It wasn’t a 100 percent honest honest mistake

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

Boeing’s MCAS (the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) was an honest mistake, but the secrecy shrouding the program’s very existence told you it wasn’t a 100 percent honest honest mistake:

According to Rick Ludtke, a former Boeing employee, Boeing agreed to rebate Southwest $1 million for every MAX it bought, if the FAA required level-D simulator training for the carrier’s pilots.

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Simulator training for Southwest’s 9,000 pilots would have been a pain, but hardly ruinous; aviation industry analyst Kit Darby said it would cost about $2,000 a head. It was also unlikely: The FAA had three levels of “differences” training that wouldn’t have necessarily required simulators. But the No Sim Edict would haunt the program; it basically required any change significant enough for designers to worry about to be concealed, suppressed, or relegated to a footnote that would then be redacted from the final version of the MAX. And that was a predicament, because for every other airline buying the MAX, the selling point was a major difference from the last generation of 737: unprecedented fuel efficiency in line with the new Airbus A320neo.

The MAX and the Neo derived their fuel efficiency from the same source: massive “LEAP” engines manufactured by CFM, a 50-50 joint venture of GE and the French conglomerate Safran. The engines’ fans were 20 inches — or just over 40 percent larger in diameter than the original 737 Pratt & Whitneys, and the engines themselves weighed in at approximately 6,120 pounds, about twice the weight of the original engines. The planes were also considerably longer, heavier, and wider of wingspan. What they couldn’t be, without redesigning the landing gear and really jeopardizing the grandfathered FAA certification, was taller, and that was a problem. The engines were too big to tuck into their original spot underneath the wings, so engineers mounted them slightly forward, just in front of the wings.

This alteration created a shift in the plane’s center of gravity pronounced enough that it raised a red flag when the MAX was still just a model plane about the size of an eagle, running tests in a wind tunnel. The model kept botching certain extreme maneuvers, because the plane’s new aerodynamic profile was dragging its tail down and causing its nose to pitch up. So the engineers devised a software fix called MCAS, which pushed the nose down in response to an obscure set of circumstances in conjunction with the “speed trim system,” which Boeing had devised in the 1980s to smooth takeoffs. Once the 737 MAX materialized as a real-life plane about four years later, however, test pilots discovered new realms in which the plane was more stall-prone than its predecessors. So Boeing modified MCAS to turn down the nose of the plane whenever an angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor detected a stall, regardless of the speed. That involved giving the system more power and removing a safeguard, but not, in any formal or genuine way, running its modifications by the FAA, which might have had reservations with two critical traits of the revamped system: Firstly, that there are two AOA sensors on a 737, but only one, fatefully, was programmed to trigger MCAS. The former Boeing engineer Ludtke and an anonymous whistle-blower interviewed by 60 Minutes Australia both have a simple explanation for this: Any program coded to take data from both sensors would have had to account for the possibility the sensors might disagree with each other and devise a contingency for reconciling the mixed signals. Whatever that contingency, it would have involved some kind of cockpit alert, which would in turn have required additional training — probably not level-D training, but no one wanted to risk that. So the system was programmed to turn the nose down at the feedback of a single (and somewhat flimsy) sensor. And, for still unknown and truly mysterious reasons, it was programmed to nosedive again five seconds later, and again five seconds after that, over and over ad literal nauseam.

An unwritten but zealously enforced handshake agreement

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

I didn’t realize quite how cozy Southwest and Boeing had grown:

On something of a lark, Boeing had given Kelleher a sweet no-money-down deal on his first four 737s in 1971, and Kelleher repaid the favor by buying more than 1,000 737s over the next 50 years — and zero of any other plane. According to a recent lawsuit against Southwest and Boeing, the airline had rewarded this loyalty with an unwritten but zealously enforced “handshake” agreement, dating back to the 1990s, that Boeing would not sell any planes for less than Southwest was paying, or Boeing would send Southwest a rebate check. And in exchange for that guarantee, Southwest reliably swooped in with big orders and/or accelerated payments after accidents, stock price plunges, or both; the same lawsuit claims that, after September 11, the airline formed an off–balance-sheet slush fund to bail out Boeing during unanticipated shortfalls, and lent other airlines its own planes when Boeing production fell behind, all while it waited patiently for its order deliveries to be filled at a time when it was convenient for Boeing. As the carriers became more profitable in the twenty-first century, more of them followed Southwest’s lead and helped Boeing make its numbers, with United Airlines and Alaska Airlines pitching in during fourth-quarter 2015, alongside Southwest, to make payments not due until 2016. Those partnerships were but one numbers-smoothing mechanism in a diversified tool kit Boeing had assembled over the previous generation for making its complex and volatile business more palatable to Wall Street, and while not entirely kosher and not at all sustainable, they were by far the least destructive tool in the kit — until Southwest called in the favor on its orders for the MAX.

