Joy @ Work | Part 2

Joy @ Work — on the relationship between joy and work (in the 21st century)

This is part 2 of a first draft of an explorative paper on the relationship between joy/joyfulness and work.

The next parts will follow in the next blog entries

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Joy and/at work

The activity of work(ing) is an intrinsic part of our human being (e.g., Arendt, 2001). It is about our capacity to design and shape (“gestalten”) the world (and being shaped by it). In other words, giving our world a shape according to and in co-operation/co-creation with our mind is an essential activity of the human person (“homo faber”). As is suggested by the 4E approaches in cognitive science (e.g., Newen, de Burin, and Gallagher, 2018; Hutto, Kirchhoff, and Myin, 2014) or by Material Engagement Theory (Malafouris, 2013, 2014, 2020) actively engaging with the world and enacting it is one of the key activities of a cognitive system. Work or art can be considered as behaviors that realize this engagement.

Vita contemplativa, vita activa, and vita automatica

While (non-intellectual) work was not highly valued in ancient Greece (political action had the highest value), this has changed dramatically since the beginning of modern times. The traditional hierarchy of vita contemplativa and vita activa (i.e., contemplation vs. action/theory vs. practice) was turned upside down (e.g., Arendt, 2001). Producing, making, and fabricating have become key characteristics of homo faber and enjoy highest priority and social recognition. Productivity, efficiency, optimization, and the principle of utility are the ideals and goals of working. It is no longer a purpose or usefulness (of an artifact or product/service) that counts, but it is productivity/work for the sake of productivity/work and, as a consequence, personal well-being experienced in producing and consuming. 

This is especially true today for our capitalist, technology- and knowledge-driven society and economy. Division of labor as splitting and assigning different parts of a production process or task to different people in order to improve efficiency has led to losing purpose in the activity of working. In complex work environments, workers can no longer see and understand their particular contribution to the overall artifact, product, or purpose of the organization they work for. This alienation from purpose (e.g., Arendt, 2001; Smith and Fessoli, 2021) has increased even more in modern working environments that are driven by automation, hyper standardized and uniform work processes and workflows, excessive division of labor (e.g., in globally distributed value chains and production networks), as well as cognitive technologies reducing human original thinking to its minimum.

Far from eudaimonia, work and productivity have become ends in themselves. While contemplation is considered superfluous or even an obstacle to productivity, our most valuable human activities, such as cognitive processes, individual and original (deep) thinking, (participatory) sense-making, reflection, social capacities, etc. are outsourced to cognitive machines (Vidovic and Peschl, 2020). In some instances, they are even regarded as undesirable.

Will our future working society run out of work and purpose? For most persons whose work is still needed, work activities (have) become highly standardized, repetitive, specialized, etc. They become “human automata”. In other words, their working tasks and patterns will not contribute a lot to their self-actualization (rather to frustration or depression). In a future scenario (concerning the future of work and economy), „automation should be pushed “beyond the acceptable parameters of capitalist social relations” into a future of fully-automated luxury communism (FALC)… Accelerating automation provides the technological means for transcending contradictions already evident in capitalism… for moving automation over to a post-capitalist political economy better equipped to manage structural underemployment and unemployment, worsening ecological degradation, diminishing costs and falling profitability. FALC argues socialised automation will deliver an abundance of socially useful goods and services at diminishingly marginal cost. Automation will finally liberate people from labour and enable them to enjoy flourishing and meaningful lives. Abundant automated production provides the material basis for transforming ideas and expectations about work, income, leisure, and sustainability…” (Smith and Fressoli 2021, p 3) Universal basic income, reduction of working hours, an increase and shift to more personal development and fulfillment could be key ingredients of such a scenario. However, such a scenario in which (classical forms of) work will disappear has to be seen critically as well: it will not only have a crucial impact on the economy, but above all on a societal and personal level; “work” is one of the most fundamental activities of a human person and it is far from clear what could take its role (and how), if it is abandoned.

