Several days ago, I found myself sitting in a Zoom meeting at work. My mind was wandering, mostly because I wasn’t even for sure why I’d been invited to participate.
An idea suddenly came to me, so I reached for the notebook I always keep at hand to capture writing topics when they come. The other participants in the meeting—I had my camera turned on—would simply think that I was taking notes about the information that was being presented. Little did they know I was about to jot down a few ideas that would become the blog you’re in the process of reading.
The notes I took that day have led me to formulate Troy’s Law of Complexification as relates to what I’m going to call the World of Work for Pay (WoWfP). While thinking about the principles I’m about to share with you, I did a little research to see if others had come up with similar laws and theories. In the process of Googling around a bit, sticking my nose into every little cyber nook and cranny, I found that some are writing about the complexification within systems (including this piece in which the writer puts together an argument that runs counter to the one I’m laying out), but none are saying exactly what I’m about to say.
Troy’s Law of Complexification holds that jobs and workplaces tend to become increasingly complex over time and that this principle can lead to quite absurd and demoralizing results. I’ll use my own career to illustrate.
As many of you know, I’ve been an academician for a long time. I’ve spent most of my career teaching writing, literature, and critical thinking to students at various colleges and universities located in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
I can divide my career into two main periods: the pre-internet phase and the post-internet years. Prior to the advent of the internet, I mostly dealt with traditional texts, meaning texts on paper. My job required that I act as a subject matter expert, and I taught the skills I mentioned earlier. During the early years of my career, I was able to focus on imparting those abilities I’d learned in my formal education. After the creation of the internet, my work changed dramatically. I began to deal with texts on screens and was required to be both a subject matter expert and a master of technology and how to use it in lesson preparation and delivery. Now, rather than being able to focus on imparting skills to students, I have to spend a lot of my time and energy training and retraining.
The previous paragraph illustrates how the WoWfP doesn’t stand apart from society, cultural values, and technological developments; it is a part of society and uncritically incorporates all such changes in the workplace. (The key word here is “uncritically.”) Also, complexification not only occurred between the two major periods of my career; it happened within each period as well.
Today, I cannot do my job unless I know how to build a website, create a Zoom link, build a Microsoft Word Excel spreadsheet, and troubleshoot my computer (just to name a few small examples). In very real ways, the work I do today bears almost no resemblance to the work I did in the past even though I haven’t changed careers.
The following is a list of the basic principle of Troy’s Law of Complexification:
- Jobs, workplaces, and workplace cultures always move from less complex to more complex.
- After reaching ever-increasing levels of complexity, jobs never get simpler. (This complexification is linear and unidirectional.)
- The WoWfP seems to reject the notion that “less is more.”
- The WoWfP rewards complexity and disfavors simplicity.
- The pressure to complexify is especially strong in capitalist countries because complexification is seen as the best way to achieve maximum productivity, the ultimate aim of all for-profit entities.
Of course, as I write this, my thinking about my law is developing. Perhaps I’ll need to write a follow up next week?
What do you think about my law? Does it match your own experience?
I look forward to your comments.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.
If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.