We are running out of jobs. So says David Heuther in BusinessWeek.
Mr. Huether says manufacturing jobs are at their lowest level in the U.S. in 50 years. (This despite the fact that productivity is at an all time high.) And this is not only an American problem. The loss of manufacturing jobs is happening in 9 of 10 of the top economies (U.S., Japan, Germany, China, Britain, France, Italy, Korea, Canada and Mexico). Yes, even China is losing jobs, 4.5 million of them since 2000! I know.
Surely, some of the jobs have migrated to the non-manufacturing sectors. We would expect this in a service/knowledge/innovation economy. We would expect this in a marketplace where consumer tastes and preferences are fragmenting and long tail markets are expanding. But I would be very surprised if nonmanufacturing jobs were making up the difference. I suspect we’re still a couple of million jobs shy.
Structural unemployment is a fact of our world, and it is a problem that will get steadily worse.
So what to do? I think marketers have a role to play here. (I am stealing a page from Bruce Mau. When he wonders who’s going to solve the problems of the world, he says, "why not designers? We’ll do it." Pretty forthright for a Canadian. I look at the problem of lifelong unemployment, and think "why not marketers? Leave this to us.")
In fact, this might be a job for account planners, among other marketers, and so I will, without permission, think about this as an assignment for the Account Planning School of the Web, founded by Russell Davies. (With apologies to Mr. Davies for my presumption.)
The problem: many millions of people in First World societies will live entire lifetimes without "gainful employment."
The assignment: Create a lifestyle that makes possible gainful unemployment. Build a lifestyle that will involve, express, and otherwise engage someone who will never work.
1. idleness is hell.
Lifestyle construction here is critical because idleness is hard on the soul. (I think George Bernard Shaw developed this argument.) And it’s not enough to say, "oh, just get a hobby." Lifestyles, well designed ones, are rich, interesting, various. They are not "a hobby."
2. meanings flow from what we do.
This is why job loss can be so cataclysmic. This is why so many people retire to bleakness and sometimes an early grave. In order to correct the effects of lifelong unemployment, we need to find other sources of meaning, purpose, identity. One way of getting into this would be to think about your own job, or someone else’s, and figure out what it supplies in the way of meaning, drama, engagement, concepts of self, concept of world, and so on. What are alternative events and activities and engagements from which we can source these things?
3. build in manageable difficulty.
when we are create, select and combine employment alternatives, it’s worth remembering that everyone wants "manageable difficulty." An engagement with the world should fall into the sweet spot that stands combines things we can go and things we can’t. This is to say, we should have the skills and talents to engage with it, but it should be larger than those skills and talents. In Halo II, the sweet spot for me is "Normal." "Easy" is way too easy. "Heroic" is way too hard. (To be honest, "Heroic" reduced me to tears of bitter recrimination.)
4. make the difficulty scalable.
As we get better at the engagement, it should reveal layers of difficulty we did not see before. We need a steady supply of challenges to which we can rise. Someday, I hope to advance to "Heroic." No, really.
5. look for mattering racks
We’re odd this way. We like building little mattering racks. They help us organize the world and enable desire. A good illustration here is the collector, for whom X is the great passion of his collecting activity, the thing he moves heaven and earth to get. Two months later, it is Y that has his attention. Yes, X is one of the jewels of his collection, but, no, he doesn’t really care about it. Y is interesting because it will move this coin collection away from antiquities to coins of the early modern Europe. Now an entire body of coins that never really mattered leaps suddenly into view. Now, these matter enough to keep a man awake at night, scheming and plotting for the day when he outranks, outweighs, eclipses every other coin collector in Cincinnati. Hah!
6. build new kinds of capital, and systems for the exchange and accumulation of capital
That people are not gainfully employed gathering conventional capitals, does not mean they cannot be gainfully unemployed pursuing unconventional ones. Collectors do this of course. But it is also clear that one someone volunteers (geez, do something about this word and the odor of sanctimony that surrounds it, will ya!) for social service (phew!), the accululate various capitals, self esteem, social recognition, good will tokens. This capital can be traded on various exchanges, but that’s the bad news. You have to formalize these capitals, build new ones, and invent the exchanges. I would use hsx.com as an example. The trouble with hsx.com is that capital goes in but it never comes out. Another example here might be Second Life. In fact, someday I hope there will be Account Planning School of the Web on Second Life. I am there somewhere. My name is Moral DaSilva. I’m the one is the really stupid hat. Leave me a message.
7. enable plenitude (the invention of new kinds of social life) and transformation (opportunities to add new selves and transform existing ones)
This is a big industry waiting to happen. As it stands, we are doing things by implication. A good deal of branding is about identity creation and transformation. Someday, we will make it more explicit. When that day comes, and there is a real market for identity supply, the graduates of the Account Planning School of the Web, will rise to greatness, as surely as did those Silicon Valley software engineers in the 1990s.
8. create lifestyle constellations
One of the most difficult tasks here is going to be finding ways to draw together varieties of interest, activity and engagement into lifestyle constellations that can be lived, swapped in and out, retrofitted when necessary, and allowed multiply with the chaotic enthusiasm of an English garden. And that is another way to think of this exercise. That what you are doing is creating trellaces and other devices in which the inventive energies of the gainfully unemployed may run riot.
Please have your assignments in by tomorrow at noon. Quiz Friday next. Widmerpol, shut up.
Huether, David. 2006. The Case of the Missing Jobs. BusinessWeek. April 3, 2006.
For more on the Russell Davies’ Account Planning School of the Web, please go here.
The image is a small part of the map of Elizabethan London by Hollar. I liked it because it shows habitable places for people in transit.