Only a very limited number of people will have the privilege to work in a job (in the classical sense) that offers them purpose and an opportunity for self-actualization, and that is intellectually and/or socially challenging and inspiring. Apart from jobs in the social, hospitality, and caring industry (which are in need of social, empathic, emotional, etc. capabilities and attitudes; Smith and Fressoli, 2021), these jobs will require highly sophisticated thinking/cognitive and creative skills (Frey and Osborne, 2013; OECD, 2021; World Economic Forum, 2020; BBVA Open Mind Book, 2019).

Work, eudaimonia, and re:creation

In contrast to an economy and social dynamics being primarily driven by efficiency, productivity, and speed that is induced mainly by automation and digital technologies, we propose an alternative approach to work and how to relate it to joy/eudaimonia. It makes use of the theoretical concepts having been discussed above and is compatible with a digital humanist approach (Doueihi, 2011; Peschl and Vidovic, 2020). Above that, it offers interesting new perspectives for the fields of knowledge work, creativity, and innovation.

In this context, we introduce the concept of re:creation. In its everyday meaning it denotes an activity that is done for one’s enjoyment, for instance, when one does not have to work. We propose to dig deeper, however, as there is much more to it than these aspects of wellness, pleasure, play, or entertainment (see our discussion above). Actually, going back to its Latin roots we can find some hints: re:creation is derived from the Latin word “recreare/recreatio”; “re-” is a prefix and means “again”; “creare” can be translated to create, bring forth, bring into being, beget, or give birth to. Etymologically speaking, recreare has various connotations, such as to restore, recover (from illness), refreshment of strength and spirits after work, to make new, or revive.

There is a clear relationship between re:creation and joy, leisure, and play. However, we do not want to limit our understanding of re:creation to well-being, relaxing, or just amusement. In the context of eudaimonia, creativity, and innovation, we want to focus on the aspects of renewal and bringing something to life, of bringing forth novelty, and of making something new as an activity that is not necessarily driven by and embedded in a paradigm of functionality and efficiency.

Going one step back further, brings us to the concept of leisure that is closely related to joy and re:creation; Aristotle describes it in an illuminating manner: “We should be able, not only to work well, but to use leisure well; for, as I must repeat once again, the first principle of all action is leisure. Both are required, but leisure is better than occupation and is its end; and therefore the question must be asked, what ought we to do when at leisure?“ (Aristotle, Politics 8 (3); italics by author)

The role of re:creation, joy, and leisure in the context of work

Aristotle makes an astonishing remark that might sound a bit counterintuitive for our time: he claims that we are working for the sake of leisure, and that leisure is the final cause of work. In a way he has reversed today’s order that—as we have seen above—is driven by the imperative of working for the sake of working and productivity. In such a context, leisure is reduced to a means for increasing our productivity in the domain of work (think, for instance, about work environments or coffee lounges that foster wellness at work, that invite for “informal” meetings, that are cosy, etc.). Leisure gets instrumentalized, it is no longer an end, but becomes a means. 

Aristotle warns us that leisure should not be confused with amusement or „doing nothing“, however. Rather, as we have seen in our discussion above, he shows that leisure is related to a more contemplative activity, to eudaimonia. It is a „purposeless activity“ for the sake of itself leading to a state of internal rest, “contemplation”, or resonance with oneself. Prima facie, it is not instrumental. As an example, Aristotle mentions intellectual activities that are valued for themselves. In other words, leisure understood in such a sense does not (directly) aim for a “product”, an “outcome”, or some accomplishment in the first place. If something interesting or purposeful arises out of these activities this product or outcome should be considered rather as a “by-product”.

If we consider the focus of the future of work to be on high end, joyful and cognitive/knowledge work, creative activities, dealing with and bringing forth novelty, and on innovation, this has interesting implications for our discussion on the relationship between joy and work in the context of digital technologies and digital humanism. What Aristotle suggests is a change in attitude and mindset: intellectual work, creativity and creating novelty cannot only be brought forth through a purely functional and mechanistic regime. Rather, deep insights and novel knowledge have to be seen as a “by-product” that have emerged from a state of leisure or re:creation. It is not primarily the result of working for the sake of work. Leisure and contemplation are required for meaning-/purposeful work/occupation in order to bring about a meaningful world.

