When you come right down to it, the way we work is very similar to the way people worked in the pre-industrialized middle ages. While we don’t call it Feudalism anymore, the effect is quite the same. Feudalism in its heyday was the exchange of land for military service.  The feudal lords (equivalent to today’s private equity investors) granted land rights to the landed gentry (entrepreneurs and business owners). The landed gentry in turn granted land rights to peasants (middle managers) who in turn employed serfs (front line workers).

The work of a peasant or craftsperson was probably very enjoyable, particularly if you account for the fact that you can’t be farming crops in the winter. If you accept what Malcolm Gladwell said about the work of rice farmers there are many parallels. He held that rice farming was actually a very enjoyable pursuit because it was meaningful. There was a clear relationship between effort and reward so that the harder and more intelligently you work, the more you prosper. Secondly, the work is complex in that there are numerous factors that need to be balanced and calculated to be successful. Finally the work was autonomous, you could pretty much do what you wanted, when you wanted. Hard work yes, but very meaningful.

Today’s peasants (middle managers) though don’t have quite as enjoyable a life as peasants did under feudalism. What we have lost  in the move from feudalism is this sense of autonomy and the direct linkage between effort, results, and rewards.