The Sunday Times and Bobby Godsell get it wrong!

Today the Sunday Times runs a headline “Starting Today: Our campaign to create jobs” and gives Bobby Godsell a full page to write about “50 million wealth creators”

The Sunday Times is barking up the wrong tree and Godsell, without knowing it, has a very close encounter with the truth.

But before I start my contrarian challenge I must add that both the Sunday Times and Bobby Godsell are in ‘expert company’. Godsell is right when he writes “Most South Africans would agree that unemployment is the central economic, social and political challenge of our times.” He could just as easily have written “Most world leaders and opinion-makers would agree … ”

Unemployment is NOT the central economic, social and political challenge of our times. The real central economic, social and political challenge of our times is the wholesale prevalence of thinking that “unemployment is the central economic, social and political challenge of our times”. The thinking is flawed and it needs to be challenged in the same way that Franklin D Roosevelt challenged a nation paralysed by fear when he said “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

I will assert two things in this challenge.

  • Unemployment is a state of mind, not a factual reality.
  • Unemployment can be instantly eradicated with a slight shift in thinking.

It is merely the way we think about work, employment and income security that make unemployment a central challenge.

In no way to I disparage the suffering caused when people are cut off from a reasonable source of income. From my own personal experience I can testify to the hardships caused by financial reversal, of the powerlessness and humiliation a lack of money can cause. How in this cash-based society money is as important as oxygen and how the lack of money can result symptoms similar to oxygen starvation. But I do want to argue that it is wrong thinking that leads to this state, nothing else.

To lay a foundation I will quote an excerpt from FDR’s First Inaugural Speech (I wish I could quote more)

Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition.

To the Sunday Times I say, you are wasting valuable real estate! Shift your thinking and start a campaign that will really make a difference, a campaign that will empower every South African who thinks they are unemployed.

To Godsell I say you were almost right! Your thinking is stuck in a rut, the pattern of an outworn tradition, and you need to break free from the standard diet of incompetent leaders. Examine your confused thinking and see if my argument is correct.

Firstly, you confuse work with employment.

Yes, work has always been a central and valuable part of the lives of men and women. And Yes, getting more South Africans working is correctly one of the central goals.

No, promoting job creation is not the same as getting people to work and, for what it is worth, neither is entrepreneurship albeit it is a step in the right direction.

Secondly, you tilt at the wrong windmill.

Yes, companies should consider their performance against more holistic criteria. I also agree that those organisations that do so should be recognised for their broader and more benevolent understanding.

No, the first step is not to “see gainful employment as a social, economic and political good, something of value in and of itself.” Companies will not buck the trend of greater efficiency through technological advances and they have absolutely no obligation to retain obsolete or unproductive jobs.

Thirdly, you almost get it right with your understanding of 50 million wealth creators.

Yes, we need a country of 50 million wealth creators who understand that income is the fair reward when “real value is created” by those who do the work.

So what’s the point and, more importantly what is the answer?

Firstly, that the first step must be for every teenager and adult to recognise that income security is the ultimate objective.

By this measure jobs and small-scale, solo-entrepreneurship are both inherently insecure. Gone are the days of a life-time of secure employment with one employer. In today’s turbulent and avaricious times employees are forced to be far more transient than many would choose to be. Entrepreneurship has always been risky, that is not likely to change anytime soon.

Employment or entrepreneurship can be likened to drill bits, they are a means to an end not the end in themselves. No one wants to own a drill bit for the sake of owning a drill bit but rather for the benefit the hole one can make with it.

Income security is like the hole, you can do many things with it.

We need to shift our focus from the tool and onto the desired objective, income security.  With broader vision many more opportunities for income security open up. When people are trapped in a job-scarce world it is almost impossible to see the abundance of opportunity all around them. Almost impossible, not quite.

Secondly, to recognise that industrial-age employment fosters a mind-set of dependence.