Equip the man, or man the equipment?

Monday, August 26th, 2019

What has Erik Prince been up to since he sold Blackwater?

I moved to the UAE because of piracy off the coast of Somalia. At the time there were 80 to 90 ships a year being hijacked and the UAE government wanted to do something about that, so I gave some ideas as to build a police unit, which effectively ended piracy and did it for a cost of less than the pirates were taking in ransom per year. It was kind of a passion project, and it showed how cheaply and effectively the private sector can do things if allowed to innovate. I compare that to the U.S. Navy, the EU navies that were dispersed all over the Indian Ocean — if you have a problem in your yard, the smart homeowner doesn’t chase bugs all around the yard with a spray can, rather they find the nest, and that’s what we did.

Since then, I started a private equity fund, I’ve invested in some mining and energy upstream geoscience activities, and I’ve been involved in some more aviation and transportation work in Africa and the Middle East. I’ve been very public about what the United States should do in Afghanistan and a few other of the nagging problems where people continue to suffer because no one can seem to put the fire out.

The U.S. military is designed to win a conventional war, but the problem is when you take a conventional unit and re-task it from a linear battlefield, re-tasking everything from your air defense guy, your chemical weapons specialist, to your artilleryman to now fight an insurgency where the enemy is all around you or nowhere, we have a real struggle dealing with that. I remember a former Special Operations commander describe it this way, ‘In [Special Forces (SF)] units, you equip the man — the guy is the weapon system. In a conventional unit, optimized for that linear battlespace, fighting a nation state — in that case, you man the equipment.’ What does the Army say? Artillery is the king of battle, so you man the artillery, the tanks, the rockets, because that’s what does the large-scale killing on the battlefield. All that firepower doesn’t really apply to fighting guys on motorbikes wearing flip-flops, and that’s where the United States has struggled this past 17 years. Right after 9/11, we had around 100 CIA and SF guys working in Afghanistan in an unconventional manner, and they smashed the hell out of the Taliban in a matter of weeks. Then, when the conventional army rolled in, we largely replicated the Soviet battle plan.

The way the U.S. and NATO deploy there is that they send a unit for seven or eight months. The guys spend a couple of months on the ground getting to know the area, and some of them have never been to Asia in their lives. They’re productive for a couple of months, spend the last month or so packing up and ready to go home, then they lift that unit out and send another one to start again to repeat the cycle.

We’ve done that more than 30 times now, where you completely rip away any continuity. The one part of the Afghan forces, which fights pretty well is the Afghan Commandos because they’re trained and mentored by their SOF counterparts who do a better job of focusing in small unit tactics, being flexible, and equipping the man, rather than manning the equipment.

What I’ve advocated for is replicating that model across the entire regular Afghan army using SF veterans. If I send those veterans back as contractors, they can stay for years at a time on a 90-day rotation, but they go back to the same unit, the same valley, and they get to know the terrain, the good mullah, the bad mullah, and the guys are incentivized to make sure their unit performs well. They’re dependent on the local population for intelligence, and they’re responsible to protect that population from the Tailban or ISIS, so it becomes this intertwined, interlocking dependency that stems from continuity and trust.

We also have to provide those guys in the field with the overwhelming advantage of airpower, so that they get lift and medevac and resupply and close air support in a very timely manner, which hasn’t always been the case, especially for the Afghan units. They’ve been lucky to get aircraft tasked inside of 10-12 hours, unless they happen to have an American JTAC with them. So you have Afghans who are dying in the field from what should be nonlife-threatening wounds; you have Afghan firebases routinely surrounded and annihilated where nobody comes after four, five, seven days.

