Sensory Overload in Open Offices

 Posted by on 22 November 2013 at 10:00 am  Business, Personality, Psychology, Work
Nov 222013

This — Offices for All! Why Open-Office Layouts Are Bad for Employees, Bosses, and Productivity — is a really excellent article on the evil of open office layouts. Here’s a hit that really resonated with me.

I’m now always surrounded by chatter, which means that, like every other office worker in the country, I have to wear earphones. I’m currently listening to Django Reinhardt on Pandora. His talent is timeless. But while it’s easier to think with Django in my ears, it isn’t nearly as easy as silence was. The music just adds to the clutter in my head. Back when I had an office, I left work with my mind still happy and fresh; I emailed myself ideas while walking home, as some newsy podcast told me even more useful info. Now, at the end of a day of nonstop jazz, I leave work feeling fried. I miss my podcasts, which my brain just doesn’t have room for. I walk to the subway in silence, repairing.

Being an introvert — and highly sensitive too — I could not work well under such circumstances. When I’m deep in brain-bending work, even familiar instrumental music is a distraction. Plus, headphones to cover background noise quickly makes me feel overwhelmed by sensory input. I’m able to listen to music only against a background of silence and when doing lighter work. Then, it helps prevent boredom.

These working conditions make my skin crawl. I’m so glad to work from home, where the only noises are of naughty beasts, birds, and the wind.

Augh-> Augh -> Augh

 Posted by on 15 October 2013 at 2:00 pm  Funny, Work
Oct 152013


This flowchart applies to work in philosophy in spades. Then, once you solve the difficult problem after days of laborious work, other people think that what you’ve done is obvious. Happily, that’s a sign that you’ve done right!

Jul 252012

I’ve often said that closets are hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable places to live. That doesn’t just apply to gay closets, but to atheist closets, Objectivist closets, and pretty much any other kind of closet. For a person to hide who he is, pretending to be something more socially acceptable, is deeply self-destructive. How so?

To hide who you are creates feelings of shame, often wholly unwarranted. It causes massive anxiety about being found out. It trains you to cowardice, betraying your values rather than standing up for them. It encourages you to focus on how others see your values, rather than why they’re your values. It creates strong incentives to lie, by implication or explicitly, to preserve the secret. It assumes the worst about other people, namely that they’d condemn or even disown you if they knew who you really were.

Closets, in essence, erode a person’s moral character, trust in others, and emotional well-being.

In a blog post for the Harvard Business ReviewCome Out of the Closet at Work, Whether You’re Gay or Not — Dorie Clark makes some interesting remarks about how social media destroys the pretense of closets. Basically, the connections forged by social media mean that “the boundaries are breaking down, privacy is a shimmering mirage, and we’re stuck in a world where you’re expected, and required, to be yourself.”

That isn’t merely good for a person’s integrity. It can help a person succeed:

While it’s not always easy to share personal news at work, it can have an unexpected payoff. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Karen Sumberg reported last year in the Harvard Business Review, it actually pays for GLBT employees to come out of the closet. They’re more likely to be promoted because they spend less time worrying about secrecy and hiding and more time focused on their jobs.

That’s hardly not surprising. The mental energy, effort, and anxiety required to keep yourself a secret from people that you’re interacting with on a daily basis can be overwhelming.

Does that mean that a person should share everything? Are people wrong to value their own privacy? No, of course not! A person being reserved is very different from a person stuffing himself into a closet. The reserved person will not share his thoughts, feelings, values, and activities with strangers at the drop of a hat, but he will share relevant information with people in his life. Moreover, he doesn’t quake in fear at the prospect others knowing him, nor actively work to hide himself from others. The closeted person does not share relevant information, does quake in fear of others knowing him, and does actively conceal himself.

Yet even for the reserved person, to be more open might be of benefit. Dorie Clark writes:

Many people still argue there’s a fundamental right to privacy. But post-Zuckerberg, that illusion has evaporated — and, as I wrote in a previous HBR post, that’s a good thing: closing the gap between one’s public and private images results in more people being honest about themselves and their lives.

