The End of 996: Embracing Creativity and Connection in the New Era of Artificial Intelligence

  In Prato, Italy, in the early 20th century, there was a legend that “Chinese people will never die”.
  The local government found that in 1991, there were almost no official records of Chinese deaths in Prato or two nearby towns. Between 1997 and 2001, the average mortality rate among Chinese immigrants was only 0.6%.
  The Chinese seem to be immortal.
  In the book “The Immortal Chinese”, the author wrote: “They work, make money, and change Italy, so the locals are afraid.” As for the low mortality rate, the author found after research that when the Chinese cannot continue If you work, you will be sent back to the country, because the sick and the elderly prefer to return to their roots rather than die in a foreign land.
  But for the Chinese, this “weird story” in Italy is just an ordinary 996 situation in the workplace. Involution is like a talent engraved in the bones, silent and overwhelming. The current Internet industry is no longer involved. Can be rolled up, full of fatigue.
  People began to realize that manpower is limited and life is limited. If you are too busy, you will die suddenly. To make matters worse, something truly efficient and immortal has emerged, occupying the public’s attention: ChatGPT, which can do homework, write papers, type code, and seems to be omnipotent, is truly immortal.
  From the days when the trend was booming, rapid expansion, and headcount exchange for efficiency, to today’s layoffs and “efficiency revolution”, the Internet industry has reached the extreme on the road of 996, but it also sees the end of 996 everywhere it looks.
  As we stand at the end and look forward to a new starting point, this article attempts to explore the following questions: Is 996 arsenic wrapped in honey? Why did this fighting spirit that everyone praised end up degenerating into low-level diligence? What is the correct approach for people and organizations to develop in the contemporary workplace?
When code becomes the steel and cement of the new era

  There was a time when people viewed the Internet as a lucrative business.
  “For example, games,” said Hong Miao, a 2011 Procter & Gamble alumnus and senior expert in product operations at Tencent. “A game can serve 1.4 billion people. If it goes overseas, it will target people all over the world. However, the cost has not changed much. It is sold in a bottle. Shampoo is not on the same scale at all. “
  As a disruptive production method, the value created by the Internet is much higher than that of traditional industries, which also contributes to the high wages in the Internet industry.
  Code has become the steel and cement of the new era.
  The entry of capital has added fuel to the heat. Smart capital will always go where there is more money. When capital flows into the Internet industry, companies are forced to move forward faster, pursuing “miracles with great strength” in a sea of ​​​​people. After all, those who eat people are soft-spoken and those who take advantage of others are short-handed. Since you have taken capital money, you must give back to investors.
  Although there are always people calling for “not too curled up” during the process, there are always people questioning the meaning of work to life behind 996, and some people have created “Wei Wei Yiju”, or spread their arms and shouted “You can curl up, but don’t be useless”. Brain roll”.
  But all this is beyond our control.
  When everyone around you is working overtime, the workplace is shrouded in an invisible atmosphere that no one can escape. Someone once described the night of 996 like this: “Everyone is working overtime. You don’t know when everyone will leave, because no one says hello when they leave. It’s like they just went downstairs to buy a cup of coffee and will continue to come back to work. But at night After 9:30, the number of people around began to gradually decrease. Once, we thought that a designer had left, but another person insisted that ‘he must not have left yet, his down jacket is still on the back of the chair,’ but there was no sign of him. .The next day, the designer came, wearing a down jacket exactly like the one on the back of the chair.”

  Faced with the inevitable involution, these hidden “street wisdoms” began to spread quietly, trying to restore people’s remaining thoughts of freedom. Whether they are workers or managers, they all feel that they are not at fault and that they are just helpless.
  But the fire just happened to burn like this.
  When involution has become a topic of conversation for everyone after dinner, even the old man in the alley who goes to the park for a walk every day has heard of the word “involution”. Involution has finally become a mountain that contemporary professionals cannot get around – people are involved in involution. Not because of the desire to win, but because of the fear of falling behind.
  After all, when everyone around you is sprinting, running slowly becomes a step back.
Confused diligence is a “safe way to hide everything”