Evidence from cognitive/neuro-science

Such a perspective does not only have support from classical philosophy, but also from recent findings in neuroscience and cognitive science. Just to name a few, there is evidence that creativity has its roots in resting states and meditative activities (Tang et al. 2015), or that creativity emerges from a subtle oscillation between divergent and convergent thinking, between conscious and unconscious brain processes and relaxed brain states (Maldonato et al. 2016; Dietrich & Kanso 2010), or that the level of creative problem solving is increased in natural and silent environments (e.g., Attention Restoration Theory and activation of default mode networks that are active during resting; Atchley et al. (2012)), etc.

Joy @ Work | Part 1

Joy @ Work — on the relationship between joy and work (in the 21st century)

How joyful work (environments) contributes to personal and organizational self-actualization and purpose

This is part 1 of a first draft of an explorative paper on the relationship between joy/joyfulness and work.

The next parts will follow in the next blog entries

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


In this paper we explore the role of joy and joyfulness in the context of work; more specifically, we will take a look at the relationship between the human activity of work and how it may contribute to joy. Talking about joy, we do not have in mind superficial forms of fun, happiness or well-being that are driven by a hedonistic or pleasure-seeking attitude. Rather, we will follow Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia that consists in a life of virtuous activity leading to the fulfillment or self-actualization of our human capacities and potentials by identifying, following, and realizing one’s final good and purpose. In this sense, (self-)agency (in the service of eudaimonia) becomes one of the key drivers for joyful (work) experience.

Based on these considerations, we will develop a perspective on work as a joyful activity rather than being a purely standardized process without deeper purpose. We will show that work is an important factor contributing to self-actualization, if work environments as well as co-workers, peers, and leaders support this goal. Experience of (self-)agency and being connected to a purpose play a crucial role in this context. In the final section we will develop concrete guiding principles for leaders on how to make work a joyful and fulfilling activity by providing a joyful and enabling place to work by focusing on purpose and self-actualization.

Keywords: work, joy, eudaimonia, self-actualization, future of work, automation, purpose

Joyful work — Introduction

In this paper, we are going to have a look at the relationship between the human activity of work and joy. From an everyday perspective, this might sound contradictory, as work is considered not very joyful in most cases. It is tedious, exhausting and often not experienced as being a joyful activity. We want to show that, if work is done as or becomes a joyful activity, this contributes to a purposeful life, to personal self-actualization, as well as to possibly making the world a better and thriving place and even to increase the innovativeness, impact, and success of an organization.

When we talk about joy, we have in mind a form of happiness in the sense of well-being. However, in this paper, we do not mean happiness or “fun” in a superficial sense that is grounded in a hedonistic or pleasure-seeking attitude. Hence, joy, for us, is not so much about having a specific desired experience, pleasure, or getting or possessing what you want or desire. Rather, we think of joy or happiness in the Aristotelian sense as things, persons, phenomena, etc. that benefit us independently of our attitudes or feelings/emotions. We follow an Aristotelian perspective of understanding well-being as eudaimonia: it consists in a life of virtuous activity leading to the fulfillment of our human capacities and potentials (Aristotle 1991) “A passive but contented couch potato may be getting what he wants, and he may enjoy it. But he would not, on Aristotelian and other objective list theories, count as doing well, or leading a happy life.” (Haybron 2020).


Final good/purpose

It seems to be undisputed that every human being strives for living a good life. Living a good life in “happiness” turns out to be a final good. So, what does a good life, the ultimate purpose of human existence, or a human final good consist in? Aristotle (1991) develops several criteria in his Nicomachean Ethics: first of all he emphasizes that the final good has to be pursued for its own sake; i.e., we wish/desire for other things for the sake of this final good and we do not wish for it because of other things. This final good has to be complete in the sense of being always choiceworthy (“the best thing to choose from”) and it has to be self-sufficient in the sense of when being present one does not wish/desire for anything else and, consequently, one does not lack anything else. It is the final cause of one’s life. Most forms of “fun”, pleasure, or happiness do not satisfy these criteria as they are—in most cases—not pursued for the sake of themselves (e.g., drinking a cold beer, any kind of (superficial) pleasure, seeking wealth or reputation, etc.), they are instrumental, they are—at best—a means for a final good.

