How Can We Have So Much and Be So Soft?
I have always been able to have conversations with friends and family members with differing political views by connecting with the morals, values, and ethics that live above politics. You know, the ones that all of us used to remember as the ideals behind our American spirit. We treasured characteristics such as respect, fairness, inclusion, vision, kindness, opportunity, supportiveness, and unity.
Right now, virtually anyone who works is in the cross-hairs of change and far too many are viewing the changes as dreadfully threatening. Put on a new pair of glasses and we find new forms of freedom, especially from monotonous tasks. A new world of work is here, not in the future but here. This new world offers extraordinary opportunities to develop meaning, purpose, mission, vision, and value in our work.
Without insight or an understanding of how to change ourselves, we fall back on the very filters that kill self-change on the spot. All of us have been trained. They are the filters of cynicism, contempt, aimlessness, resignation, and frenzy. Now, when we most need to change, far too many of us check-out on anger.
For anyone that has even a modicum of spirituality, the tone is exhausting.
Why have so many become so unhinged?
Alvin Toffler characterized it so well in his book Future Shock, published in 1971. He said that by the turn of the century, the majority of people would be in a perpetual state of shock brought on by trying to absorb too much change in too short a period of time.
The “why” came into sharp focus when research revealed that about 1/2 of our country’s workers characterize themselves as “underemployed.” They are holding 2-3 jobs to keep a roof over their heads, they continue clocking into obsolete jobs, some work side gigs on weekends, many have earned graduate degrees only to serve coffee. These are our friends, family members, and colleagues. They are getting kicked to the curb by change.
Of course, we have political turmoil!
Work is one of the primary ways that we establish relevance. And, relevance is the purpose of a democracy. When members of all dominant parties spend too much of their time making everyone else irrelevant, democracy is crumbling.
Last Friday, during a documentary about the passing of John F Kennedy, the filmmakers captured the great care and preparation he made for one speech. He had one shot to make his case to the American people. Kennedy strived for perfection in every word, phrase, and physical nuance. But, when he reached that stage his message was not about what he was going to do for us, he told us what to do, his commitment was to inspire Americans to become better versions of ourselves. He didn’t promise to keep our jobs out of China. He would have told us to do whatever it would take to be better than workers in any other country. He probably would have told us how to do that as well.
Why is this form of leadership so rare?
Shortly after JFK’s passing, the American advertising industry introduced a new marketing tool that ultimately destroyed our political contract of mutual responsibility. The focus group shifted the political narrative from what we needed to hear to what we wanted to hear. This has turned out to be as healthy as asking one of our dachshunds how many biscuits she wants to eat. Five decades later, the political campaign has devolved into making promises that cannot be kept and zero responsibility for the voter. It is a cynical new landscape where getting our vote is all that really matters.
Here is why this form of leadership contributes to the perfect storm at hand.
As America faces the biggest restructuring of work in over 300 years, the suggestions and promises our political leaders from both major parties are nothing less than jaw-dropping. Mitch McConnel said, “You know what we need to do with these coal miners is get them into trucking. There are a lot of jobs in trucking.” Daimler had just finished its pilot program in Nevada where a large battalion of driverless trucks demonstrated they are safer, cheaper, more economical, and get in fewer accidents. Our current 5.2 million jobs in trucking will dwindle to around 600,000 positions in just 7 years. Andrew Yang, a current Democratic candidate, wants to strengthen the notion all of us are victims by sending us a $1,000-a-month check to compensate for all of the jobs being displaced by technology. The amorality behind this platform comes into sharp focus when we hear that Andrew made his fortune as a tech founder. He is also an attorney. We can either choose to believe he is an idiot or that he is telling the American people what they want to hear.
JFK and almost every President before him inspired us to do whatever was necessary to become a better country and to lead better lives. Now, all that we have to do is vote and someone else will fix it on our behalf.
The crisis comes into sharp focus when we accept that a global talent war is taking place. Germany, China, Japan, and even India are far ahead of us in crafting talent strategies that elevate their economies and their overall bench strength. For example, auto manufacturing in Germany has long been a global model of quality, profit, cutting-edge technology, and, wait-a-minute, talent development. Most Germans wouldn’t understand the word “underemployment.” This is because of a strategy that links government, education, and employers into constantly training talent to grow upwards. We lay everyone off the moment they become obsolete. Many of our rather corpulent leaders dismiss the German model as socialism. The German workers, CEOs, and political leaders view it as good business.
America’s educational system continues to be mired in a design meant to serve the industrial revolution. We don’t teach success, we teach fitting in. Our schools are not teaching people about wealth, sales, influence, building support systems, or connecting with mentors.
Much is being said of the blue-collar workers being displaced by technology. But, what about highly-paid white-collar task workers? LegalZoom has made thousands of mid-level attornies too expensive for reality. Many of them selected the associate path because they wouldn’t have to become a salesperson. Now, major law firms require at least $2million in billings to become an associate. While candidates demonize the rich and try to turn college graduates into financial victims, we don’t hear one word about the high-quality and cost-free educations that AI is unleashing. More tellingly, I have not heard one candidate tell the American people that anyone who works simply must become an active learner. This is because learning, for many, continues to be a task that we get to end when we get the degree or certification. How many parents are passing bad role modeling to their children because they want to watch Television rather than learn about the world around them and the opportunities to do work that matters?
Technology is giving the kinds of freedom where line workers can buy 3-D printers and run a cottage industry out of their garage.
Getting rid of task work will eventually force us to look upwards. Instead of monotony, many of us will find far greater satisfaction in doing the work they love. What a flip! In the previous world of work, so many of us were conditioned to view the work that we love as superfluous. Now, loving our work provides the much-needed energy to change in time.
The emerging work and new ways of living are the rewards. The new options of work will reward those of us with creativity, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Some will devote their lives to engaging others in causes that matter. When I think of this, my mind goes to a brilliant scientist. His team is devoted to curing cancer. He takes me into his lab, turns around, and exclaims, “Welcome to my temple of hope.”
America has the largest and most astonishing talent pool on the face of the earth. But we are in a rather deep hole where instead of being excited about our future, we are craving a return to our past. At the very least, we cannot afford to listen to so-called leaders telling us they will fix it. We need leaders who tell us to roll up our sleeves.
I believe that if the two Roosevelts, Eisenhower, or JFK teleported to the present time, they would be stunned.
They would probably look at each other and ask,
“How could they have so much and be so soft?”
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