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Work Futures Daily - Power Causes Brain Damage

Power is bad for your brain; performance incentives never create a lasting commitment; Netflix cultur

Work Futures

October 30 · Issue #1021 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Power is bad for your brain; performance incentives never create a lasting commitment; Netflix culture can be ruthless, demoralizing and transparent to the point of dysfunctional; South Korean women rebel against work beauty standards; Isaac Chotiner interviews Alex Rosenblat on her book, Uberland.

Beacon NY - 2018-10-30 — The thread today seems to be about studies that reveal surprising insights into the human mind. In the first case, the powerful seem to lose their capacity to see the world from the eyes of the powerless. In the second, pay for performance seems to basically miss human motivation, despite conventional wisdom.
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Long Takes
Power Causes Brain Damage | Jerry Useem looks into research that power leads to brain damage:
Subjects under the influence of power, he found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.
Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University, in Ontario, recently described something similar. Unlike Keltner, who studies behaviors, Obhi studies brains. And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy. Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the “power paradox”: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.
Turns out that this inability to mirror can be countered in the powerful by merely remembering a time when they did not feel powerful.
Short Takes
Opinion | Science Confirms It: People Are Not Pets | Alfie Kohn offers a deeply subversive message about performance-based incentives:
Even though the average American corporation resembles a giant Skinner box with a parking lot, no controlled study has ever, to the best of my knowledge, found a long-term enhancement in the quality of work as a result of any kind of incentive or pay-for-performance plan.
Kohn offers a long list of research studies showing how attempts to motivate through rewards backfire in myriad ways. A must read. Here’s the takeaway:
The best that carrots — or sticks — can do is change people’s behavior temporarily. They can never create a lasting commitment to an action or a value, and often they have exactly the opposite effect … contrary to hypothesis.
At Netflix, Radical Transparency and Blunt Firings Unsettle the Ranks | Shalini Ramachandran and Joe Flintinterviewed more than 70 current and former Netflix employees, and, bottom line:
Netflix takes its culture seriously, believing it a crucial ingredient in the success the company has enjoyed en route to becoming a behemoth with 137 million global subscribers. To many Netflixers, the culture, at its worst, can also be ruthless, demoralizing and transparent to the point of dysfunctional.
‘Escape the corset’: South Korean women rebel against strict beauty standards | A backlash against South Korea’s ‘beauty’ standards that lead women there to spend hours each day to prepare for work:
But over the past few months, the tide has started to turn, with thousands of posts on social media showing women smashing their cosmetics as a way of rejecting mainstream ideas of beauty. One theme running through the movement is the idea of a beauty regimen as a form of labour, one that only women are expected to perform and for which they are in no way compensated.
Uber drivers have a boss: the algorithm. | Isaac Chotiner interviews Alex Rosenblat on her book, Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work.
Quote of the Day
Rewards, like punishments, are ultimately about power.
| Alfie Kohn
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