Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Looking Out 35 Years From Now

Frankly, I was always a bit puzzled, back in the day, to hear myself introduced as innovative or strategic.  I still am whenever I guest lecture college students, including many who are pursuing my former career.

On reflection, I have probably always been more of a “repurposer.”  Studies show that less than 14% of Americans are strategically inclined. 

However, according to experts who study strengths, inclinations such as this, otherwise known as talents, are “naturally occurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior.”  They are building blocks that can be refined and amplified through education and skill development.

For the rest of us, talents such as being strategic don’t come as naturally but we can still develop a certain level through practice and study.

Studies show that learning to see things strategically is also the secret to why some people can juggle multiple priorities making it is just as relevant to working through a daily list of assignments.

My first brush with thinking strategically probably began in 1970 when a history professor recommended that I read a newly published book entitled, Future Shock.

A quote that has stuck with me through the years is, “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read.  It will be the person who doesn’t know how to learn.”

But it is the co-author’s second book entitled, The Third Wave which I refer to students today who are serious about learning to think strategically, more than 35 years after I read it for the first time.

It isn’t just because so many of the possibilities the authors concluded have come or are coming to pass today.  It is because it is written to show how they arrived at those conclusions by understanding the patterns of the past.

For instance, the book foretold the “collapse of consensus” we are experiencing today but it also sheds light on where we might go from here.

The revolutionaries who founded this country revolted against the feudal systems of governance then in place.

Societal headlines today reflect those who want to move forward to a more sustainable path and those who are trying to pull us back into another era or at the very least keep one foot in the past.

By looking at past patterns, the authors of The Third Wave, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, were also able to predict the change in how we will view being employed or unemployed in a world with more and more people but fewer and fewer jobs.

A blog I enjoy reading is Carolina Demography.  A recent post noted that of the nearly 4.5 million North Carolinians (age 16 and older,) 3.3 million or nearly three-quarters are of prime working age (25-64.)

That definition is slightly more broad than the norm.

Experts who have suggested that unemployment analysis would be much more relevant if it focused on the prime working age population, generally use ages 25 to 54 for this cohort.

A poll published three months ago by the Kaiser Family Foundation with the New York Times and CBS found that a little more than half of the U.S. population age 18 and older falls in the prime working age.

About 18% are prime working age but unemployed.  This group includes 26% homemakers but able to work outside the home, 34% disabled and unable to work and 24% unemployed and able to work.

Of the 24% who are unemployed but able to work, 5% don’t want a job now or in the future, 8% will want a job in the future, leaving 19% who want a part-time job and 67% who want a full-time job.

When this group is asked which factors are a major or minor reason they aren’t working, 52% cite family responsibilities, 32% cite health problems (although they are not disabled,) 38% note lack of education or skills, and 34% say their job was replaced by technology.

Other factors listed are 32% jobs because jobs are going overseas, 28% because of discrimination and 35% apparently don’t need the income.

Of the 78% who are unemployed, able to work, and have looked in the last year, 86% are open to entry-level in another field, 81% are willing to return to school or job training, 77% are open to non-traditional hours, 64 would take minimum wage, 45% would move to another city, 46% would commute more than hour each way, 69% would take 10% less than the last job and 37% would take 25% less.

There are some smart people across the full length of the ideological spectrum who are noodling about what we do as it becomes more and more a privilege to have a job.

One is called a universal basic income that would replace the myriad of safety net programs and a better option for the 25% of all workers including 40% of those in restaurants or food service who need public assistance on top of what they earn.

Ben Schiller makes a good argument that this is also a better way to eliminate poverty.

People who dismiss the ability to look ahead any more than three years if that, including many serving on governing and elected boards, as well as far too many executives are well advised to read or reread The Third Wave, but for process rather than content.

The exercise may be not only be inspiration to look back for clues to the possibilities lying beyond the horizon – perhaps another 35 years.

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