Happy little optimisers we

Maslow's hierarchy Not

I know I took the notion of optimising to heart as I learned it – implicitly – from my economist Dad. And there are those who might argue that the idea in economics came from the society around economists as the discipline came into being.

But now it seems optimising as the heart of life seems to have become ubiquitous. I just ran into a tweet which proudly displays the graphic to the left.

I also know that the advice, such as it is, embodied in the accompanying graphic is fair enough. A bit of prudence about life. One could do a lot worse. (Then again, is it not pretty obvious? Graphics induce a kind of ‘fake’ aha I’ve found – something I confess to exploiting in my own rhetorical tricks during presentations) But at the level of advice there’s also something strangely anodyne and sad about it as an embodiment of aspiration.

Traditional notions of how one might decide on one’s path in life or one’s career – at least since the rise of modern times and the idea of the self as a self-creation, it’s been pretty de rigueur to at least pay some lip service to following one’s heart or more recently, and more crassly, one’s dream. More dourly, Protestant ethics teach a kind of surrender to one’s ‘calling’. Each of these has the texture of life as an adventure and a story in which basic values are the foundation – one build’s on the rock to invoke Christian imagery – including bearing the burden of suffering in pursuit of one’s goal.

Even Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that, though one pays most attention to ‘the basics’, truth to oneself involves working up to ‘higher’ things. (I’ve always thought it wide of the mark by the way as things at the top of the hierarchy seem to turn up very early in human history and in many ways were more powerful influences in civilisations in which the vast bulk of people were pretty much at subsistence – but I digress).

In any event today alongside the hashtags “#Brand” and “#You” the tweet which brandished this insight into life, we lean in and regard our ultimate task as having it all. Even in the anodyne graphic, I’d have liked to see doing what one loves as being more important than being paid well, but there you go, though I’m all for it being important.


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7 years ago

I’d have liked to see doing what one loves as being more important than being paid well

I’d like to see a fourth leaf that focus on how much the career gives you the freedom to enjoy other things and have a balance life. Doing something you love, but letting it consume your whole life, isn’t necessarily going to lead to happiness.

paul walter
paul walter
7 years ago

Besides, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re planning other things”.

I can’t get past the notion that optimisation is a euphemism for adaptation.

One other thought, it is “noice” to have the choice but that depends on your brains. If you don’t have the brains you become crap kicker in a factory.Then optimisation may include being able to spot when the boss has left so you can pop out back for a quick cigarette.

7 years ago

Another trichotomy that has to be balanced is:
What you do best
What you like doing most
What most needs to be done.

An interesting development in the system devised by Werner Erhard (nee Paul Rosenberg) http://catallaxyfiles.com/2014/01/23/rethinking-the-future-with-some-exciting-synergies/

7 years ago

Erhard read L. Ron Hubbard extensively, and some Scientology terms overlap with terms from est. Erhard later said, “I have a lot of respect for L. Ron Hubbard and I consider him to be a genius and perhaps less acknowledged than he ought to be.”

And so my “listening” for the future is a world of increased peace, freedom and prosperity, based on the synergy of Karl Popper’s critical rationalism, classical/Austrian economics, the classical liberal agenda and [Werner Erhard’s] Landmark Education!

Someone’s been drinking the Kool-Aid.

7 years ago

Science and understanding would not even exist without Venn diagrams and I am pleased they have been embraced by management and psychology. Some people say they are trivial but this is because they don’t understand advanced mathematics. I have just done a Venn diagram for my ham sandwich. Mustard, bread and ham. I can’t believe I didn’t do this before and now understand everything so much better. To think I have been eating the all bread one for years and couldn’t work out what was going wrong.