Our model would be a very joint program where any of our contractor-provided leased aircraft would be crewed by one professional pilot and one Afghan crewmember. Any weapons release decision remains in the sole authority of the Afghan, so it’s not a contractor dropping a bomb or shooting a canon, only an Afghani citizen.

The third component is what I call government support. In this, we’re not trying to fix the government, just the key elements that the military needs to run on. Getting the men paid on time, fed on time, supplied and medevaced. There’s currently a huge amount of ‘ghost soldiers,’ a huge amount of corruption, which bleeds the supplies, and there’s corruption in the promotion process because guys are promoted by their ethnicity or religious affiliation, rather than merit, competency, or bravery.

I had hundreds of instructors attached to Afghan units for a long time — we built the entire Afghan border police. I had many reports of when we’d get a new crop of students that within two days you could tell if there was a bad egg. When the other Afghan students — who greatly appreciate the fact that they were in a properly run schoolhouse, where they’re getting fed, paid, and the light switches work, and there’s batteries for the radios and a comms plan — they took care of making sure that any bad eggs were removed and sent on their way. The way that mentoring is currently done by the U.S. Army is largely one of drive-by mentoring, where they’re not living on the same base, eating at the same chow hall, and embedded with their Afghan brothers.

It is not the seller and so can’t be responsible

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Amazon has shifted from something like a big-box store to something much more like a flea market:

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon.com Inc. ’s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators — items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.

The Journal identified at least 157 items for sale that Amazon had said it banned, including sleeping mats the Food and Drug Administration warns can suffocate infants. The Journal commissioned tests of 10 children’s products it bought on Amazon, many promoted as “Amazon’s Choice.” Four failed tests based on federal safety standards, according to the testing company, including one with lead levels that exceeded federal limits.

Of the 4,152 products the Journal identified, 46% were listed as shipping from Amazon warehouses.

[...]

Amazon’s common legal defense in safety disputes over third-party sales is that it is not the seller and so can’t be responsible under state statutes that let consumers sue retailers. Amazon also says that, as a provider of an online forum, it is protected by the law — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 — that shields internet platforms from liability for what others post there.

[...]

Third-party sellers are crucial to Amazon because their sales have exploded — to nearly 60% of physical merchandise sales in 2018 from 30% a decade ago, Amazon says. The site had 2.5 million merchants with items for sale at the end of 2018, estimates e-commerce-intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon doesn’t make it easy for customers to see that many products aren’t sold by the company. Many third-party items the Journal examined were listed as Amazon Prime eligible and sold through the Fulfillment by Amazon program, which generally ships items from Amazon warehouses in Amazon-branded boxes. The actual seller’s name appeared only in small print on the listing page.

[...]

In contrast, Walmart Inc. requires all products on store shelves be tested at approved labs, company documents show. Target says it requires suppliers of store-branded products to undergo additional inspections and testing beyond government standards.

Target and Walmart have created online marketplaces for third parties to sell directly to consumers. Target’s site, launched earlier this year with several sellers, is invitation-only. Walmart had around 22,000 sellers at the end of 2018, according to Marketplace Pulse. It requires an application that can take days for approval, and only a fraction of merchants applying make it through the vetting, says a person familiar with Walmart’s policy.

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films:

Earlier this month, Netflix agreed to spend nearly $200 million to make the Dwayne Johnson action movie “Red Notice,” which will be filmed next year at exotic locations and also stars Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, the people said. In addition, a person familiar with the matter said, Netflix plans to release later this year “6 Underground,” a Michael Bay-directed action film that is costing about $150 million, and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

The latter film might be the company’s riskiest bet. “The Irishman,” a historical drama likely to appeal only to adults interested in serious subject matter, costs as much as some all-ages action-adventure movies because of cutting-edge visual effects that allow stars including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to appear at different ages. People close to the picture said Netflix’s total commitment is at least $173 million, with some going above $200 million, making “The Irishman” the most expensive adult drama in recent history.

Netflix has previously said about one-third of its total viewing is movies, rather than television series.

[...]

Netflix has been picking up many film projects Hollywood studios didn’t see as commercially viable at the box office, at least at the same budgets. Recent examples include Sandra Bullock’s post-apocalyptic movie “Bird Box’” and the jungle-heist flick “Triple Frontier,” starring Ben Affleck. Neither was a standout with critics, but “Bird Box” drew 80 million viewers during its first month and “Triple Frontier” has been watched 63 million times since its March release, the company said, making them Netflix’s first and fifth most popular original films, respectively.

