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Bullshit Work is an Opportunity

March 24, 2015

Anthropologist David Graeber wrote a compelling essay a couple of years ago entitled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”. He suggests jobs like

private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants

could simply vanish without negatively affecting the world.

Why, then, do these jobs exist? His explanation, that

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the 60s).

is incorrect.

Here’s why he’s wrong on both counts.

First, think of it as bullshit work rather than bullshit jobs. What does this “bullshit work” have in common? Corporate law, sales, biz dev, advertising, finance. Clearly if nobody did this work then advantageous but sophisticated business deals could not happen; companies and people would be less aware of their choices and pay more for an inferior product; and money would not be so well allocated to places it would generate a return. And ultimately global productivity would significantly decrease. This work, and these jobs, are as critical as any other. No, this work is not bullshit because it doesn’t need to be done.

It is bullshit because it solves inefficiency with labour

Human inefficiency, marketplace inefficiency, tool inefficiency, all solved with human labour. And that is why it feels “bullshit”. Because it is inefficiency that hasn’t yet been solved by technology. An Ideal World doesn’t need to allocate humans to work around inefficiencies it solves them with technology. We’re not there yet, but we are headed there.

Now, let’s look at some of the greatest businesses of recent times. Uber. Apple. Google. Facebook. Linkedin. Amazon. Twitter. What do they have in common? They deprecated bullshit work. Taxi controllers, marketing. Inefficient user flows to do simple tasks. The information marketplace. Getting targeted messages in front of a captive audience. Hiring and biz dev. Choosing things and logistics. Sharing memes.

Solving inefficiency with technology, deprecating bullshit work is the business to be in.

At Domini, we look at the logistics of big data, the time spent doing anything other than articulating business logic, and recognise Bullshit Work. And we are solving it. We are building, from the ground up out of necessity, big data tools that actually work. Big data tools not written on top of a clunky, massively complex, horrific mess of a codebase. Solid, precise, predictable, known, easy to reason about. And more importantly, we will deprecate the bullshit work that currently consumes 95% of the time spent on big data: logistics.

If you can help us, email me @ alec@domini.io.

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