Since 2011, the show’s producers, Disney Theatrical Productions, have been relying on a previously undisclosed computer algorithm to recommend the highest ticket prices that audiences would be likely to pay for each of the 1,700 seats at every performance in the Minskoff Theater. While other shows also employ this so-called dynamic pricing system to raise seat prices during tourist-heavy holiday weeks, only Disney has reached the level of sophistication achieved in the airline and hotel industries by continually using its algorithm to calibrate prices based on demand and ticket purchasing patterns.
By charging $10 more here, $20 more there, “The Lion King” stunned Broadway at year’s end as the No. 1 earner for the first time since 2003, bumping off the champ, “Wicked.” And Disney even managed to do it by charging half as much for top tickets as some rivals.
We’ve all got different ideas about what’s reasonable. I think drinking a meat smoothie is a sign of the impending end of civilization, but I’m totally fine with wearing the same thing every day — a la Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Barack Obama — in order to save time. And we’ve all got a different appetite for work, a different sense of where to draw the line. However, as James Allworth pointed out in our own SXSW panel on why men work so many hours, it’s tough to stick to those limits when the rewards of work are immediate, and the rewards of life accrue more slowly. (To some parents of teenagers, these rewards may seem practically glacial.) It becomes tempting to reserve the best of ourselves for the short-term gains of work and “automate” the long game of life.
Still, I do think each of us has a Rubicon — wherever it is, and whenever we find it. On crossing it, we may start to see luxury not as having a personal assistant or a weekly massage, but as doing something useless simply because we felt like doing it — not because it made us smarter, or thinner, or more productive.
The most dominant companies, no matter the industry, are digital-first. Think Netflix over Blockbuster or iTunes over Tower Records. So how can we take advantage of this trend in our work and with our own projects?
Aaron Dignan, speaking at the 99u conference, walks us through how we can have the right mindset to thrive in the future: We need a purpose, a process to support it, the right people, and (most importantly) these need to combine to make products that serve a community larger than any employee or organization. Dignan shows off plenty of examples and tells us what to adopt for our own work. “When we look at the companies that are really dominating, this is what they are doing.”
Is a progress bar a tool to make us more efficient or a sop that helps us pass the time? Its ancestor, the pen-and-paper “progress chart,” showed up in the early 20th century and was hailed at the time as a major innovation. It “refers all facts to the irreducible and final element of human life — time,” wrote Walter Polakov, an early pioneer in project management (and dedicated Marxist), in 1923. “Because it is true to the human dimension, it is both human and humane; hence it obliterates conflicts between men and management, promotes the fullest exercise of man’s creative forces and places work in its proper relation to life.”
In 1964, Life magazine, in an article about “Too Much Leisure,” asserted that “there will certainly be a sharp decline in the average work week” and that “some prophets of what automation is doing to our economy think we are on the verge of a 30-hour week; others as low as 25 or 20.” Obviously, we blew it. Our technologies may have made us prosthetic gods, yet they have somehow failed to deliver on the central promise of free time. The problem is that, as every individual task becomes easier, we demand much more of both ourselves and others. Instead of fewer difficult tasks (writing several long letters) we are left with a larger volume of small tasks (writing hundreds of e-mails). We have become plagued by a tyranny of tiny tasks, individually simple but collectively oppressive. And, when every task in life is easy, there remains just one profession left: multitasking.