Whether you’re gay or not, it’s likely that you’ve faced complicated privacy issues: should you friend your co-workers on Facebook? How about your boss? How should you present — some would even say “curate” — your social media persona? As [Anderson] Cooper’s example reminds us, the best answer may be simply to open up and erase the division between public and private. You certainly don’t have to share everything, but it makes for a better world if you share the most important things.

In my experience, my sharing more about myself and my values means that I’m much better able to find and connect with people that I like — and that’s a huge win for me.

More on Central Purpose

 Posted by on 9 July 2012 at 12:00 pm  Career, Children, Ethics, Hobbies, Purpose, Work
Jul 092012

In the June 24th episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I answered a question on parenting as a central purpose. In my answer, I suggested that Objectivists seem to have misunderstood what Ayn Rand meant by “central purpose.” In part, I suggested that based on Ayn Rand’s comments in “The Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness:

The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics–the three values which, together, are the means to and the realization of one’s ultimate value, one’s own life–are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.

Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work–pride is the result.

That was her only comment on “central purpose” in her novels or anthologies. It doesn’t seem to imply that a person needs to have a central purpose in the sense of an overriding theme of his life, as many people seem to think.

Shortly after the broadcast, someone pointed out that Ayn Rand discussed “central purpose” briefly in her interview in Playboy. Here’s the relevant passage:

PLAYBOY: Weren’t Hitler and Stalin, to name two tyrants, in control of their own lives, and didn’t they have a clear purpose?

RAND: Certainly not. Observe that both of them ended as literal psychotics. They were men who lacked self-esteem and, therefore, hated all of existence. Their psychology, in effect, is summarized in Atlas Shrugged by the character of James Taggart. The man who has no purpose, but has to act, acts to destroy others. That is not the same thing as a productive or creative purpose.

PLAYBOY: If a person organizes his life around a single, neatly defined purpose, isn’t he in danger of becoming extremely narrow in his horizons?

RAND: Quite the contrary. A central purpose serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man’s life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without a purpose is lost in chaos. He does not know what his values are. He does not know how to judge. He cannot tell what is or is not important to him, and, therefore, he drifts helplessly at the mercy of any chance stimulus or any whim of the moment. He can enjoy nothing. He spends his life searching for some value which he will never find.

Ayn Rand’s analysis of the life of the man without a purpose is correct: such a life would be terribly disintegrated. However, I’m doubtful that a person must have one single dominant purpose — a theme of his life that trumps all other concerns — in order to live a rational, integrated, and purposeful life. Instead, my thought is that a person’s ultimate integrating purpose is his own life and happiness. Often, that ultimate purpose will be pursued via three to five major values, such as a career, a spouse, children, and a hobby.

Those major values might not be strongly connected to each other. My passion for horse training and skiing has little to do with my love of philosophy. Paul doesn’t join me in those hobbies either, but he’s hugely important to me.

Those major values will come into conflict periodically. A parent, for example, faces constant choices between spending more time at work versus spending more time with his kids. Sometimes, those choices might be painfully difficult, such as during a major crunch time at work.

Even if a person’s career is most important to him, in the grand scheme of his life, that doesn’t mean that his career will always trump his other major values. I could work more hours, for example, but I choose to spend some of that time riding my horses instead. If my horse Lila were injured, my plans for work for that day would be instantly discarded.

A person might forgo certain career opportunities in order to enhance or preserve the other major values. I wouldn’t ever move to New York City — even if doing so would hugely advance my career — because doing so would preclude my pursuit of too many other values. (Hence, I would be miserable in very short order.)

Ultimately, what should matter most to a person is his own life and happiness: that’s the ultimate purpose that properly integrates all his actions. Beyond that, a person needs to cultivate and identify the major values by which he pursues that life and happiness. He needs to know their relative order of importance to him, in the grand scheme of things. He needs to be sensitive to changes in those major values over time.

To go beyond that — to attempt to intertwine all the disparate threads of one’s life into a neat and tidy bow known as a “central purpose” — seems likely to be unhelpful and perhaps even unrealistic for many people. For them, the result of the attempt is not greater clarity or purpose, but only guilt, worry, and sacrifice of values. Obviously, that’s not good.