  What did you gain in the end after the crazy involution? In the past two years, major Internet companies have been slimming down, cutting costs, and laying off employees. The business scale they expanded through continuous burning of money was ultimately proved to be “inflated”, and it is difficult to find a profit model for many businesses.
  This is not surprising, after all, creative positions do not follow the simple logic of “big efforts can produce miracles”.
  ”Also taking the gaming industry as an example,” Hong Miao said, “its success is very random and unpredictable. Although some people have always made summaries, listed all the phenomenal games on the market, and extracted common elements, this There are many shared categories, but they are all useless. When you try to create a second hit based on the summarized element formula, you will find that there is no chance at all, and hindsight will not work. Even if you follow all the logic of the sheep, copy it as it is. , but there are no hits. So in my opinion, there is no need to engage in 996 for work such as game planning. I have heard that some game companies practice this. Overtime work is strongly discouraged, and vacations are taken when needed, and they are implemented very well. It’s good, because extending working hours is useless.”
  But in more companies, the “dream of wealth and wealth in the world” has catalyzed everyone’s life and death, but no results can be seen.
  In the stage of barbaric growth, if you are willing to charge more, you will often have a greater chance of winning. However, in the stage of carving up the stock, mechanically repeating the “pile of heads” strategy is just a way of seeking a sword in history. It is precisely for this reason that the recent layoffs in the Internet are seen as paying for years of blind expansion.
  The glorious castle of the past is now a giant tower of dragons.
  ”Even if the boss knows in his heart that employees who work overtime are actually fishing,” Hong Miao added, “but assuming that 20% of the time is fishing and 80% of the time working, as long as the working hours continue to be extended, the total output will definitely be higher. Therefore, working overtime will In fact, it is a ‘safe way’. Of course, this also has something to do with recruiting people. For example, if you can select the best of the best and recruit a group of highly self-motivated people like Procter & Gamble, then you should trust everyone and not forcefully extend working hours. .”
  In the documentary “The Elon Musk Show”, in order to expand the scale of Tesla’s production line as soon as possible, Musk and his subordinates shuttled through the workshop while saying: “I will never just stay in the ivory tower. In the battlefield. If that means moving the seats to the middle of the factory, then move them here.”
  Since then, this “genius + madman” who was commented by his subordinates as “the things he thinks about in his head at any time are tens of thousands times more than ordinary people” and “I think he is smarter than Einstein”, have been seen sleeping in the bed many times. At the factory, a subordinate said: “He (Musk) asks us to do the impossible, but he leads by example, so how do you say ‘no’ to the hardest-working man in the world?”

  From cars to artificial intelligence, from chips that can be installed in the head to rockets, Musk has attracted a group of loyal subordinates like believers while moving forward with his almost crazy work mode. He is not a leader of the times, but a leader of the times. It is creating a new era.
  People have projected their secret expectations on Musk, their admiration for the strong, their desire for success, and even their brief childhood fantasy of “becoming a hero and taking people away from the earth” when they were young. They have also been quietly revived because of Musk’s existence.
  But unlike Musk’s strong directionality and almost paranoid insistence on the dream of “colonizing Mars”, some companies’ 996 is not a sprint for the dream, but blindly emphasizes employees’ dedication and overtime work, but does not look for reasons in strategic decisions, and ultimately becomes A “safety cover” for self-deception.
  Hong Miao added that another source of involution lies in leaders’ lack of self-confidence. “There are many such situations. For example, a department leader received a goal this year and then dismantled the strategy. However, in fact, he was not sure about the play method that was dismantled, so he needed to control the process to ensure that he was safe. The simplest thing is to let everyone work all the time to transmit and transfer pressure.”
  People usually think that 996 and lying flat are the two extremes of the scale. Lying flat means not wanting to step out of your comfort zone, while 996 is the opposite.
  But later on, 996 became another type of comfort zone – companies huddled in the existing strategic areas and did not change, putting the external market, internal decision-making and organizational atmosphere at the back, trying to use low-level diligence to Close all competitive gaps.
The best way to deceive yourself and others: Create a common “enemy”

