Work’s Single Most Important Revolution
The American spirit was founded on optimism, which is vastly different than hope. Optimism is the belief that our actions will lead to better lives. Now, optimism is being fused to profit-making and the results are spectacular.
No other category of work better symbolizes optimism than in our country’s rapidly growing ranks of the social entrepreneur. They fund, develop, and implement solutions to social, cultural, and environmental issues. These are not starry-eyed do-gooders. They are vigorous visionaries out to show the world that doing good is being turned into good business. The movement is producing profound social change as well as jobs that are far more meaningful than engaging in the single-minded pursuit of shareholder value.
Social entrepreneurs don’t view money as the root of all evil. They show all of us the value of bringing morality and integrity to the way that money is used and made. The fastest growing new segment contained in this seismic shift is found in recent college graduates who insist on finding jobs or launching businesses that make their world a better place to live. They don’t just want to change the world, they must change the world.
While some of us are complaining about technology taking away task work, social entrepreneurs recognize that technology is giving us the freedom to have a far greater impact in the world. More tellingly, they recognize that by developing business models that fuse profit-making to the equation, the business world will listen and participate.
Social entrepreneurism is not limited to young generations. People of all ages are recognizing that by making competence the first step of their endeavors, they can make visions work. Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank, introduced microloans and financing to the poorest regions on earth. He is 78 years old. His work has helped hundreds of thousands of our poorest citizens become business owners. He tells us, “Making money is no fun. Contributing to and changing the world is a lot more fun.”
Al Gore has lost all interest of campaigning for a future political office. Through social entrepreneurism, he made between $200-300 million through sound investments in green energy. Gore often talks about how the resistance to converting from petroleum to green-based economies are all about profits. To that end, the most effective approach is to make even more money through sustainability. To that end, Al Gore formed a partnership with Silicon Valley’s most storied venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins. The partnership has designed a vetting process in which green energy entrepreneurs have to meet exacting competency standards in their business model, marketing plan, leadership capabilities, and talent strength.
Social entrepreneurs are speeding the conversion forward by reshaping the purpose of business to not only satisfy shareholders but to restore equal importance to the customers, employees and the world around them. This conversion is no longer in the future, it is already happening.
That shift happened to me in 1990. As a staffing executive, I made a great deal of money. But, at least for me, I didn’t see that we were changing people’s lives. We were getting paid to move them around. I listened to workers for over a decade. They didn’t talk about finding the work that brought meaning to their lives, they were looking for greater predictability and survival. We designed a model to help people access their own truth and design the work they most wanted to do. Most couldn’t articulate that purpose as they walked in the door only to find that by answering the right questions they determined exactly what to do. In that early work, we came to realize that all of us can succeed if we learn critical life skills. Most of our graduates quickly begin the work of resolving life skill deficits through learning because they are motivated by a personal and compelling new vision.
Engaging with over 40,000 people as they give birth to the ideal “what’s next” has turned me into a born-again optimist. Time and time again, people demonstrated this need to bring meaning into their lives. It is the meaning that no one can define on their behalf. Some had to go back to their childhoods (for a moment) to let go of beliefs that implied, “go get a real job” or “don’t be you.” I have directly witnessed that the human spirit, given an opportunity, always takes the high road. By applying just a little bit of courage, all of us can open that door and the answer behind it always exceeds our expectations.
Work is our biggest relationship.
We spend more time getting ready for, being at, coming home, and recovering from work. When we began, many people felt that doing what you love was a luxury so they didn’t participate in our programs. I didn’t see this coming, but the advancement of technology is giving us freedom from mind-numbing tasks. We are now entering the biggest retooling of work in human history. Now, all of us must find the work that matters to us, the work that we most want to do, and the awareness of how to do that work successfully.
Today, we are in the midst of the greatest retooling of work in human history. Every day we hear messages about the greater waves of change around us but we rarely hear people talk about the extraordinary value of changing themselves. This national unemployment rate of 3.8% distracts us from the facts. That number has always been a political no matter who is in office. The real story begins when we study underemployment, which some surveys place as high as 48%. There is the biggest source of our turmoil.
Work represents one of our greatest opportunities to establish meaning in our lives. For many, grabbing that opportunity begins by establishing a bit of courage to learn how to change themselves. The most reliable way to develop that courage is by defining and committing to the work we most want to do, the work that might lead to a proclamation, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.” When we succeed, that courage will also elevate us as role models to our children.
Squeezing our hearts, minds, and souls into obsolete jobs has turned some of us into small packages. In there, we are isolated and there isn’t much light. It is in this state that so many of our citizens are feeling they have become expendable. What is so alarming is that democracies can only thrive by making everyone relevant. This is why I believe that today’s unrest is fueled by large masses of people have yet to find relevance in the future of work.
Social entrepreneurs are the world’s greatest role models that embrace all of these characteristics. In my hometown of Los Angeles, we find Peter Diamandis, the co-founder of X-Prize. The organization inspires billionaires and organizations to offer cash awards for those who solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. The innovations from this venture include a portable CT/MRI that diagnoses patients in remote areas, a non-toxic way to clean up oil spills, and recently, a form of Artificial Intelligence that will protect women from violence. Just this past week, a revolutionary machine was towed out of San Francisco. It is being sent to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to begin cleaning plastic from our oceans.
Mr. Diamandis tells the country’s workers, “Your mission is to find a product or a service that will positively impact one billion people because that is the game we are playing today.”
Of today’s college graduates, the vast majority place meaning at the top of their non-negotiable requirements for work. They have watched their parents trudge off to work that paid the bills but didn’t feed the soul. They realize we have given them challenges that are as big as those of us who rebuilt this country after the war.
Heads in the clouds? Don’t count them out, join them.
Life in that place is not about working harder. It is about having a greater impact in less time. It is about centering our attention on a world of abundance rather than the poisonous lie there isn’t enough.
The rapid growth and success with our social entrepreneurs is writing a story that deserves all of our attention, right here and right now.
Perhaps that is the greatest news of all.
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