What Do We All Do?

Notes

This visualization of the workforce as 147 people shows some surprising truths about what we all do

Everyone seems to work so hard, I've often wondered whether what we all do is worthwhile.

You would think that food was our most fundamental economic need. Yet out of 147 people, only 1 is a farmer. (Actually, that's a bit of an exaggeration. Really, out of 147 people, only ½ is a farmer, but I thought half a farmer would look a bit odd.)

And you would think that making things – growing crops, extracting ore, constructing roads, building houses, manufacturing computers, designing bridges, shooting movies, discovering theories – would be rather a large part of what we do. Yet out of 147 people, just 23 make anything.

This visualization represents the US workforce (though is probably representative of most developed regions of world). It shows what we do rather than to what end we do it (so sales workers are shown under sales whether they're selling corn, houses or insurance). Military personnel are omitted, because the US government is convinced that American lives would be at risk if anyone were to learn anything about what the military really do.

Why 147 people? This is Dunbar's number, more or less. It has been argued that we work well in groups of no more than this number of people. A village, tribe or company of 147 will work well, with every person able to maintain meaningful social relations with every other person. You can imagine knowing each of the nurses, teachers, builders, engineers, mechanics, drivers, accountants, managers and lawyers on this visualization.

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Compare this with What Do We All Provide? which focuses on what our work provides rather than what we actually do

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Date

First published January 2011

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