  Although high-end and creative positions are not suitable for extended working hours, there are always basic positions. Is it effective to pile people in basic positions?
  To a certain extent, the answer is yes. Even if hard work doesn’t produce miracles, it can at least increase production. Hong Miao said: “For example, if we hold activities of the same scale, form and theme, the effect of doing three activities and two activities a week is obviously different. If the value of a job comes from working hours, then either the working hours will be extended or the headcount will be increased.”
  However, regardless of the increasing demand for creativity in the new era, even a simple “struggle for manpower and physical strength” will gradually become extreme in the process of competing for dividends.
  One extreme is “need and want both” – “Some companies talk about being wolfish and 996, don’t think about anything else, just rush forward with all your strength,” said a 1994 Procter & Gamble alumnus and thinker Wang Lie, founder of Code Management Consulting, said, “But on the other hand, it also requires adapting measures to local conditions and attacking flexibly. This requires both wolfishness and ‘one city, one policy’, but this is impossible, you know? Either it is determined The following are all simple types of work. Once you have formulated a strategy, just follow it and implement it without any changes; you need innovation and brain power, and you can’t rush without thinking.” If you want to be faster and save money, you should also
  add innovation. When these words are Put together, it becomes a paradox in itself.
  Another extreme is “turning wolfish nature into aggression.” Wang Lie said: “In the field of ‘problem solving’, ‘having a bad guy’ is regarded as a simple problem – no matter how complicated things are, as long as there is a common enemy, it is a simple problem. If there is no clear bad guy, but Problems caused by layer-by-layer effects are complex system problems. There is a practical skill behind this: when encountering complex problems, it is necessary to find or create a ‘bad guy’. Therefore, although the fighting spirit is important, wild fighting often It is easy to go out of line. The typical symptoms are: directly shouting the slogan “Down with XX competitors” in the enterprise, naming them by name, and scolding them every day. Who doesn’t want to get shares from opponents? I do too. But this is a strategic and tactical matter. , once it rises to the level of corporate culture, the collapse of values ​​is not far away.”
  In this ups and downs in the business world, competitors, as “bad guys”, have attracted all the anger of companies because they have more than enough ambition and insufficient power, and they have to bear the brunt of it again and again. Big, round pot.
  In addition, the paradox of blindly advocating wolf nature is that after a long time, companies will even be fooled by wolf nature. Wang Lie said: “For example, if the organizational performance is not good enough, I will never blame the wolf culture, but I will think that I am not sincere enough and cannot do the job well, like King Zhou who was fascinated by Daji, or the scholar who was knocked down by the vixen. Then What can we do? We are walking on the road to the afterlife and drifting further and further away.”
Creativity and inspiration: mutual achievement with work

  A senior manager once said: “The current environment is all about cost reduction and efficiency improvement, which means that the number of people in the company is decreasing, and it is difficult to pay overtime wages. From a financial cost perspective, it is difficult for the company to continue the ‘headcount stacking’ strategy . What’s more, my employees are intellectual workers. If they don’t have enough will to be creative, it’s useless if I force them with a gun. No matter how much time they have, it won’t solve the problem. I will only feel the moral guilt of being forced to work overtime. ”
  The emergence of ChatGPT has added fuel to the fire. The omnipotence of AI has made most professions feel the end that is visible to the naked eye. When it comes to 996 and 007, no one can beat the machine in terms of “quantity”. When it comes to Wharton The business school obtained B- to B scores in the MBA test, which means there has also been a “qualitative” breakthrough.
  It’s of high quality and quantity, and you don’t have to pay five insurances and one housing fund. What employer wouldn’t say “it smells so good” after seeing it?
  For organizations and individuals, the new proposition of the era is: How to say goodbye to low-level diligence? When ChatGPT has not yet been widely used, how can we better allow employees to show their talents and welcome the arrival of the new era? What impact might ChatGPT have on the world in the long term? What does this mean for organizations and individuals?
  Freelancing is the dream of many people. After all, you don’t have to be subject to repeated modifications by Party A. You can choose what you like, work only for yourself, and maximize your personal talents. But only a handful of people earn high incomes through freelancing. This rare sight at the tip of the pyramid is so dazzling that it obscures the muddy path leading to the top.
  In comparison, working in a company can provide an individual with a layer of “safety net.” However, when the dividends recede, when the competitive pressure faced by the company becomes more intense, and when layoffs occur frequently, the organization and its employees will need to think about a new cooperative relationship. : How to make personal goals and organizational goals more consistent? How to enable employees to realize personal value through the company’s platform, so that the company can also gain value and achieve mutual success?
  Once upon a time, major Internet companies built their own buildings in the suburbs, with everything from canteens to gyms. The lights were bright until late at night. Employees spent most of their time in the company building. Returning to their own homes after work was like leaving a large closed box. , move to another small box, wait until daybreak, and then move from the small box to the big box.
  But “whip the fast cows” is no longer applicable. The years when companies held their dinner plates high and sharpened their knives to compete for the bonus cake are over. Today’s stock market has long since lost the cake. Stop sealing organizations and individuals in boxes. , to build an open network through links and find new business opportunities.
  ”The company hopes that employees can work in a good condition because only in this way can they innovate, but in a long-term 996 environment, employees have no energy to think about other things and will use their brains when working,” said the senior manager.
  ”Now the company needs to use fewer people to create greater benefits. What we need is not that employees are brainless 996, but to develop other interests after work, maintain physical and mental pleasure, and then bring inspiration into work. For example , coders can listen to music and learn painting, and the inspiration gained from their interests can be brought into work, digitizing art and releasing greater value, and employees have become compound talents.”

