Get a Job, Build a Real Career, and Defy a Bewildering Economy - by Charles Hugh Smith

To tip the odds in our favor, we need to understand these four subjects:

  • Self-knowledge: identifying our interests, talents, strengths and weakness

  • The emerging economy

  • The changing nature of work

  • The role of lifelong learning

Supply and demand are constantly shifting, and the odds generally favor those who seek fields with a shortage of qualified applicants, or fields that are too new to have credentialing programs, where experience counts more than degrees.

Everyone seeking a livelihood has to be aware that the pace of these changes is speeding up: what looks secure now could be insecure a few years down the road. Security comes not from betting on whatever is riding high at the moment but from developing skills that are valuable in all sectors.

We don't have one economy; we have a multitude of economies mixed together. These economies co-exist, and can be imagined as layers that overlap each other in certain areas but operate by their own rules and inputs. For example, those with jobs in state social programs are working in a quite different environment than those exposed to free market forces. Those working in globalized sectors have a much different set of conditions than those working in domestically protected sectors such as law enforcement.

I hope you now understand why those sectors that aren't busy being born are busy dying: any system that isn't constantly adapting will inevitably reach diminishing returns and the point of decline/collapse on the S-Curve. This is true of enterprises, systems and entire economies.

It is a central thesis of this book that centralization has reached diminishing returns and is no longer yielding any benefit. Instead, it has become the problem, not the solution; what worked in the past no longer works now. Centralization as a solution has been leapfrogged by decentralizing technologies.

Here's the final takeaway: these economic systems are failing because they're the wrong unit size: Large, centralized systems are incapable of providing solutions for today's problems, which as noted above are changing demographics, resource depletion, rising costs of energy, changing nature of work (i.e. the end of work) and social recession. These are not ideological problems, so ideologies cannot provide answers. If solutions must be decentralized and distributed, then bureaucratic centralized organizations cannot possibly be a solution: they're the wrong unit size.

How does this help everyone seeking a livelihood? It boils down to this: Don't set your sights on entering the buggy-whip industry. And if you do, understand at the start that the competition for the dwindling number of jobs will be fierce and the security of the industry is diminishing every day because it's no longer a solution. The systems that survive and prosper are those that are exposed to dynamics that force constant evolution, adaptation and innovation, i.e. coming up with new solutions rather than just grabbing an old one and hoping it solves the new problem. Those people who are also evolving, adapting and experimenting with new solutions to new problems will always be in demand. So the takeaway from our brief examination of economic flavors and systems is simple: seek sectors and organizations that are adapting and seeking real solutions, and try to become a person who does the same, regardless of what field you're working in.

digital-software-fabrication-robotics-automation (DSFRA)

It is critically important to understand the more hidebound and old-fashioned the industry, the greater the gains to be reaped by introducing DSFRA technologies

The great irony of free-market capitalism is that the only way to establish an enduring security is to embrace innovation and adaptation, the very processes that generate short-term insecurity. Attempting to guarantee security leads to risk being distributed to others, or concentrated within the system itself. When the accumulated risk manifests, the system collapses.

Section Two: The Changing Nature of Work

Individuals with unique sets of difficult-to-define skills are not open to commoditization because they are not interchangeable and cannot be produced or trained in great numbers.

Specialization is only a defense against work being automated or offshored if it is not process-based work and cannot be commoditized.

If a task has a defined point of completion and can be broken down into a series of steps that can be specified, it can be programmed. Once it can be programmed, it can be automated.

In this networked world, specialization is no longer a competitive advantage; the competitive advantage goes to those whose work cannot be commoditized or traded.

While knowledge and skills are obviously critical in a knowledge-based economy, knowledge is not the only factor in creating value and solving problems. We need to understand the five types of non-financial capital: human, social, cultural, symbolic and infrastructural, and work that cannot be commoditized.

Human capital is an inexact term for labor's ability to take financial (money) and physical capital (tools) and create economic value. Social capital is the value derived from connections to others: the sum of friends, alliances, memberships and networks that create reciprocal sources of value.

People who are willing to learn can keep ahead of the commoditization of labor by learning what cannot be commoditized or by moving their skills to a new field, in effect keeping ahead of commoditization

All it takes to increase human capital is time, effort and experience. Given the abundance of lessons and resources on the Internet, it requires little to no money to learn new skills other than the cost of the Internet connection.

Human capital becomes economically valuable when it creates value and solves problems. This requires mastery of a field, a topic we will explore later in this section. Mastery is cumulative; the more we know, the easier it is to learn more. Insights arise when expertise is applied to a new field--a process of cross-fertilization that many call multi-disciplinary.

Mastery as the Means of Production In other words, mastery--deep expertise based on experience and ownership of the work--is the key element to value creation. Mastery is what creates a premium for human capital. Mastery is not just a mix of knowledge, expertise and experience: it also requires ownership of the work, meaning that the master performs all work as if he owns every aspect of it: the process, the final product and the reputation that arises from the work.

To establish and maintain a livelihood in the emerging economy, students must be able to build economically valuable mastery in their chosen field. Simply acquiring generalized knowledge will not be enough to create value.

The unifying characteristics of work that is difficult to automate are mastery of skills that cannot be specified into repeatable processes, flexibility and high touch. These skills--along with the eight essential skills--are key characteristics of human and social capital.

What creates a premium in the emerging economy is professionalism, adaptability, skills that can be applied to new fields (i.e. cross-pollination) and the ability to learn new skills.

If we trust networks rather than states or corporations for our security, we automatically gain agency (control of our work and lives) and an authentic sense of self gained from owning our work and the results of our work.

