I went through a recommended book one of these weeks called Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. I didn’t read every single page but read some chapters. This blog is about the crux of what the author’s trying to say in the book, and my reflections on some of that.
In essence, bullshit jobs are ones where those who have such jobs, in the heart of their heart know that their job is not really needed as such – that what they are doing is basically bullshit.
Ever felt that way about your job? Then read on.
Graeber (who died only few months ago – in Sep 2020) goes ahead and offers the below classification for bullshit jobs:
- what flunkies do – jobs that exist only to make someone else look or feel important (needless receptionist / PA for example);
- what goons do – something that you need to do only because your competitor / enemy is doing it (army / PR etc.);
- what duct tapers do – fixing other people’s mistakes that could have been easily avoided had the original person showed basic competency;
- what box tickers do – folks that do work that’s mainly needed for some sort of a ‘tick in the box’ by someone (typically bureaucratic in nature); and
- what taskmasters do – folks who spend most of their time allocating tasks to others.
I graduated with a masters in 2008 and played the role of a management consultant for four years. Reading the book made me reflect on that job. I always knew there was something meaningless about the consulting job that I had. Sure, every assignment that I worked on was of value to someone somewhere (that’s how consultants get paid), but at the end of the day, most of what I did was essentially a box-ticking activity. I think most consultants, for most part of their working lives, are box-tickers. The jobs are bullshit.
How about what I do today? When I create a video or a short documentary film purely for the joy of it, it is obviously meaningful to me. But what happens when I get paid to help clients with my storytelling skills? From Graeber’s classification, if my final work is essentially an ad, then I am pretty much a ‘goon’ – it’s a job that one does only because someone else is doing it.
Graeber shares his correspondence with a London based post-production guy Tom. Tom told him that there were parts of his job that he found enjoyable and fulfilling – getting to make cars fly, buildings explode, and dinosaurs attack alien spaceships for movie studios – because all said and done, these things provide entertainment for audiences worldwide.
But a growing percentage of Tom’s customers are advertising agencies where Tom would use visual effects trickery to make it seem like the products worked (shampoos, toothpastes, moisturizing creams, washing powders). Most of his work on TV shows and music videos – where the celebrities are the products – involves things such as reducing bags under the eyes of women, making hair shinier etc.
We essentially make viewers feel inadequate whilst they’re watching the main programs and then exaggerate the effectiveness of the “solutions” provided in the commercial breaks. I get paid £100,000 a year to do this.Tom
When Graber asked Tom why he considered his job to be bullshit (as opposed to merely, say, evil), Tom explained that a worthwhile job should probably be one hat fulfills a pre-existing need, or creates a product or service that people hadn’t thought of, that somehow enhances and improves their lives. But since supply for most products / services seems to have far outpaced demand (in most industries), the demand is being essentially manufactured, which he partly helps do. After manufacturing demand, the usefulness of the products sold to fix it, is exaggerated. That is the job of every single person that works in or for the entire advertising industry.
If we’re at the point where in order to sell products, one has to first of all trick people into thinking they need them, then one would be be hard-pressed to argue that these jobs aren’t bullshit!
Makes sense, right? I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you pick the book but if you really really relate to what you read here, may be you will enjoy it more than I did. At this stage in my life, I don’t care much about the bullshit part of the work that I do, as long as I don’t sell my time and skills to doing that entirely. As long as I am also writing blogs like these and doing my personal 3MinuteStories, I am fine. Are you?