Historical Divide: Toward the Era of Artificial Intelligence

  From the perspective of embracing the era of artificial intelligence, this complexity helps individuals and organizations burst out new creative sparks.
  Anthropology professor David Graeber has argued that more than half of all jobs are bullshit jobs, and this proportion continues to grow. However, the existence of ChatGPT has broken the original fragile balance, and the bubble of knowing about bullshit jobs in the workplace will be shattered.
  After all, even now, more and more customer service calls are completed by voice robots, and ChatGPT proves that the jobs that can be replaced by machines are far more than customer service. With the development of AI, reporters, lawyers, finance, programmers, etc. Careers may eventually come to an end.
  “What may happen in the future is that most jobs will be done by AI, and people will just review them,” said the senior manager. “Just like network auditors, they will be reviewed by machines first and then manually; For example, a self-driving safety officer, the safety officer just sits in the passenger seat and does not need to move most of the time. The car is fully driven and only takes action at a few critical moments. Most of the work in the future will become like this.” “China under great changes
  . Zhao Xiangyang, author of the book “Management”, said on his official account: “In the future, most people will indeed not be able to find a job, and society does not need everyone to work 8 hours a day. There is a high probability that only about 20% of people will be able to work. To support the whole society. Therefore, how the remaining 80% can find a sense of meaning and have some fun in their long life has become the primary issue.”
  This change is very likely to reshape the pattern of the workplace and wealth distribution.
  The middle class has always been fragile. They are sophisticated and petty bourgeoisie, but they are still surrounded by the shadow of poverty. The emergence of artificial intelligence, including ChatGPT, has exacerbated this fragility – golden collars have always been a small group of people at the top of the pyramid. , but the polarization of white-collar workers will intensify.
  When all-powerful AI can take care of most things, proactive overtime work will become less and less meaningful, and even the meaning of work itself will be questioned again. Most white-collar workers may become gray-collar workers and become “quality inspectors” after machines complete tasks.
  It is worth mentioning that this process may not be accomplished overnight, but there will be a period of mutual substitution. When machines are cheaper than labor, then machines will be promoted; when labor is cheaper than machines, then labor will continue to be used. If labor is more expensive in big cities, then switch to smaller cities, just like the United States outsourcing IT to India and moving foundries to Vietnam or Bangladesh.
  “Therefore, you can either become the strongest and best golden collar, but this is only for a small number of people,” said the senior manager. “Or you can change the way you work and do work that connects people, because machines cannot replace people’s face-to-face interaction. It cannot replace the trust formed by years of interaction. Interpersonal relationships based on the real world will be more important than ever before. Or, become a compound talent, because aesthetics is irreplaceable. Human beings have beliefs and emotions. In the past, emotions were human Weaknesses, but this is the difference between humans and machines, and it is also the uniqueness of humans. Machines are good at large-scale batch copying, but humans have the right to name, can discover and name new things, and can constantly introduce new things, just like programming can copy, but Programmers with musical aesthetics are extremely valuable.”
  The workplace is a “field”, which is not a closed iron box, but a network extending in all directions, which is the connection between people and the connection between skills. In the new era of surging artificial intelligence, stop being busy with low-level diligence, see the wider world, think more deeply, and find new tracks and new businesses.
  Jump out for the present and the future; only by jumping out can you become a more selective wave in the tide of the times.
  You know, more than 100 years ago, when everyone was trying to make horse-drawn carriages go faster, a man named Ford invented the car.

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