
and a new culture of law to support it?

Or will we simply hunker down and go along for the ride,
letting the unpredictable forces of cultural evolution handle it for us,
at the risk of ending up somewhere we never intended to go?

I would be delighted if this collection helps us to frame our response.

(The quote “The best way to predict the future is to create it” has been ascribed to a lot of different people, including Peter Drucker and Alan Kay. But according to the Quote Investigator, it appeared first in 1963 in the book Inventing the Future by Dennis Gabor, who was later awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in holography.)

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4 33%The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ is the second collection of Kevin’s blog posts focuses on the future and culture of law, including insights on technology, innovation, neuro-culture, and entrepreneurship. Extensively researched, visionary, and written in a crisp, conversational style by a man on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ (Part One)

Legal Times banner (2)

The following is taken from the Preface to a just-published collection of my blog posts from the past year.

Killing Them Softly 

Law enlightenment 2nd edition 33%My book Law, Enlightenment, and Other States of Mind (now available in a revised second edition) collected several years of my blog posts for the Legal Connection. It ended with a series called Killing Them Softly, featuring the work of University of Denver Law professor Debra S. Austin. (See Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress And How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance. See also her article Drink Like a Lawyer.)

Research studies and media stories about lawyer depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are legion, but Prof. Austin’s Killing Them Softly sounded a new kind of alarm through its application of neuroscience to the chronic stresses of law school and legal practice and its depiction of how law students and lawyers suffer cognitive brain damage that impairs them from doing precisely what their studies and practices require.

How’s that working for you, if you’re a client? Or an educator? Or a spouse? Or any number of other people with vested interests in law student and lawyer health and performance?

The more I blogged about Killing Them Softly, the more I wondered:

If we know we’re hurting ourselves, then why don’t we stop it?

We Are The Borg

Resistance-is-futile-Picard-BorgI’d blogged before about the legal world’s confounding indifference to its own welfare. This time, I broached the topic in a short series called Saving Ourselves From Ourselves, using Star Trek’s bad guys The Borg to lighten the inquiry. I mean, it was the end of the year (2014) and holiday time, after all. My attempt at levity didn’t help. Not really. The topic was too disturbing and the Borg “you will be assimilated” metaphor too appropriate. The law profession’s entrenched willingness to tolerate and continue unhealthy and performance-impairing practices wasn’t going away that easily.

Meanwhile, I’d noticed that an emerging subset of the legal profession seemed to be having a more upbeat experience. These were the new legal entrepreneurs, who seemed to have cornered the market on inspired action and were busy creating a bold new future for law practice. And yet, from what I could tell, the mainstream of lawyers remained unaware of the seismic shift in the legal profession happening right under their feet. They simply didn’t have ears to hear or eyes to see; they didn’t and apparently couldn’t feel the tremors. Once again I wondered:  Why not?

The Future of Law

I had written about trends in law practice before as well, but armed with new research, I launched a new series at the start of the new year (2015) on The Future of Law. And then, for some reason I couldn’t articulate then and still can’t, I decided to play like a futurist and predict where the future of law was going. The predictions flowed easily once I focused on the larger trends driving the entrepreneurial initiatives, such as globalization, commoditization, democratization, and big data. Those trends were mostly finding expression in new legal practice models and technologies, and in hindsight my predictions in that arena frankly weren’t all that remarkable, although they certainly seemed so to me when I wrote them.

No surprise, then, that one week I would predict something, only to discover within short order an example of it. No, I hadn’t developed a new gift of clairvoyance, I was only tapping into what was already happening. In fact, I was fast being left behind:  not only were the legal entrepreneurs busy creating a new future for law practice, but both legal and popular media were equally busy covering it. I had just come late to the party.

I helped myself liberally to the news as I wrote my blog, but then a more stunning realization about the future of law began to dawn in my awareness. This realization came to me in a series of waves, each amplifying the others:

  • The new practice models and technologies wouldn’t only change how law is practiced, they would invariably re-create lawyers themselves — who they are, and what they do.
  • As a result, a new kind of lawyer would engage in a new kind of law practice, alongside a new kind of legal expert who wouldn’t even qualify to be called a lawyer in today’s regulatory environment.
  • Alongside both of them, consumers (no longer “clients”) would themselves also practice law in a wave of legal DIY aided by artificial intelligence algorithms engineered by cyber geeks and served up online.
  • The combined impetus of all these developments would create a new kind of law— new in both substantive content and in how it is created, shaped, communicated, and applied.
  • In particular, this new kind of law would be created and disseminated, and would grow and change, by processes other than the historical reliance on legislation and appellate precedent and lawyer-to-client communication.
  • Finally, the advent of a new kind of law would transform the law’s role as a foundational institution in the larger cultural context in which it lives and moves and has its being.

Seismic change, indeed.

Continued next time.

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4 33%The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ is the second collection of Kevin’s blog posts focuses on the future and culture of law, including insights on technology, innovation, neuro-culture, and entrepreneurship. Extensively researched, visionary, and written in a crisp, conversational style by a man on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

 

What’s Up For the New Year

New year party hatThe past couple years, this blog has been mostly about profession-wide trends. When it began a few years ago, it focused on personal development. This year, we’re going back to that beginning, within some blurry lines.

