Is Big Business Lazy?

A discussion of why big organizations are inherently inefficient and grow more indolent as they grow more profitable, and why we all work harder than we have to.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being lazy. I believe it’s human nature (and natural, period) to only work as hard as you have to. Only shareholders and customers care about ‘productivity’ — that modern euphemism for more work for less pay. With few exceptions, if we could be comfortable doing less work, we would. In an ideal world, we could each work an hour a day, or a day a week, and all live comfortably. So why don’t we?

The main reasons are:

  1. The rich and powerful need us to work hard to keep them in the luxurious style to which they have become accustomed, and
  2. As communities have given way to large corporations and state organizations, our sense of responsibility and duty to that community have been lost, so we need to be forced to work for these big, anonymous organizations, for fear of starving or living in destitution, sickness and misery.

Many of us have sought to escape this wage slavery by becoming entrepreneurs, but thanks to the massive power of large corporate oligopolies, and the equally massive subsidies and tax breaks their political contributions earn them, entrepreneurs need to work even harder to garner the crumbs that are left for them in niches the oligopolies can’t be bothered to corral for themselves.

The irony is that once these oligopolies reach the level of comfort their power earns them, they naturally can, and do, become lazy themselves. Why produce quality locally when you can outsource production to China and let them do all the work? Why innovate when you can simply hire an army of lawyers to patent everything and sue anyone who dares threaten your industry dominance (or just buy them out)? Why provide good service when through bad service you can coerce customers into ‘self-care’?

Nowhere is this trend to big business laziness more evident than in the information and entertainment media. In television’s early days there was an enormous pioneering spirit and sense of responsibility to the viewing public. You had news and public affairs programming that was hard-hitting and investigative. You had dramas that were brilliantly written and so innovative that they embarrassed big-budget Hollywood with their courage and creativity. You had comedies that were genuinely funny, heart-warming and heart-rending in turn.

Today you have timid media unwilling to challenge or investigate government and corporate wrong-doing — the news is endless sound bites, the same video is repeated on every network — shared by the networks to cut costs, and focus is on cheap, easy stories — the crime blotter and celebrity scandals. Instead of well-crafted drama you have ‘reality TV’ — cheap, contrived, improvisational ‘staged’ drama with no message or information value spewed out by unimaginative producers and delivered by semi-literate amateurs. And as I have written before, and as a new article by James Martin (not available online) entitled The Future of Comedy: It’s Not Even Funny points out, ‘neo-funny’ comedies feature cheap humiliation and embarrassment of characters “that make the audience cringe rather than laugh”, in place of wit and humour that takes skill and genuine effort to create.

In short, the media (of all genres, not just television) have gotten lazy, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. Of course this is due in part to the fact that this strategy minimizes costs and hence increases profits, which is what modern corporations, alas, are all about.. But, bottom line, there is no right-wing conspiracy in the media — the right-wing slant exists because it’s easier and cheaper to pander to that audience segment, and there is today no sense of responsibility to either inform or truly entertain the public.

This is not to suggest that people, even executives, in large corporations do not work hard. On the contrary, because their ‘productivity’ has come at the expense of mid-management and now top management jobs, those who remain are working harder than ever. And large organizations. as John Ralston Saul has demonstrated, are inherently bureaucratic and inefficient, so an enormous amount of largely wasted time and unproductive work is required just to keep them from sinking into a bureaucratic quagmire.

So ultimately, no one benefits — as shareholders and customers we are getting higher profits and lower prices, but as customers we are also getting lower quality, and as workers we are getting lower wages, often, when we are laid off, as entrepreneurs, and often despite working longer hours.

Interestingly, there is a segment of the entrepreneurial workplace that has found the best of all worlds in this chaotic and overworked economic system. These are the people who have founded Natural Enterprises, keying in on niches the oligopolies cannot, or cannot be bothered, to fill, working modest hours for comfortable wages with low risk and 100% control over their company and destiny. They are true models for the rest of us, in large and small organizations alike — they work only as hard as they must, producing goods and services that customers genuinely need, at a fair price, and loving every moment of their work.

Are they lazy? Damned right. They know there are more important things in life than work, and that no one on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at the office.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking large organizations for being lazy while praising entrepreneurs for the same thing. They’re both rewarded for what they do, and it would be illogical to expect them to behave otherwise.

What this indicates, however, is that  the economic and legal system that produces this dysfunctional behaviour is seriously broken. The answer is to change the  economic and legal system to discourage oligopolies and offshoring, and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

Would the world be better if we all worked shorter hours, for our own businesses, for more modest ROIs, trading less ‘stuff’ for more time for ourselves, our families and our communities? I think it would.

Cartoon by Robert Weber from the New Yorker. I know I posted it last week, but it’s so good and so a propos of this post I couldn’t resist a re-post.

This entry was posted in How the World Really Works. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is Big Business Lazy?

  1. Berlin says:

    Sir, this article is so insightful. I hope you can publish it somewhere else besides this blog, so more people can read it.

