Ignorance is NOT Bliss

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – John Powell

Right now the overall job market is an undeniable difficulty for us as a country. Thinking about this reminds me of a few things from some years back. The above quote causes me to reflect on a few difficult times and painful past lessons – experiences which are now filtered with hindsight (and the advantage of 20/20 vision as it were). But I am thankful for the experience of many of these difficulties, though some have taken years to get to that point. After one painful business experience in particular, I was encouraged by a friend (at a different stage in life and much more experienced than I) to journal out what I had learned. I remember that at that time, I didn’t want to hear of it, and I certainly didn’t want to talk about it, even alone within the very safe pages of a journal. All I could think about was the frustration I was experiencing from my own decisions, some of them hasty. But learning is an ongoing, dynamic process.

Sometimes, I believe, we don’t feel quite ready to learn from what we are presently going through. Which is part of the reason I am determined to learn from decades past, because our current problems span way beyond few years of misguided choices. I am optimistic too, because I think for many, there is an honest inquiry into present difficulties, and why past approaches may no longer be relevant. Ultimately, I want to be a better learner, and a better practitioner of that knowledge and experience.

The Future of Problem Solving

In our time, there is a new requisite skill set: being a futurist. A futurist was once only an avocation among the best of thinkers, and somewhat of a novelty and a subset of sociological and economic studies. It is very interesting to read authors like Alvin Toffler or Peter Drucker (along with a number of others) and observe how they saw things sometimes dimly, but often very clearly that were seemingly hidden to others. But it has been decades now since the advent of the information age and the decline of the industrial era. What this has created is an environment where it is no longer an option but to take charge of one’s future, in terms of actively, deliberately and even aggressively engaging in activity that is inherently future in its benefits. To a certain degree, success means understanding the future is simply not an option.

Problem solving has always been a core skill of leadership, but increasingly, this skill as a requirement has migrated to the average employee. To make this even more complex, the motif we hear regarding the next generation of leaders is the ability to solve problems that do not yet exist. Just to name a few, an article from futuristspeaker.com from several years ago cites:

Alternative Currency Bankers – According to Javelin Strategies, 20% of all online trades are already being done with alternative currencies. The stage is being set for next-gen alt-currency banks.

Waste Data Managers – To insure data integrity in today’s fast evolving information storage industry, multiple redundancies have been built into the system. Achieving more streamline data storage in the future will require de-duplication specialists who can rid our data centers of needless copies and frivolous clutter.

Privacy Managers – If you think you have lost most of your privacy already, we’ve only scratched the surface. We are all terminally human, and as such, we do not always make good decisions. Striking the perfect privacy-transparency balance will require far more than amateur insights. It will require a privacy professional.

Government Agency Dismantlers

See the full post from 2011 here. Some of these ideas might have seemed absurd a few years ago, but have already come began to be put into practice. Years ago Alvin Toffler warned,

Perhaps the greatest cost of wave conflict in America will be paid by the millions of children currently compulsorily enrolled in schools that are attempting to prepare them – and not very successfully at that – for jobs that won’t exist. Call that stealing the future.

The takeaway? Try something new as an antidote to paralysis or as Toffler also warned,“if you don’t develop a strategy of your own, you become a part of someone else’s.”

Positive Employment Report and Your Own Future

Today’s employment report was encouraging and yet, discussion after discussion continues to reveal the problem of matching up skill sets and the right fit with currently open positions. This problem is amplified by technology, the economics of downsizing (particularly human resources and the use of professional external recruiters), and an overall shift of the burden being on the job seeker, not the organization looking to fill a position.

It is well documented that technology has fomented the flood of applicant mismatches and in some cases, the ease of applying simply to fulfill the “searching for a job” expectation of unemployment benefits. This of course creates an insufferable morass of material for those responsible of recruiting to sift through on a first pass. There is also the ridiculous advice where applicants wind up “keyword dumping” in their resumes to make sure they show up in a search. Obviously, some keywords are relevant. But a system that filters applicants using a machine and algorithms is inherently flawed. The next problem is one we are all are aware of: the reduction of human resources and particularly, professional recruiters were actually skilled in matching applicants with an organization’s needs. This leaves today’s job seeker in the throes of what Peter Drucker warned of decades ago, namely, that there is virtually no organizational support that can be counted on in terms of a career path. More than ever before, it is up to the individual to take charge of their own future.

As I have discussed this dilemma with many people for all different backgrounds, some of the most profound observations regarding what is required of today’s job seekers have come from those who have enjoyed the benefits of the golden age of the industrial era. In other words, many retirees now in their sixties and seventies, not burdened with the daily grind have time to read, discuss and reflect on the contrast of todays job market with what they experienced in the past. They see the contrast (and struggle among many) between the present and the past and see very clearly that the dynamics of today’s employee are radically and essentially different from everything they experienced in the last forty years. Here are three suggestions to ponder on this topic. I have found them to be recurring themes (but certainly not limited to) what is required of today’s job seeker and those who will advance in their careers: accept uncertainty, continuously improve your own flexibility, and, be prepared to take an aggressive, assertive role in your own future.