Ultimately, the goal should not be to force oneself to think and act in terms of a single unifying central purpose of life. The goal should be to live a rational, integrated, and purposeful life — and I see many ways to do that.

Feb 162012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed liking but not loving your career. The question was:

What should I do if I have a good job but not burning professional ambition? I have a good job that pays well. I perform my job well to the best of my ability. But I don’t feel about it the same way that Howard Roark felt about the field of architecture in The Fountainhead or that Dagny felt about the railroad business in Atlas Shrugged. I don’t hate my job – I do enjoy the work and the people I work with. But it’s not my burning passion. On a scale of 1-to-10, my paying job (and the overall field) is a 7, but I also have various non-paying outside hobbies and activities that are more of a 8 or 9 for me. Should I try to cultivate a strong passion for my paying job? Or look for a different line of work? Or ramp up my pursuit of various hobbies and outside activities that give me greater satisfaction on the side?

My answer, in brief:

A person’s work should serve his life, and sometimes that means choosing the one career that you’re wildly passionate about, and sometimes that means choosing a career that you enjoy, but that enables you to pursue other values.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Dealing with Inept and Shirking Co-Workers

 Posted by on 3 February 2012 at 8:00 am  Ethics, Productivity, Work
Feb 032012

In my January 8th Philosophy in Action Webcast, I answered the following question on the ethics doing the work of inept (and shirking) co-workers:

Is it moral to help inept co-workers? On my team at work, we have only a very few people who use their time productively. We all get paid for 8 hours of “work”, every day, but most of my team would rather talk on their phone, hide from management, and underperform at their job. We also belong to a union, which makes it harder for management to fire the ones who don’t work despite being informed about the situation. I often find myself in the position of helping these people, or going in behind them and fixing their work. I am beginning to feel taken advantage of, and am getting fed up with most of my co-workers. Is it moral to continue helping people who do not take their own work seriously?

You can find my the audio of my answer in the archive of Philosophy in Action.

Here, I want to offer the answer given by another. Rachel Garrett posted the following remarks to OProducers, and I’m reposting them with her permission. Her advice is excellent — and her way of framing the issue in terms of your obligation to your employer definitely helped my own analysis.

Without further ado, here’s Rachel’s answer to the question:

If the extra help to co-workers is getting in the way of fulfilling your own job responsibilities, you would need to devise strategies to cut down on the amount of assistance you render. But since you didn’t say that, I will assume that’s not the case.

It’s frustrating to be in a situation where your productive energy is getting drained by people who don’t perform their own job responsibilities. However, I would be cautious of how you’ve framed the question. You’ve given yourself an alternative: either continue helping these lazy co-workers and be taken advantage of; or refuse to help them (telling yourself it’s the moral thing to do).

The important thing to focus on is: What is my contractual obligation to my employer? What is my job? If you are getting paid for eight hours of productive work, and you finish your own assigned task in six, then the right thing to do is to spend the remaining two hours as productively as possible on your employer’s behalf. This may include teaching others how to do their job better, finishing tasks that others have left undone, and fixing others’ mistakes.

You’re not a manager of this environment, so the work atmosphere is not your responsibility. It’s your employer’s problem that they are getting crap for productivity from this part of their workforce. Going “on strike” and withdrawing your help, in order to force others to do their own work, would not be appropriate. Managers are the ones who should be monitoring and evaluating employees’ performance, and motivating them to do better. That job’s not yours to do. If management is not doing their job, there is nothing you can do that will fill that gap.

The best course of action largely depends on how good of a relationship you have with your own manager, how you’re evaluated, and how you envision your future at this company. If this is just a job, it’s perfectly fine to tell yourself, “I’m just here for the paycheck,” and stop caring about your co-workers. If the company is not connected to your long-term goals, then your co-workers’ goofing off shouldn’t mean anything more to you than a grouchy grocery clerk — something unfortunate that inconveniences you for a while, but doesn’t affect you much. If you can’t let it go, do everything within your power to find a new job before you become embittered and lose perspective.

