Invisibles by David Zweig
Zweig’s core idea is that the happiest workers don’t fit modern, corporate structures well. They find innate reward in work which is meticulous, meaningful and challenging. This means that reward structures which are based on flattery, structural power, symbolic power,and even money do not work well as motivators. To support his idea, Zweig interviews people who work in roles that meet these three criteria.
The interviews are, of themselves, interesting, as people unlock some of the inner elements of their profession. A UN interpreter discusses the crushing physical stress caused by the cognitive load of simultaneous translation. The tuner for concert pianos explains how there is no right way to tune a piano, and how he carefully reworks the instrument so that it suits each player. A structural engineer explains how he makes the vision of the architect into a functional object. Even without Zweig’s overarching argument, the book would be worth reading just for these.
The degree to which Zweig proves his thesis is arguable. I think his problems are mostly semantic. If her had called his group something other than “invisibles” he’d be fine. One of the directors he interviews has an academy award. One of the roadies he talks to is famous among music aficionados. This doesn’t really break his argument, if you accept that invisibles are only hidden from the general public, not from people who are amateur enthusiasts in an appropriate field.
Recommended for managers, people who work this way, and those who find this sort of modern anthropology fascinating.
The Library Service has copies available.