Eudaimonia, agency, and self-realization/actualization

Aristotle shows that eudaimonia satisfies these criteria. It can be translated as “happiness”, living a flourishing life, “living well”, or as living a “good life”. Although the concept seems to be very general, eudaimonia is, in its essence, achieved by fully actualizing and realizing a human person’s potential and his/her capacities. It is an activity leading to profound happiness consisting in living a life in accordance with virtue realizing one’s (latent) deepest purpose. In a way one could say that eudaimonia can be seen as living in positive resonance with oneself and his/her surrounding/context and one’s highest potentials. So, it does not suffice to “have” a specific capacity or disposition, but one has to actively live and realize it, to actualize these potentials, bring them to actuality in concrete actions. If one has, for instance, a disposition of being an outstanding artist, it is necessary to develop and execute one’s artistic capacities by engaging in concrete artistic work in accordance with the virtues and excellency of reason.

So, eudaimonia goes far beyond having short-term fun or quick satisfaction of some needs. Being a final end/cause, purpose, or goal it encompasses one’s life in its entirety. It is not a matter of hours or days that one can achieve this final goal or eudaimonia, but it takes the whole lifetime, because it is the ultimate value providing direction and orientation in a process of engaging in realizing one’s potentials.

From these considerations one can see that the concept of eudaimonia is closely related to the experience of (self-)agency: it is the capacity to engage with one’s (physical and social) environment in a purposeful manner; instead of reacting only, one experiences oneself as the author of change and of having impact on specific aspects of one’s external and internal environment/life.

Inflation of innovation (Ö1 Dimensionen)

Die Inflation der Innovation

Das Neue und seine wortreiche Verhinderung
Von Mariann Unterluggauer

Ö1 Dimensionen | Radiosendung  | April 26, 2021

Seit den 1970er Jahren, ist die Anzahl an Innovationen gesunken, sagen Ökonomen. Diese Feststellung ist aus zweierlei Gründen weniger erstaunlich, als man vermutet könnte: Erstens nahm die Anzahl der Jobs, bei denen nichts produziert aber viel geredet wird, in der vergangenen Jahrzehnten zu. Und zweitens ist es gar nicht so leicht, mit einer Innovation Gewinne zu erzielen. Profit aber ist die Maßeinheit für Innovation – ob sie nun technisch, grün, transformativ oder disruptiv genannt wird.

Auf jeden Fall müsse Innovation weh tun, lautet ein Credo von Investoren in den USA. Und vorteilhaft wäre, fordert man in Europa, wenn sie auch an den Universitäten gelehrt würde. Klar ist, schnell muss es immer gehen: gestern entwickelt, heute am Markt. Sieht man sich innovative Lösungen aber genauer an, dann haben sie nur selten etwas mit Geschwindigkeit zu tun.

Häufiger schon mit fantastischen Wortkreationen, denn mit neuen Begriffen lassen sich auch alte Ideen verschleiern und verkaufen. Und bei all dem rhetorischen Dauerhype ums Neue wird dann auf reale Anstrengungen und notwendige Investitionen gerne vergessen. Kein Wunder also, dass das „Konzept Innovation“ nun kritisch hinterfragt und mancherorts überarbeitet wird.

→ Link zu Sendung (©/mit freundlicher Genehmigung: Mariann Unterluggauer [for educational purposes only])


English Version:

The inflation of innovation
The new and its eloquent prevention
By Mariann Unterluggauer

Since the 1970s, the number of innovations has declined, economists say. This finding is less surprising than one might suspect, for two reasons: First, the number of jobs that produce nothing but talk a lot has increased in recent decades. And second, it is not at all easy to make a profit with an innovation. But profit is the measure of innovation – whether it is called technical, green, transformative or disruptive.

In any case, innovation has to hurt, is a credo of investors in the USA. And it would be beneficial, they say in Europe, if it were also taught at universities. It’s clear that things always have to happen quickly: developed yesterday, on the market today. But if you take a closer look at innovative solutions, they rarely have anything to do with speed.

