Cognitively Speaking

  • Anthony Paolitto, Ph.D.


In our previous introductory blog post (The X-Files and AI Gone Rogue) we brought attention to the more life-saving & personal, bright & hopeful, and yes, even audacious & revolutionary aspects of AI and how they inter-played with our company’s mission (contrasted with the nameless & human-less, isolating & intrusive, and mundane). Definitely our rendition of “AI (& VR) for Good.” In a recent Harvard Business Review article (November 6, 2018) authors Achor, Reece, Kellerman & Robichaux appear to add further confirmation to what those already working in the confluence of AI and life-changing medical technology already knew: “AI for good” is much more than a nifty catchphrase, it’s a way of life, and, in some manner, it also can serve as a rate of exchange.


In reporting on their study, 9 out of 10 People are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More-Meaningful Work,” the authors conclude that the historically assumed exchange rate of money for labor is no longer as relevant, having been replaced by an expectation of intrinsic meaning from one’s labor, even if that is at the expense of earnings. The study’s respondents indicated that they would be willing to forego, on the average, 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have more meaning in their job!


Now before all the hiring managers and CEO’s out there go ahead, and in this order: 1) click your heels in glee, and 2) almost simultaneously choreographed with number one: grab a red marker and discount all your starting and existing salaries 23% -- let me propose a couple caveats from what I couldn’t surmise from what the authors did/didn’t report in their study:

  • Who are these people? “2,285 American professionals” is about the only demographic the authors provide. How many were new graduates fresh out of school, versus seasoned professionals? When I was a college professor approximately 99.87% of every beginning first year graduate student I ever encountered would appear to echo the authors sentiments of working for less to find more meaningfulness. [Myself included when I was a student.]

  • Somewhere near the end of their second semester the percentage would drop to 58.47% as the euphoria of being in grad school wore off and they began to remember those student loans they took out. Nearing graduation we were somewhere between 27.09% to 28.47% of the students still having those sentiments, dependent upon whether there was a car payment due, an impending marriage, and/or a mortgage in their near future. Sadly, after just their first year of work -- somewhere around April 15 when they realized upwards of 30 per cent of the salary they earned was not actually all theirs to keep -- the percentage stabilized at .78125%! Altruism, happiness and meaning are wonderful, but alas, they don’t always pay the bills.

  • The authors report surveying across 26 industries and “a range of pay levels.” I would editorialize their title to “9 out of 10 People are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More-Meaningful Work -- As Long as it is Still a Whole Lot of Money.” Heck, if I’m making $1,323,000 a year, it’s not that hard a stretch to see someone foregoing 23% of that to buy a whole lot of workplace satisfaction and happiness. I’m still pocketing a cool million and some change per annum to keep things cool (we’ll just ignore the IRS for the sake of this example). Even at $250,000 a year you’re still doing really well with that self-imposed 23% "meaningfulness surcharge". But most people don’t make that, not even close. As my grad student example illustrates, it’s a lot easier to say you will give up something (like 23% of all your future earnings) when you have nothing, than when you actually have it!

  • An odd incidental finding is reported, but one that confirms the problems I sense in the sample: their “my work is highly meaningful” employees were found to have job tenures that were 7.4 months longer than those who found their work less meaningful. It appears their intent was to report this as significant. Seven point four months! That’s all? Seems like a minuscule gain in the scheme of a lifetime of work (and 23% of the future income that could have gone with it).

But I digress. Despite my questions about the authors methodology and sample (which may be sound but simply were not reported or, worse yet, were to be accepted as an act of faith) there is much that does ring true to what the authors posit, at least theoretically. Workers have increasingly come to expect, as they should, something much deeper and meaningful for their labors than just a paycheck. And, when specialized talent is involved, demand for meaning becomes more salient when the high rollers of income look at that “23%” (we’ll use that figure just for the sake of argument here) as a reasonable tradeoff for their careers and outlook on life.


Meaningful work has incredible upsides as the authors conclude: employees do work harder and stay longer in supportive work cultures. We at Cognitive Recruiting Solutions certainly recognize this; the heart of our recruiting endeavors, plain and simply put, is in finding the Real Smart People who will revolutionize the world by discovering cures and solutions that have been unattainable for millennia. We believe it is just a matter of when!


Why not contact us if you’d like to be a part of that meaningful future?


Please email comments to: DrP@realsmartpeople.ai

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