Netflix bought the rights to “The Irishman” after major studios passed because of concerns that it was too expensive for a drama, a genre that has struggled at the box office in recent years. The producers were in the midst of raising independent funds to make the film when Netflix entered. “Without Netflix, ‘Irishman’ would not have been made,” said one of the people close to the movie. “I just don’t see [other] studios wanting to dive into these projects any more. I think they are staying away from the riskier, more mature films, especially dramas.”

The dark side of Japan’s anime industry

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

According to this Vox piece on the dark side of Japan’s anime industry, animators there don’t make a living wage, despite being in great demand:

Shingo Adachi, an animator and character designer for Sword Art Online, a popular anime TV series, said the talent shortage is a serious ongoing problem — with nearly 200 animated TV series alone made in Japan each year, there aren’t enough skilled animators to go around. Instead, studios rely on a large pool of essentially unpaid freelancers who are passionate about anime.

At the entry level are “in-between animators,” who are usually freelancers. They’re the ones who make all the individual drawings after the top-level directors come up with the storyboards and the middle-tier “key animators” draw the important frames in each scene.

In-between animators earn around 200 yen per drawing — less than $2. That wouldn’t be so bad if each artist could crank out 200 drawings a day, but a single drawing can take more than an hour. That’s not to mention anime’s meticulous attention to details that are by and large ignored by animation in the West, like food, architecture, and landscape, which can take four or five times longer than average to draw.

[...]

According to the Japanese Animation Creators Association, an animator in Japan earns on average ¥1.1 million (~$10,000) per year in their 20s, ¥2.1 million (~$19,000) in their 30s, and a livable but still meager ¥3.5 million (~$31,000) in their 40s and 50s. The poverty line is Japan is ¥2.2 million.

[...]

Anime’s structural iniquities stem back to Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy and the “god of manga.” Tezuka was responsible for an endless catalog of innovations and precedents in manga, Japanese comics, and anime, onscreen animation. In the early 1960s, with networks unwilling to take the risk on an animated series, Tezuka massively undersold his show to get it on air.

“Basically, Tezuka and his company were going to take a loss for the actual show,” said Michael Crandol, an assistant professor of Japanese studies at Leiden University. “They planned to make up for the loss with Astro Boy toys and figures and merchandise, branded candy. … But because that particular scenario worked for Tezuka and the broadcasters, it became the status quo.”

How much work can a young animator produce in one year for $10,000? I’m tempted to come up with a project.

Fortnite’s dominance is ebbing

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the man behind Fortnite:

By age 30, Epic Games Inc. founder and CEO Tim Sweeney had a couple of successful videogames under his belt and was starting to make real money.

“I had a Ferrari and a Lamborghini in the parking lot of my apartment,” he recalled. “People who hadn’t met me thought I must be a drug dealer.”

Today, Mr. Sweeney, at 48, is worth more than $7 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. Epic was last valued at $15 billion, counting Walt Disney Co. and China’s Tencent Holdings PLC among its investors. And “Fortnite,” its blockbuster game, has racked up 250 million players and $3.9 billion in estimated revenue.

[...]

While the biggest U.S. videogame companies are clustered in Los Angeles, New York and the Bay Area, Epic is based in Cary, N.C., down the road from Raleigh. Mr. Sweeney said the location prevents Epic from being swayed by Silicon Valley groupthink.

[...]

Epic tried something different. It made “Fortnite” free and put it on every major device people use to play games — consoles, computers, smartphones and tablets. It put its own spin on a trendy new genre called Battle Royale, where a large group of players fight until only one person or squad is left standing. It constantly tweaked the game’s virtual world to give players something new to discover. And it took the popular shooter format and made it less violent and more playful, with colorful characters who compete with dance moves as well as firearms.

[...]

By erasing the barriers between players with different devices, Epic effectively turned “Fortnite” into a massive social network. Wearing headsets to talk to one another, groups of friends trade jokes and gossip while battling to survive.

[...]

Mr. Sweeney founded Epic in 1991 from his parents’ basement, at age 20, funding it with $4,000 in personal savings. He later dropped out of the University of Maryland a few credits shy of a mechanical-engineering degree. “I went from mowing lawns to being CEO of Epic,” said Mr. Sweeney, who got his diploma in 2018.

