The Fine Line Between Culture and Cult

The Fine Line Between Culture and Cult

Erin Griffin recently wrote an excellent piece in The New York Times entitled Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? “Never once at the start of my workweek…have I paused, looked to the heavens and whispered: #ThankGodIt’sMonday,” writes Griffin. Yet that is the culture that’s being bred, most explicitly at WeWork (now the We Company), where “Neon signs demand they “Hustle harder,” and murals spread the gospel of T.G.I.M. Even the cucumbers in WeWork’s water coolers have an agenda. “Don’t stop when you’re tired…

“It’s not difficult to view hustle culture as a swindle. After all, convincing a generation of workers to beaver away is convenient for those at the top.”

When we did our list of 140 characters who helped change the tech world, we did do a category we referred to as Hustle Pornsters, which included hustler extraordinaire Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary Vee, as he often refers to himself, started building his nest egg and rose to prominence during the Web 1.0 days, charging huge fees – which desperate clients paid – to explain the internet and how to do business there to companies which were both clueless and terrified of missing an opportunity. We knew Gary personally in those days – he was basically dealing with what Mark Zuckerberg called dumb fucks – he basically said as much himself, privately, in utter disbelief that clients would pay the exorbitant rates he quoted due to FOMO. Unlike Zuckerberg, Vee dealt with the other side of the DF coin, having learned that there’s good money in taking advantage of ignorance or desperation: just look at the weight loss industry.

Gary still has his hustle on, doing podcasts, keynotes and, in case you’d like to know what he knows, one-day masters classes for the bargain price of $10k-$15k. Only the target market has changed.

Seems that porn, even hustle porn, always sells.

As Griffin’s article points out, “The vast majority of people beating the drums of hustle-mania are not the people doing the actual work. They’re the managers, financiers and owners.”

The We Company now embraces all aspects of life, including residential real estate and education, offering a turn-key life, much the same way many of the major tech players offer free food, dry cleaning and even in house medical and dental care, to keep employees tethered to their desks.

Work/life balance without even having to leave the office, or the protection of the We Company.

It’s the latest iteration of what @StartupLJackson referred to as “The Uberfication of everything… turning San Francisco into an assisted living community for the young.” Not surprising that a generation raised on co-opetition rather than true competition, as a group, would continue the group behavior. What’s missing is life structure, which is being conceded to the likes of the We Works et al, to the point where, as Griffin points out, even LinkedIn is beta testing a video broadcast feature to bring Snapchat-like Stories to the workplace

Social media and now video podcasting our lives have become the new participation trophy of a so-called entitled generation. Or upon closer inspection, more accurately, disenfranchised generation.

Where and when did the equation go awry? Wasn’t the reason for entrepreneurship to be independent, make your own hours and live the life you wanted to live, on your terms – provided you were building a sustainable business, of course?

We Work et al are fulfilling a need – and contributing to what Griffin refers to as performative workaholism, aka, getting caught up in the rat race, which is what it is, despite the trappings and amenities.

Says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic (Workism Is Making Americans Miserable), “if you were designing a Black Mirror labor force that encouraged overwork without higher wages, what might you do? Perhaps you’d persuade educated young people that income comes second; that no job is just a job; and that the only real reward from work is the ineffable glow of purpose. It is a diabolical game that creates a prize so tantalizing yet rare that almost nobody wins, but everybody feels obligated to play forever.”

Just a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. No one ever complained on his or her deathbed that he or she didn’t spend enough time at the office, and
  2. Unless you’re the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

As we’ve witnessed from the monoculture that Silicon Valley has bred, careful there: in tech, there’s seems to be a fine line between a culture and a cult. Onward and forward.


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