A dependent attitude has never been desirable in mature adults. Dependence may have worked tolerably well in an age when employees could depend on employers to offer them secure employment in return for a decent days work where, as you put it, the value of the employees work exceeded the cost. Only tolerably well, mind you.

Please remember that industrial-scale employment is a blip on the timeline of human history, an industrial age phenomenon which, as you note, is giving way to the knowledge society or digital age. We are in an age of massive transition.  You have a close encounter with the truth but your thinking remains firmly rooted in the industrial age when the solutions are to be found in digital-age thinking.

So what is the answer?

In the words of management guru, Tom Peters it’s a shift to a “You Inc.” mindset. Fundamentally that means a shift from dependence to one of personal responsibility. Each individual must take personal responsibility for their own wellbeing and performance, their health, wealth and happiness.

Face the facts, the industrial age is rapidly drawing to a close and with it, mass-employment; we are returning to the way it has been throughout human history although with the amazing advantages of modern technology. A huge advantage of the digital age over previous eras is that, for the first time in human history, our slaves will not have to be human; they will be robotic.

The demise of the industrial age will be as rapid as its dawn and its social impact turbulent. Thanks to modern technologies, the turbulence could be mitigated by a higher degree of social consciousness and connectedness but only if the humans using the technology, us, choose benevolence over selfishness.

Where must our focus shift?

Firstly, towards a greater mindfulness of what truly makes us happy, as individuals and as a species. Maybe then we will moderate this insatiable demand for ‘things’ and experiences; what one Buddhist friend so beautifully refers to as self-grasping ignorance. Quite simply, if we consume less today we can afford to store up reserves for the future; even squirrels seem have more forward-thinking capabilities than most industrial-age humans.  See my blog “Frugality, the key to abundance.” it is the kind of stuff Benjamin Franklin would have given a resounding Amen.

Secondly, to broaden our vision so that more people can see that right now, at this very moment, there are more opportunities to secure gainful, permission-free work (not employment) than there are people willing to take up these opportunities. And I am not referring to survivalist, man-by-the-side-of-the-road kind of work but rather to solid hard work that creates more value than it costs.

I do not assert that the existing abundance of viable permission-free opportunities would meet the current needs of the population but I do argue that the high level of unemployment is completely unnecessary.  Furthermore, a shift in vision is only the beginning of a tough and turbulent journey but, like child-birth, the time has come and there is no going back.

The industrial age is over and with it dependable employment.

Here is how you can enter the new digital age and end unemployment in your life in less than 30 seconds (in ascending order of difficulty and complexity).

  • Reclaim personal responsibility for your life. There are no knights in shining armour waiting in the wings, no employer about to give you a job for life. You are on your own.
  • Incorporate You Inc.right now; at least do it in your thinking, the legal stuff can follow later if required. The assets held by You Inc. include
    • Your health.
    • Your usable education; about 10% of what you learned at school, 90% if you observed life.
    • Your most important assets are your trusted relationships.
    • Your monetary savings and investments are the least important (not unimportant though).
  • Discover  You Inc.‘s purpose in this world. Why are you here? What value can you contribute to the world?
  • Go to work for You Inc. right now, it is a permission-free appointment and the shop doors are right in front of you and you have the keys. And then be prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that You Inc. thrives in the new digital economy. And one important thing you need to know, You Inc. does not have employment contracts with 45-hour work weeks and 8 to 5 office hours. The deal is simple, an age-old truth;

You reap what you sow. For those who sow diligently and persistently the harvest is usually abundant.

Finally to the Sunday Times and Mr Godsell, do you have the courage to admit you are wrong, shift your thinking, change tack and say it like it should be said?

Are you prepared to lead your followers into the Digital Age?

  1. #1 by Yvonne Halling on February 5, 2012 - 1:46 pm

    This is a great post Shaun, and one with which I totally agree. Unfortunately the kids going through formal education and coming out of it now are not equipped for this way of thinking, and could be severely disadvantaged in the new world. Bless them all, for they will suffer. Thanks Shaun :-)

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