In its early years, the company had some success with a handful of games, including “Unreal Tournament” and “Gears of War,” that followed more traditional shoot-’em-up formats.

[...]

Today, “Fortnite’s” dominance is ebbing. Monthly revenue from sales of virtual perks such as costumes and dance moves for players’ avatars has fallen 56% since peaking at a record $372.2 million in December, according to Nielsen’s SuperData.

The top 20 most watched shows on Netflix include only a few “originals”

Monday, July 8th, 2019

I’m not sure I’d say that ‘Stranger Things’ helps illustrate the flaws in Netflix’s strategy:

Last year, Netflix shelled out more than $12 billion to purchase, license and produce content. This year, that figure will rise to $15 billion. It will spend $2.9 billion more on marketing. These costs come as Netflix is expected to report $20.2 billion in revenue in 2019, according to analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

[...]

From 2012 to 2016, Netflix subscriptions in the U.S. grew about 5% each year and spiked by 10% in 2017. However, in 2018, domestic memberships only grew about 3.6%.

Internationally, Netflix has grown its subscriptions to nearly 81 million, up from just 1.86 million in 2011. Since 2015, the company has seen double digit growth in this area. Altogether, the company has just under 150 million subscribers.

Also, of the top 20 most watched shows on Netflix, six are “originals,” but only one of those are actually owned by the company, according to data from Nielsen and Pachter.

Top 20 Shows on Netflix in 2018 by Minutes

I knew I was odd, but I guess I don’t watch any of Netflix’s top shows.

Joe Rogan interviews the Angel Philosopher

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Joe Rogan recently interviewed Naval Ravikant (The Angel Philosopher):

Better than any national park

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

Jared Diamond is clearly liberal, but not orthodox:

There are also corporate interests because I’m on the board of directors for the World Wildlife Fund and I was on the board of Conservation International, and on our boards are leaders of really big companies like Walmart and Coca-Cola are their heads, their CEOs, have been on our boards.

I see that corporations, big corporations, while some of them do horrible things, some of them also are doing wonderful things which don’t make the front page. When there was the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska, you can bet that made the front page. When Chevron was managing its oil field in Papua New Guinea in a utterly rigorous way, better than any national park I’ve ever been in, that certainly did not make the front page because it wasn’t a good picture.

In the tropics this was beyond price

Monday, April 29th, 2019

One of the officers Dunlap served with in the Philippines was a good trader and had done some “advantageous business” with navy and CB forces in the Admiralties:

A jeep had turned into a huge generator, much larger than our regular authorized one, and another jeep into — prize beyond words — an ice machine. It only made slush ice (a snow-like product), but we had cold stuff. It required water constantly running through it to cool the machinery, so it was never used at all while we were in Leyte. Long before, the boys had picked up a refrigerating unit and built a water cooler, running cooling pipes through a tank set on a small trailer. Two G.I. cans set on top were filled and the power turned on. When the tank cooled off, ice-cold drinking water was available at both a faucet and a homemade fountain spout. In the tropics this was beyond price. The trailer was easy to set up and could be in operation within a few hours after stopping. A large oven had been accumulated along the line somewhere and as the company had a good baker we had more than the usual run of bread, pie and cake. I appreciated these things, having been on C, K and 10-in-1 rations for the past five or six weeks, most of the time.

Skillfully alternating largess and spreading out surpluses

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Dunlap’s QM job, working on the fruit delivery truck, turned into a gravy chain:

I usually had a good extra supply, which of course became the highest grade of trading stock. I was the mess sergeant’s friend, “The Man With The Stuff.” Steaks, pies, etc., came my way as long as I had a couple of extra crates of oranges to put out to whatever cook or mess sergeant was in line for promotion or just wanted to take good care of his boys. By skillfully alternating my largess and spreading out the surpluses everyone was happy and convinced he was doing better than the next outfit, so I did OK. Even after I lost the job I was welcome at most of the mess halls at any time, which is a record of some kind, mess sergeants being notoriously unfriendly to everybody below the rank of full colonel between meals.