  2. Right Berlin, that’s exactly how I feel about this article. Spread it over the entire world!!! Big companies still are stuck on the “value/cost” and profit-oriented trade-off, thinking about customers as mere stupid consumers and employees as another kind of expensive resources. The next Big Thing, as the Blue Ocean Strategy perfectly points out, is more a kind of “value for life” trade-off that will force companies to consider new ways of producing goods and services. They’ll be judged on their reputation (history, employees’ satisfaction, work environment, quality of products/services) by their own customers. This is why entrepreneurs will have to be much more aware of human and environmental factors within enterprises, raising the awareness about true human aspirations and needs at work. Are we still ready to work for others that just sit on their bud, waiting for the cash to pop up? Are we ready to literally die at work? Fuck shareholders and their lack of long-term vision and passive contribution to make this world a festering heap of shit!”Would the world be better if we all worked shorter hours, for our own businesses, for more modest ROIs, trading less ‘stuff’ for more time for ourselves, our families and our communities?” Sure Dave, we’d live a perfect life, leaving aside from all work-related stress disorders. And managers would finally realize that they were all searching for an illusion up to now. In France, some people even encourage others to simply stop working, get out of the system and find out a different kind of life accomplishment: (in French)Concerning Media companies, you’re right too. One of the French private TV channel’s President (Patrick Le Lay) recently admitted in a very controversial and straightforward interview that “the job of such TV channel is basically to help Coca-Cola to sell their products (…) In order to make sure that an advertisement is perceived by people, we need to make their brain ‘available’ to it. Our TV programs

  3. – “The rich and powerful need us to work hard to keep them in the luxurious style to which they have become accustomed” you are right.Point 2: you are right too, but every time you talked about “US” who you are talking about?, For meas a liberal guy i am (and i supoose that for you too) “US” means HUMANITY all the human beens as individuals not as groups, tribes, sindicates or even nations right? or i am wrong? i do this explanationsbecause i realize that everytime you talk about “US” just think in canadians and event worst just think in the pople of your neightborhood!!!!!!! one of the biggest values that should be globalized is humanity and solidarity that is to feel everybodies needs as our owns.You always attack the outsourcing procees instead of use it, in economics there are no good or bad acts just effects to this acts and you decide it (by knowledge) if you use it or not by example: you are always talking about innovation isnt it? so why dont you just design something and send to China, India or Latin America to manufacture it and sell it wherever you want? but due your lack of vision you despite globalization and obviuosly you pay 5 dollars to a canadian manufacturer instead to pay 2 cents to a Latin american manufacturer and keep your produt in the market is not right? Why should you pay mor money for something you can get cheaper, is not that insane?? you always talked about your worries aboout 3 world, why dont you help us with jobs, desing and ideas instead of tips and alms?? why dont you paidto a Mexican engineer (as good as any canadian or French or German because math and physics are the same all over the world) 2 cents per product instead to pay another of “YOURS” 5 dollars for the same quality and product? Being entrepreneur is about guerrilla strategies, hard working, risks and imagination if you are unable to play that game get off and keep your self making richer to those huge corporations, but if you accept the challenge globalization can be a great opportunity, as you have said your niches and opportunities are those that huge corporationsdont want (or cant) reach and, why dont you give more work to my brothers in the 3 world?? why dont keep fighting in the market war using their weapons? (globalization, offshoring, etc…) innovation is about great ideas that “creates money” and after that become companies that create wealth for thepeople (it does not matter where this people is china, Bangladesh, this is one world and we have to help each other no matter where you are physically why are you so blind?) if big companies are RISK AVERSE perfect!!! thanks GOD!!!!! there is our OPORTUNITY!!!!!! Lets take the risk!!!!! and stop bitching about why they are rich and create wealth to share in the better way we think.Yves Grassioulet as i presumme for your comments you are or french or at least francophone so you should know very well what i am talking about, France just have denied the opportunity to other french people and the entire world to get better jobs and getting products cheaper refusing the EUpropossal, you prefer to be traped by some sindical guys who prefer working less and selling products very expensive avoiding the competence and deniying to poorest porple to buy their VERY EXPENSIVE products instead of oppen their borders allowing more competence to people who know how to work faster and better.HAvent you realice that localims is stupid? you say you are liberals but i cant see any liberal comments here, you are protectionist, localist, blinds and selfish….. if you think that being close is so great go to cuba, to Korea or if you dont want to be that extermist come to Mexico and see what proteccionism, close borders and a HUGE bureacracy does to the people.When i say “US” im talking about human beens i dont care if they are Canadian, Russian, French or from Nicaragua, if they have great ideas, great products they should be able to comercialice it wherever they want to, if they are the best and create bennefitsfor all come on lets do it!!! i am sorry but i just cant see the people around and call them “US” to me “US” have a broader meaning means “THE WHOLE WORLD”.

  4. Dave – I am beginning to believe, if enough people get a chance to read what you have to say, you really CAN “Save The World”! :)

Comments are closed.