Tom Evslin tells a story on Fractals of Change that illustrates exactly why we need to throw over our quaint, industrial-era notions of what constitutes work (aka labor, aka toil). Here’s his take on why a great programmer is worth fifty good ones:
I was consulting to a development manager at a tech company. He told me that the CEO, his boss, wouldn’t give him the salary and option freedom he needed to close a great programmer he’d found. Salary would have been 20% above what he had approval to offer; and, thanks to the new accounting standards for stock options, he didn’t have the authority to offer options. He lost the potential new hire and had to settle for someone merely “good”. Ironic thing is that he had several open positions so, once he gets through hiring several people, he’ll end up paying more in the aggregate than he would have paid for the superstar – and probably won’t get as much productivity.
Why do we persist in evaluating productivity as if the only model for productivity is the assembly line? In particular, creative work of any kind is anything but incremental; it is in fact inherently exponential. If Einstein could accomplish a civilization’s worth of ‘work’ in a single calendar year (1905, while he was ‘working,’ incidentally, as a patent examiner), why don’t we recognize the folly of measuring human endeavor by counting man hours?
‘Human resources’ is an unfortnuate misnomer, containing the implication that humans are to be mined or exploited like other natural resources. What humans are is entrepreneurs, wealth-creation machines designed to create capital. It is about time that companies with the means to ‘fund’ human effort figured this out. If more employees were treated like capitalists, the world would be a better place to work in.