If you have a decent working relationship with your manager, I would suggest logging all your extra work and fixes, for a week or two. Ask your manager if you can add a phrase to your job responsibilities (“Train other departmental personnel on X and Y procedures…”) that would help this count toward your upward development. Or perhaps you could find a job responsibility that you enjoy, and that would fill up your time and make you unavailable to pick up others’ slack. (Whatever you do, don’t sound complainy. You have a right to complain and you deserve sympathy from rational people who value their work, but complaining is almost certainly a bad strategy to get what you want from your manager.)

There are also some smaller things you can change or do…

  • Make people work for your help. “Sure, Amanda! I’d LOVE to help you get that month-end report fixed! I tell you what, I’ve gotten this question a lot, so how about I walk you through it and you take notes so you can write up the procedure. Then next month, we can use that as reference.”
  • It’s wrong for your co-workers to spend time on non-work activities when there is work to be done. However, most people do want to do things the right way and feel good about what they got accomplished. Your co-workers have the same human need for productive work that you do. They may be mismanaged and socially pressured, or they may have a genuine rotten attitude. There’s no way to reach inside and see. So give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • When you think about the situation, don’t use judgmental labels like “lazy”; use factual words like “unproductive”.
  • Reach out to your company’s Quality department for Six Sigma training. Identify common snags and mistakes in your department’s processes. Run a process improvement project(s) to fix them.
  • Increase your skill/knowledge level of Microsoft Office or whatever other software/systems you’re using. Learn how to automate and error-check to help avoid mistakes.
  • Read the book Crucial Conversations — I think it would be a great help in having some of the conversations you may need to have with your manager and/or co-workers.

I hope some of this helps.

Indeed it does! Thank you, Rachel. for that excellent advice!

Kevin Spacey: Mere Desire Versus Burning Ambition

 Posted by on 12 January 2012 at 8:00 am  Career, Ethics, Work
Jan 122012

Kevin Spacey on mere desire versus burning ambition:

“I very often watch a lot of young people meander around, without any idea about why they’re doing what they’re doing. To want, and to be ambitious, and to what to be successful, is not enough. That’s just desire. To know what you want, to understand why you’re doing it, to dedicate every breath in your body to achieve — if you feel you have something to give, if you feel that your particular talent is worth developing, is worth caring for — then there’s nothing you can’t achieve.”

Nov 152011

In last Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast (Nov 6th), I discussed working for a minister. The question was:

Is working for a minister giving religion moral sanction? As an atheist, I once worked for an ordained minster who was the owner of a gallery. I became his manager when I made it clear that I was an atheist, but that I was a good framing manager. I don’t think I gave him a moral sanction for his irrationality by working for him under those terms. What do you think?

My answer, in brief:

An atheist shouldn’t want to endorse or assist religion, but that doesn’t preclude secular business relationships with religious believers.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Video: The Morality of Selling Your Body

 Posted by on 5 October 2011 at 1:00 pm  Career, Ethics, Videocast, Work
Oct 052011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed the morality of selling your body. The question was:

Is it moral to sell your body? Selling our bodies or certain parts of them are perfectly acceptable in our society, such as being an egg or sperm donor, being a pregnancy surrogate, or selling hair. But others are condemned, such as prostitution or selling organs. Where should the line be drawn? When is it moral to sell a part of oneself — and why?

Here’s the video of my answer:

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I’ve posted the videos for Sunday’s two other questions to YouTube: Using the Do Not Call Registry and Genetic Influences on Thinking.

Video: Regretting Time Spent at Work

 Posted by on 30 September 2011 at 1:00 pm  Career, Ethics, Life, Videocast, Work
Sep 302011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed regretting time spent at work. The question was:

At death, should a person regret all the years spent at work? I often hear the saying, “No one ever laid on their death bed wishing they had spent more time in the office.” What should a person think of that — and of the fact that so many people agree with it — in light of the virtue of productiveness?

Here’s the video of my answer:

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