Researching law practice trends in the past year, I’ve discovered great sources such as Above the Law, The Lawyerist, and The Likeable Lawyer. There’s also mindfulness evangelist Jeena Cho, and law futurist par excellence, Richard Susskind. And right in my own backyard there’s the IAALS (The Institute For the Advancement of the American Legal System). There are plenty more where those came from.

Knowing that all those sources are out there, doing such a great job at what they do, I’ve grown reluctant to use this blog to simply recycle their material. I recommend them to you if you want to beef up your list of sources with a finger on the pulse of the paradigm shift that’s happening in the legal world these days.

Beyond those law-specific sources, I read and research a lot about creativity and innovation, health and wellbeing, consciousness and personal growth. I’ve noticed that, in the realm of personal development, the genre lines have gotten blurry. Entrepreneurs talk about mindfulness, humanities profs cite quantum physics, and everybody talks about neuroscience, so that now we have all these hyphenated new disciplines:  neuro-culture, neuro-anthropology, neuro-biology…. I haven’t seen nuero-legal yet, but I’ll bet it’s coming.

The Information Age is serving up a rich cross-fertilization of multi-disciplinary ideas. Entrepreneurial innovation takes cues from artistic creation, business builds itself around social causes, and leadership thought leaders borrow the language of the archetypal inner hero’s journey.

While some groups around the world are darkening into fundamentalist rage, there’s a counter movement that’s waking up moment-by-moment into a bigger, bolder, brighter future that — guess what? — even has lawyers in it.

Imagine that.

No, I mean really. Use your imagination to get your heart and soul around a bigger, bolder, brighter future for lawyers and the law.

Feels pretty good.

That’s where we’re going this year — into that cross-disciplinary brightness. And along the way, because everybody likes a good story, I plan to tell more of them. Many will be my own, and why not? Classic literature has known forever that where we’re most personal we’re also most universal, and I’ve learned to trust that my stories have the same effect. I’ll be honest, I’ve been a reluctant learner on this point, but I think I’m getting it. So we’re going there, too.

That’s what’s up for the new year. But before we go entirely there, I’m going to take the next two weeks to put one final exclamation point on last year’s Future of Law and Culture of Law series, and invite your participation in The Moral of the Story one last time. That’s not entirely a digression, though, because if you accept that invitation, it will become the wildest ride of personal development you could (not) ever imagine.

‘Til then, thanks for reading, and see you next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

The Culture of Law (11): Time is Money

We’ve been talking about money, now let’s talk about time — a natural segue for a profession that logs value in 6 minute increments.

Working long hours is a law cultural norm, and never mind that it’s no secret any more that working too much is counterproductive. This Time article featured popular author, TED talker, and professor Brené Brown:

“[Ms Brown] talks about how people use the idea of being “crazy busy” as a sort of armor—a justification for not bothering to pause, evaluate what’s going on in your life, and reconsider decisions regarding lifestyle, work, family, and perhaps whether it’s really necessary to be ‘crazy busy.’

“Also, she reveals that, for the most part, highly successful people understand that perfectionism is not healthy and ultimately gets in the way of progress.”

Also never mind that overworked unhappiness abounds on both ends of the legal profession’s financial food chain. In this New Yorker op-ed piece a few weeks back, Columbia Law professor Tim Wu fingered the tyranny of technology as the culprit, citing the long hours of litigation as an example.

“Consider the litigation system, in which the hours worked by lawyers at large law firms are a common complaint. If dispute resolution is the social function of the law, what we have is far from the most efficient way to reach fair or reasonable resolutions. Instead, modern litigation can be understood as a massive, socially unnecessary arms race.

“In older times, the limits of technology and a kind of professionalism created a natural limit to such arms races, but today neither side can stand down, lest it put itself at a competitive disadvantage.

“A typical analysis blames greedy partners for crazy hours, but the irony is that the people at the top are often as unhappy and overworked as those at the bottom: it is a system that serves almost no one. Moreover, our many improvements in the technologies of productivity make the arms-race problem worse. The fact that employees are now always reachable eliminates what was once a natural barrier of sorts, the idea that work was something that happened during office hours or at the physical office. With no limits, work becomes like a football game where the whistle is never blown.”

We may not like what we’re doing — see, e.g., this Above the Law blog post re:  Prof. Wu’s article — but we do it anyway. Why?

Barry Goldman, arbitrator, mediator, and author of The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators, cites a psychological trait cognitive scientists call “sphexishness” to explain our stubbornness. You can read about it in this LA Times op-ed piece.

Sphexishness? Maybe. Or maybe unhappiness and a show me the money mentality are embedded in the larger context of American workplace culture. The following is from a Pyschology Today article called “Counterproductive Productivity,” by marketing professor Raj Raghuna:

“I don’t know about you, but it seems that the average American doesn’t really enjoy work. If the reason we work harder is because we enjoy our work, then most of us would be happy to go back to work, and we would have restaurants that are called TGIM (Thank Goodness It’s Monday) and not TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday).

“No, we don’t work harder because we enjoy our work. Rather, we work harder so that we can earn more money, and so that we can feel, at some level, more important and more successful… And once we get on that gravy train, it’s difficult to get off it.”

Whatever the cause, we seem to have a problem here, Houston, and next time we’ll look at yet another reason why we avoid addressing it.