A new world that meets ‘higher’ needs
In the same way that flight simulators test your responses before you have to test them in the real world, de Botton would like to see a “job simulator” that allows people to understand themselves, their capacities and to try things out.
“People are knee-jerk and unimaginative in their career choices,” he says. “They aspire to work at a certain company or [in an] industry without asking the right questions, which are: ‘What do humans need, what companies are fulfilling these needs and are these companies doing it well or badly?’” By answering these, you are more likely to discover meaning, de Botton believes.
For de Botton, having a meaningful career does not entail simply being happy while at work. The key to meaning is a feeling that you are contributing to something worthwhile greater than yourself, so that at the end of the working day you have left the world ever so slightly better than it was at the beginning.
While he agrees that there is a large amount of misallocated human energy and potential in the workforce, aggravated by the education system and the “failure” of careers guidance; and exacerbated by the scale of the modern workplace, which cannot tell a coherent story, de Botton is hopeful for the future. “When we look back in 100 years at the waste of talent that’s happening now, we will be astonished. We won’t allow it to happen for much longer,” he says.
De Botton is excited by this prospect, envisaging a world where the trajectory of capitalism will move towards fulfilling more of our ‘higher’ needs; commercialising subtle and “more interesting” areas of life. “A few years ago, you’d never have imagined a business built on friendship. Now, look at Facebook – one of the biggest companies in the world based on exactly that,” he says.
He predicts that more employers will begin to see the clear link between long-term profitability and developing services, products and workplaces that help consumers and staff find genuine meaning in their lives.
This new world, de Botton says, is something to be hopeful about. “If we could address our deeper needs more directly, our materialism would be refined and restrained, our profits would be more honourable and our work would be more meaningful,” he suggests.
And, in the meantime, as he aptly tells us in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work: “Death is hard to keep in mind when there is work to be done.”