Weekly Wisdom 06/12/2020—On The Beauty of Doorknobs

Plus status games in the workplace.


Welcome to Weekly Wisdom. Here I share my highlights and notes of all the best stuff I read , listened, and watched over the past week. All the notes are presented as is, so bear the typos and other irregularities.

I skipped last week. I barely had anytime to read or consume much. This week wasn’t all that different. But I still managed to carve out some time for myself. I also managed to post 2 posts this week.

On with this week’s picks

Status and Its uses

Status as an Economic good

As an economic good, social status is a lot like health. They’re both intangible and highly personal. In proper economic terms, they are private goods — rivalrous and mostly excludable. And the fact that they’re hard to measure doesn’t make them any less valuable — in fact we spend trillions of dollars a year in their pursuit (though they often elude us).

Source: The Economics of Social Status, Kevin Simler

Status as a Motivation tool

Similarly, every request for a favor is a complex bidding process (i.e. negotiation) framed largely — and often implicitly — in terms of status. When a manager, for example, gives a task to a subordinate, many nuances are involved in negotiating the ‘price’ of the favor in terms of the subordinate’s status:

– Does the manager frame the task as a favor (high status for the subordinate), as a request (medium status), or as a demand (low status)?

– Does the manager lower his or her status when making the request? Please and thank you are just the two most ritualized ways of doing this; there are many others. Alternately, does the manager attempt to raise the status of the subordinate? E.g. “You’d be really good at this.” – Conditional verbs (would, could) allude to the subordinate’s autonomy (and high status), whereas declarative verbs set an expectation that there will be no negotiating (low status).

– Does the subordinate acquiesce immediately to the request (low status), hint at requiring extra terms (medium status), or outright reject the request (high status)?

– Does the subordinate accept the task happily (low status) or begrudgingly (high status)?

Source: The Economics of Social Status, Kevin Simler

Framing Managerial delegation as a Status Transaction is an interesting way to look at it. Should you indulge desire to be high-status by withholding it? or increase the status of the other party by raising their status?.

My experience tells me that everyone makes these decision implicitly, in the subconscious. However, asking the question explicitly with yourself might improve how you manage.

Status Chasing and the crumbling of societies

Gresham’s Law. Gresham’s Law states that “bad money drives out good.” The classic example is that people will attempt to spend coins suspected of being counterfeit before they spend coins that they know to be honest. Does something similar happen with social status? Emphatically, yes. Within the economy of an office, say, we can distinguish between the ‘honest’ status earned by doing one’s job vs. the ‘counterfeit’ status earned by carefully manipulating one’s image. It’s all too easy to reach an equilibrium where counterfeit, image-based status drives out honest, reality-based status. Once an office culture allows its employees to win large amounts of status by ‘talking themselves up,’ everyone drops what they’re doing to focus on seeking credit and avoiding blame. In such an economy, only a sucker does any real work.

Source: The Economics of Social Status, Kevin Simler

Beauty in the Boring

I am amazed by how beautifully complex yet perfectly simple an object like a doorknob or a toilet or a ketchup packet can be…We live in a world gifted to us by countless wizards, who dreamed, discovered, and invented. All in the hopes that one day their revolutionary idea could achieve the highest honor in all of humanity…Become boring.

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