Section Three: The Core Skills and Values That Create Economic Value

The Eight Essential Skills of Professionalism The skills needed to establish and maintain a livelihood in the emerging economy are the abilities to:

  1. Learn challenging new material over one's entire productive life

  2. Creatively apply newly-mastered knowledge and skills to a variety of fields

  3. Be adaptable, responsible and accountable in all work environments

  4. Apply a full spectrum of entrepreneurial skills to any task, i.e. take ownership of one's work

  5. Work collaboratively and effectively with others, both in person and remotely (online)

  6. Communicate clearly and effectively in all work environments

  7. Continually build human and social capital, i.e. knowledge and networks

  8. Possess a practical working knowledge of financial records and project management

For those with no financial reporting experience, one place to start is your own household's income and expenses. Online courses and tutorials are resources available to anyone with an Internet connection. The goal is to become familiar with income and expense sheets, also called profit and loss statements (P&L) and balance sheets which track assets and liabilities. These are the standard formats for reporting the finances of any organization.

Section Five: Accrediting Yourself

The core of accredit yourself is summarized by Emerson's dictum: Do the thing and you shall have the power. In practical terms, accrediting yourself requires first acquiring the eight essential skills of professionalism and whatever hard skills are needed to be effective in your chosen field, and then verifying your mastery of the skills by completing projects that demonstrate your working knowledge, creativity, experience and ability to learn, solve problems and work with others. The next step is to assemble accounts from trustworthy colleagues, employers, advisors and peers with direct knowledge of your contributions that demonstrate your experience, abilities, skills and core values. The last step is to share these credentials with networks of people, agencies and enterprises that are active in your chosen field.

We can summarize the process of accrediting yourself in five steps:

  1. Learn and put into daily practice the eight essential skills/values of professionalism

  2. Learn how to learn to mastery, i.e. master new knowledge and apply new skills.

  3. Demonstrate your mastery and problem-solving by completing real-world projects

  4. Assemble independently verifiable accounts of your abilities, experience, skills and professionalism from people with direct knowledge of your completed projects: colleagues, employers, supervisors, advisors, mentors, clients and peers.

  5. Distribute your completed projects and third-party verifications to networks of people, agencies and enterprises that are active in your chosen field.

The Processes of Professionalism

How does one develop self-management? Do the thing and you shall have the power. Organize one's time and day as if you were self-employed, even if you're currently jobless; put yourself in the other person's shoes during every encounter, set professional standards for your conduct, habits, processes and responses, and set equally high goals for learning, productivity and effectiveness.

Self-Learning to Mastery

There are two basic methods that help the self-learning student over these rough spots:

  • Collaborate with peers pursuing the same goal

  • Develop mentor-apprentice relationships

The African proverb aptly describes the dual nature of self-learning to mastery: "If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together." Individual study and practice is the core of self-learning to mastery. Intense, focused study and concentrated work on problem-solving projects build knowledge and skills quickly: this is the equivalent of walking alone and walking fast. But when the self-learner hits a wall, or needs encouragement, then developing mentors and peer collaborators enables learning over the long haul, i.e. walking together.

Maintaining Motivation

One basic way to maintain motivation is to design a series of accretive tasks or projects that are small enough to be manageable and that build on previous lessons and projects. Trying to tackle an enormous field of knowledge all at once is overwhelming, so breaking mastery into small steps is essential to maintaining motivation. Completing each small step is rewarding, even if progress on the entire project appears modest. Maintaining motivation requires these four components:

  • Overarching goals that organize and prioritize our daily efforts (achieving mastery and the eight essential skills)

  • Investing our willpower to cement new habits that further our goals

  • Breaking down every problem or project into its constituent parts, i.e. bite-sized manageable steps that can be completed with available resources.

  • Collaborate with others, i.e. establish an ecology/network of collaboration that supports our goals and efforts.

Joining Ecologies of Collaboration

If I were 19 years old and on my own again, I would seek out a big group house of the incubator variety, where virtually every resident was an entrepreneur or working for a start-up company, and I would offer myself as the go-to guy for the house in exchange for a place to sleep. Need a meal cooked? I'm on it. Yard tended? Lockset replaced? I'm on it. I would not know how to do many of the tasks, but each task would be small enough to figure out with help from a friend of a resident or a friend of a friend or online tutorials. If I messed the job up because it was my first time, I would have the freedom to re-do it, as nobody would be supervising me except me. (If I chose to pursue a college education, I would do so in between work, not the other way around, just as I did in my youth.) Being the go-to gal/guy in such a setting would be an incredibly fast track to building human and social capital very quickly. What better network to plug into than one formed of entrepreneurs who are busy failing fast and failing often?

Actively Seek Problems to Solve

Graduates face a chicken-egg problem: employers want work experience, but how do you get experience if no one will hire you due to lack of experience? The answer is to go out in the real world and seek problems to solve within organizations and enterprises.

A great many community groups and organizations lack proper accounting and public relations programs, due to limited staffing, funding and expertise. Finding a problem to solve that fits your interests and field of endeavor may be as easy as walking into local churches, environmental organizations, neighborhood groups, volunteer-based sports programs or any one of hundreds of other community-economy organizations and asking what projects need doing or problems that need solving. Completing these projects (or organizing a system that will outlast your own participation) creates value for the organization. This is what employers hire people to do: solve problems and create value. This is the goal of offering one's services--not just to donate time but to identify serious problems that you can solve and document to accredit your abilities and experience.

Documenting and Sharing Your Completed Projects

  • Document the project you contributed to or completed as if you were a reporter, with a synopsis or summary, quotes from participants, photos and a brief description

  • Recruit others you worked with to verify your role

  • Post this documentation online where others can easily access it

  • Distribute the site to your collaborators and appropriate networks within your field of interest