Episode 21: Billionaires, Oxygen, & The Purpose Of Work

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Josh Allan Dykstra is a recognized thought leader on the future of work and company culture design. He is an author, TEDx speaker, and the CEO of #lovework, where they use technology to help heal burnout and create astonishingly great places to work.

Today, I want to talk about the purpose of business, which I’m going to talk about synonymously as the purpose of work.

For a few solid decades at least, and quite possibly much longer, we’ve collectively viewed the purpose of work as one thing:

To make money.

Look a little deeper at this topic and you’ll find some embedded academic thinking that takes it a step further and clarifies who business is supposed to make money FOR — this is captured in the thrilling phrase “maximize shareholder return.”

If you don’t speak “finance,” this just means the people who own the business — work exists to make more money for them.

It doesn’t exist to make more money for the people actually doing the work, but for the owners.

Now whether you agree with this or not, practically speaking it’s how the system works. 

We’re getting a front row seat to watch this right now as billionaire shareholders get richer while millions of workers file for unemployment. At the time of this recording, the actual figure is $637 billion dollars — this is how much money U.S. billionaire shareholders have added to their fortunes just since the beginning of the pandemic. 

By the time you listen to this, that figure WILL be larger. 

Is this the purpose of work? Simply to make a small group of people more wealthy?

Whether you like it or not, right now, this IS  the practical purpose of work in reality… but, of course, I don’t think it should be.

And I’m guessing you don’t either.

In our business culture today, we have a relentless focus towards more — buying more, selling more, having more.

We’ve even codified this unending expectation into our work lives in the form of things like “quarterly returns.” The explicit and implicit expectation set upon our most public organizations is unending growth, quarter after quarter, year after year, forever and ever.

More, more, more.

But we live on a planet with finite resources. Why do we think infinite returns are even possible, much less sustainable…?

There’s something deeply unhealthy about this, and we can see this more clearly when we look for a parallel in the biological world.

In the natural world, there IS something that provides unending growth and ceaseless consumption of resources: we call it cancer.

I’m going to say that probably isn’t the example we should be modeling our work after.

To help us put things into a better perspective, I want to offer this analogy…

Profit is to business as oxygen is to life.

No sane person would argue that oxygen isn’t important — vital; essential even — for life.

But oxygen is not the point of life. It’s not the purpose of life.

In fact, if someone were to get confused about this and start living as though the accumulation of more oxygen WAS the point of life, we’d likely help them seek immediate medical attention.

You see, with this warped perspective, they would start building bigger and bigger tanks to store extra oxygen, and when local limitations would prohibit more biggering, they’d find ways to store their oxygen in tanks overseas. 

The laws of the land would eventually prohibit their ever-expanding storage habits, so they’d hire lobbyists to change governmental laws so they could go get more. 

Eventually, they’d try to steal (in “legal” ways, of course) oxygen market-share from smaller or unwitting “competitors.”

And then, to top it all off, the people actually building the bigger tanks would be given just the bare minimum amount of oxygen they need to keep building. It’s fine, they can gasp for air while constructing the storage tanks to hold the thing they need to live just so the owners can have a larger oxygen portfolio.

In short, these oxygen tycoons would structure their whole lives entirely around the pursuit of more oxygen… but 


No one needs all that oxygen. 

A person couldn’t breathe all that oxygen if they lived 10 lifetimes.

When people endlessly collect things we label it a psychological disorder called hoarding.

When business owners and shareholders do this with MONEY… we put them on magazine covers.

Right now the purpose of business is to make more money, and not for everyone, but for a very small group of people.

It shouldn’t be this, but it is.

It’s completely nonsensical. It’s a made up game that serves literally almost no one. 

I truly believe future humans will look back at the money hoarding we are doing right now as a form of insanity.

The point of life isn’t to collect oxygen.

The point of work shouldn’t be collecting money.

If you agree, please share this message — the more of us who understand this, the faster we’ll see a work revolution.

See you next time.

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