What hurts most people is the combination of getting a good education, then rolling those credentials into a job at a well-established company in their field. That doesn’t work so well anymore because the bigger opportunity may be a matter of combining your formal skills with other, more opportunistic, behaviors or by working at a smaller, less-established company willing to share more of its success with you.
What are some of the challenges you see people facing in the future?
There’s a growing gulf between the skills, behaviors and attitudes that Americans possess and the needs of American business. Some of these are obvious--it would be better to be a computer programmer than a welder nowadays. I argue one step further. Americans aren’t in touch with the kinds of decision-making skills they need to succeed. Some would call it “grit.” This includes areas like perseverance in the face of adversity; following opportunity, not the crowd; making smart decisions about who to befriend and work with.
There are two groups who value these behaviors more than the traditional middle-class. The first are self-made Middle-Class Millionaires. They tend to demonstrate more grit, and they accumulate more wealth. The second are the new immigrants to America. While it often takes more than one generation, the wealth and quality of life of immigrant families rise at a much faster rate than those of their counterparts born in America.
These trends suggest to me that it takes more than access to higher education and cultural literacy to compete in the new economy. It takes certain behaviors and attitudes that are not favored by the traditional middle-class. As a result, we are seeing less upward mobility from that cohort and more concentration of wealth among those who practice some form of Business Brilliance.
It seems like you’re challenging the way many of us were raised to behave…
It would be reasonable to question the civility of some Business Brilliant skills. One of them is a willingness to put your interests ahead of others. That feels more “Machiavellian” than you might want to be. Understand that I’m not necessarily endorsing or even judging these traits. I’m simply reporting the facts about who has the money and what behaviors they practice. You can seek to change the paradigm. You can try to create a gentler and kinder world where people who are generous towards their fellow man are the most rewarded. But, at this point, the evidence suggests that those who want wealth the most, and who are willing to do what it takes to attract it, are the ones most likely to get it.
But with the economy beginning to recover, won’t things just go back to normal?
I believe there have been enough systemic and structural changes to suggest that things will never get back to “normal.” The greatest innovations taking place these days are in the area of productivity. That means that we get more done with fewer workers. It’s worthwhile to note that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the same as it was before we hit 9% unemployment. That tells us that America is as productive as it was before American businesses shed 23 million jobs! And those who still have jobs are much less secure in them.
I’m not just talking about unskilled labor. If you’re a white-collar, college-educated worker secure in the knowledge that your skills and experience will carry you through, think about this: Even jobs like yours can be outsourced. Ask attorneys who practice intellectual property law and saw trademark and copyright legal work go overseas, or anyone working in radiology, now that most x-rays and MRIs are analyzed offshore.
But let’s say I’ve built a network over the years – can’t I draw on that to keep me employed and advance my career?
Your network may be the most important aspect in all of this. It may be the strongest link in your program or the weakest. The strongest networks are ones where the members are simultaneously least likely to know each other and most likely to need each other. Your value is derived from your ability to monetize the bridging role you play between these two groups. For example, Steve Jobs built Apple into the most valuable company in the world by turning the company into a nexus point between the creative people who used their tools and the engineers who built them.
Let’s break this down into two parts. First, there’s something called transitivity: the probability that someone in your network already knows someone else in your network. If there’s a high probability that your network members already know each other, then you become less valuable to the network. Then there’s your role in that network. You become especially valuable if you are the “go to” person when your particular strength or skill is needed. If your network is becoming clogged up with similarly skilled and people who already know each other, then it’s time to freshen it up.