Our economy is in the midst of a grand shift toward the Hollywood model. More of us will see our working lives structured around short-term, project-based teams rather than long-term, open-ended jobs. There are many reasons this change is happening right now, but perhaps the best way to understand it is that we have reached the end of a hundred-year fluke, an odd moment in economic history that was dominated by big businesses offering essentially identical products. Competition came largely by focusing on the cost side, through making production cheaper and more efficient; this process required businesses to invest tremendous amounts in physical capital — machines and factories — and then to populate those factories with workers who performed routine activities. Nonmanufacturing corporations followed a similar model: Think of all those office towers filled with clerical staff or accountants or lawyers. That system began to fray in the United States during the 1960s, first in manufacturing, with the economic rise of Germany and Japan. It was then ripped apart by Chinese competition during the 2000s. Enter the Hollywood model, which is far more adaptable. Each new team can be assembled based on the specific needs of that moment and with a limited financial commitment.
For most of human history, people haven’t believed that the world changes very much, or that change is ever very good. Stability and security have been the ideals. News used to spread slowly, technology hardly evolved, few people ever travelled and trades were handed down from generation to generation.
But today, all that has changed. Most people regard profound, widespread and frequent change as inescapable and a good thing too. Change is now strongly associated with progress. A dominant picture has evolved of what the properly modern person is supposed to be like: someone who not only accepts change but who seeks it out, embraces it, drives it. When Steve Jobs wanted to convince John Sculley, president of Pepsi-Cola, to become CEO of the (then) much smaller Apple – he is reported as having asked him: ‘Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?’
The word ‘change’, in that famous phrase, has a powerful resonance. To change the world, Jobs seemed to be implying, is the most important, most admirable and most worthwhile thing a person can do with their life. And yet, the logical question – why is this change meant to be so important – does not get much of a look in.
I have a productivity trick that I didn’t know I had until I heard about it on a radio program. NPR did this interview with experts about boredom. iPhones and other forms of digital media were disrupting boredom, because people can occupy themselves all the time. You don’t have any more downtime—you go on your iPhone, look at email, or you’re playing video games. The fact of the matter is, that eats up really good creative time. I realize that when I’m sitting in a taxicab in traffic, or on my way to the airport, or waiting to get on a plane, or trapped in some other boring situation, that’s when I get the best ideas, because I’ve got nothing else interfering with it. I didn’t realized until I listened to that broadcast how important boredom is to me. I have to stop reading emails or being anywhere near the internet to be able to create.
A big reason we give up on projects is the perfectionist belief that it all has to be right on day one