“Never put all your eggs in one basket” is a saying that occurs in one form or another in just about every language in every culture. The paradox is that for most of us in work today, it’s the opposite advice to what we have practiced. Work hard, get a good qualification, train in a profession and find a reputable company. Work, retire, and die respectably with minimum fuss.
Personally, I did the first bit and was lucky enough to find myself in a good job with a reputable employer which I quickly learned to really dislike. My family’s reaction when I quit was not pretty, but four decades later realise just how lucky I was. I have seen people I knew at the time retire into emptiness. They have grander titles and bigger pensions, but it’s no trade off.
I sometimes think that the last few decades have domesticated us. We have been house trained into organisations. Whereas before the industrial revolution we had villages of co-dependent people who between them could grow, make or trade what we needed within a society defined by the local aristocracy and the church, we now have organisations people by others mostly with the same sorts of qualifications doing pretty much the same jobs. Management replaces the artistocracy, and shareholders the church. To switch metaphor, I could imagine a latter day tour guide taking us round the city that most of us live in. Over on our right, we have the accountants, and their more aggressive cousins, the lawyers. Please, don’t put your hands through the bars. Further down we have the exotic bankers and the consultants………
I think we are heading back to a time where we value will be derived from those who grow, make or trade again, and that raises an interesting thought. The late David Graeber talked and published around the notion of “bullshit jobs” -those jobs that were created as process and automation changed the nature of how our economy operates. The jobs that service the system, rather than create real value and vary from the expensive – commercial law, consultancy, and much of management etc all the way to fast food and fast hospitality. Much of the gig economy. Jobs, that in themselves rarely engender a sense of purpose or contribution for those doing them. Additionally, the jobs involved in our extended supply chains as globalisation and outsourcing became the order of the day. What happens if those jobs do not come back?
Today, there are no businesses likely to last long enough to commit a life to. The day of the corporate home has gone. With it goes much of the bureaucratic infrastructure, and it changes everything. There are no safe jobs anymore.
There is I suggest a strong correlation between these sorts of jobs and the ones we see under pressure now from both Covid and the latest iterations of technology. The old normal has gone.
So what we have now, for organisations businesses and ourselves is a new paradigm of risk. The old safe, of the safe organisation, the regular job and the qualfications have largely gone with it. All of these things – the organisation, the job and the qualifications will still matter, but their half life is becoming dramatically shorter, and the bullshit jobs much more tenuous. Safe is becoming who we are more than what we do. Our sense of direction, and our commitment to our craft, whatever that may be. Whether we grow, make or trade, our development is down to us, how we deliver, who we associate with and who we choose to serve.
Whatever we do, being a professional is no longer likely to be enough. we need to find and leverage our inner artisan, so that whatever may come down the line at us, we have something more than a qualification to hang on to.