There were more useless high-ranking officers in Egypt than in England

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

There were more useless high-ranking officers in Egypt than in England, Dunlap thought, in 1943:

When we were working, we had to clean up the shop and get everything in order for one of these fast-walk inspections, taking at least two hours’ time and knocking about a half day’s work out of production. We really hated that, and for a couple of days after one of those exhibitions no one felt like working, feeling that there was really no point in extending ourselves if the officers could waste our time.

That management lesson might apply more generally.

Point-to-point rocket flights could be a $20B market

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

In a decade, high speed travel via outer space could represent a $20 billion market:

Long haul airplane flights that are more than 10 hours in duration would “be cannibalized” by point-to-point flights on rockets, UBS said. The firm pointed to SpaceX’s plans to use the massive Starship rocket it is building to fly as many as 100 people around the world in minutes. SpaceX said that Starship would be able to fly from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes, rather than the 15 hours it takes currently by airplane.

UBS estimates that there are more than 150 million passengers a year that fly routes longer than 10 hours. Last year, those routes saw 527,000 routes on airplane that had an average of 309 seats, UBS said.

“If we assume that 5 percent of these flights in the future are serviced by space at $2,500 per trip, the revenue opportunity as of today would be more than $20 billion per year as of today,” UBS said

You don’t have to be curing cancer

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

Charles Duhigg — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Power of Habit — went to Harvard Business School and found that most of his classmates were pretty miserable 15 years later:

What I found was that my classmates were hardly unique in their dissatisfaction; even in a boom economy, a surprising portion of Americans are professionally miserable right now. In the mid-1980s, roughly 61 percent of workers told pollsters they were satisfied with their jobs. Since then, that number has declined substantially, hovering around half; the low point was in 2010, when only 43 percent of workers were satisfied, according to data collected by the Conference Board, a nonprofit research organization. The rest said they were unhappy, or at best neutral, about how they spent the bulk of their days. Even among professionals given to lofty self-images, like those in medicine and law, other studies have noted a rise in discontent. Why? Based on my own conversations with classmates and the research I began reviewing, the answer comes down to oppressive hours, political infighting, increased competition sparked by globalization, an “always-on culture” bred by the internet — but also something that’s hard for these professionals to put their finger on, an underlying sense that their work isn’t worth the grueling effort they’re putting into it.

This wave of dissatisfaction is especially perverse because corporations now have access to decades of scientific research about how to make jobs better. “We have so much evidence about what people need,” says Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (and a contributing opinion writer at The Times). Basic financial security, of course, is critical — as is a sense that your job won’t disappear unexpectedly. What’s interesting, however, is that once you can provide financially for yourself and your family, according to studies, additional salary and benefits don’t reliably contribute to worker satisfaction. Much more important are things like whether a job provides a sense of autonomy — the ability to control your time and the authority to act on your unique expertise. People want to work alongside others whom they respect (and, optimally, enjoy spending time with) and who seem to respect them in return.

And finally, workers want to feel that their labors are meaningful. “You don’t have to be curing cancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley. We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small a matter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery store. “You can be a salesperson, or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people’s problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically,” Schwartz says.

One of the more significant examples of how meaningfulness influences job satisfaction comes from a study published in 2001. Two researchers — Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale and Jane Dutton, now a distinguished emeritus professor at the University of Michigan — wanted to figure out why particular janitors at a large hospital were so much more enthusiastic than others. So they began conducting interviews and found that, by design and habit, some members of the janitorial staff saw their jobs not as just tidying up but as a form of healing. One woman, for instance, mopped rooms inside a brain-injury unit where many residents were comatose. The woman’s duties were basic: change bedpans, pick up trash. But she also sometimes took the initiative to swap around the pictures on the walls, because she believed a subtle stimulation change in the unconscious patients’ environment might speed their recovery. She talked to other convalescents about their lives. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” she told the researchers. “That is not really part of my job description, but I like putting on a show for them.” She would dance around, tell jokes to families sitting vigil at bedsides, try to cheer up or distract everyone from the pain and uncertainty that otherwise surrounded them. In a 2003 study led by the researchers, another custodian described cleaning the same room two times in order to ease the mind of a stressed-out father.

To some, the moral might seem obvious: If you see your job as healing the sick, rather than just swabbing up messes, you’re likely to have a deeper sense of purpose whenever you grab the mop. But what’s remarkable is how few workplaces seem to have internalized this simple lesson.