More often, they have to do with fantastic word creations, because new terms can be used to disguise and sell old ideas. And with all the rhetorical hype about the new, real efforts and necessary investments are often forgotten. No wonder, then, that the “concept of innovation” is now being critically scrutinized and revised in some places.

The shattered fantasies and promises of ridesharing companies

Companies like Uber and Lyft promised environmental friendly ways of mobility, cutting down on congestion in cuties, and new work models for their drivers. It turned out to be wishful thinking in the context of a sharing and platform economy approach and of a fantasy of an algorithmically designed future of work. It is well known that its “gig workers” have to pay the price for the system of this new form of digital capitalism.


Digital Economy is capitalism at its worst

It is one pf the promises of digital transformation to bring equality and wealth to both producers and users of material and non-material goods, services, etc. It seems that the WWW and  new technologies provide openness and better accessibility for everyone; however, the self-reinforcing (feedback and exponential) dynamics of algorithms fosters a (n economy of) monoculture and promotes only a relatively small group of “winners” (winner-takes-all dynamics). Actually, it gates access and advances bias. The speed and frictionlessness of these technologies even increase the divide between winners and losers in this game.

Only breaking up this monoculture and replacing it by sustainable ecosystems with a high degree of diversity may change this misguided dynamics of digital economy.

see article by Douglas Rushkoff:

The end of college?

Large corporations do no longer want to rely solely on students from „official colleges“ and higher education institutions in many cases. Instead, they design and offer their own online curricula fitting their specific needs and purposes. By that, they publicly educate their prospective employees and have the chance to get to know them well ahead of time.

What sounds like a clever and interesting business- and recruiting model both for companies and students might turn out as nightmare after the end of the employment relationship, as the offered content is highly specialized and—in many cases—has become obsolete and useless with the rise of the next technology hype.

Innovation learnings from Google’s ATAP lab

One of the main goals of Google’s ATAP lab (Advanced Technology and Projects) is to make Google hardware as smart as Google software. It is one of Google’s (secretive) innovation factories working on a wide range of hardware innovations for the Google ecosystem. Apart from presenting inspiring hardware gadgets, such as the “house mouse” or a micro radar for gesture recognition, the head of the lab, Dan Kaufman, gives some insights into the lab’s innovation strategy:

  1. Even if one has a zoo of fancy gadgets, you need to develop a cohesive and coherent vision or strategy for a future of smart devices.
  2. Sometimes it is necessary to “re-invent” technologies that seem to work well.
  3. Prototype and iterate.
  4. It is not the head count of the lab that matters for the success of innovation activities, but the fact that one can tap into 100.000 smart engineers of the whole ecosystem the lab is embedded in.


Does the Wild wild web come to an end — rethinking the platform ideology

It seems that the WWW in its original idea as the Wild Wild Web is coming to an end. The tech industry’s decade-long experiment in unregulated growth and laissez-faire platform governance is being questioned in the light of recent political and social developments, polarization, fake news, etc. As the internet giants are unwilling to make rules, the WWW has slided into a state of “out of control”. Users as well as regulators are stipulating more responsibility and a new culture that is more accountable, more self-aware, and less willfully naïve.


Amazon: Reinventing retail?

Amazon is a huge lab for retail. It is perfect in making high impact experiments in the field and follows an explorative mindset when it comes to finding new opportunities to sell all sorts of goods. Amazon’s job is “to get you the thing”, not to be a website, so what are the best ways to do it? By doing that it does not even hesitate to go into physical retail. It does not follow an ideology of “internet-only” and even tries out things that have been done before – bringing about interesting results.

The real challenge Amazon is facing: Can it work out how to let us shop rather than just buy?


On Frictionlessness

Frictionless experience has become a requirement—even more so in times of COVID-19. What is frictionlessness actually about?

It turns out that when one removes friction from a system, process, business, organization, experience, etc., you offer your users what is almost the most valuable and nonrenewable/unique for them: time.

Friction is what costs you (time); frictionlessness is priceless.