Check out any news outlet, website, or any social media platform, and you’ll basically see that the world is still enamored with the Silicon Valley story of rags to riches.
The story goes that we’re all supposed to be programmers, technology entrepreneurs, e-commerce savants, and social media marketers. People are in love with the legends of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and the rest of them.
There is a reason we all know these people’s names by heart, and that is because they are extremely rich, superbly famous, and most importantly, that there are so few of them. They’re more like the combined lottery ticket winners of achievement, fame, fortune, and positive impact on humanity in the 21st century.
We’re not all destined to be like these guys who’d disrupt an industry, create new technology, or create a new paradigm shift in human existence with an innovative product or service. What’s worked for any of them doesn’t necessarily apply to you. There is a great deal of survivorship bias going on in the background that we’re completely unaware of or perhaps willingly choosing to ignore. Remember the Dot-Com Bubble? Hundreds of tech entrepreneurs in the early 2000s went bust and broke and never got a chance to get back into the game ever again.
We all get offered a certain set of opportunities and we play the hand we were dealt, good or bad, and let go and let God. And this is the natural order of things, people will always have different levels of aptitudes towards certain skills. And even people who practice the same skill will exhibit varying levels of proficiency.
And that is not a bad thing. It’s worked for your parents and everyone else you know in the world.
Your mom and dad will always offer you tried and proven advice. They would tell you to go for the safe bet and get a college education and a degree that proves you are really good at a certain technical skill and then leverage these qualifications towards getting a high-income job.
This path will most probably lead you to be getting a regular job trading your time performing a specific function for a monthly paycheck. How much you get paid significantly depends on how sophisticated was your training.
That’s the best-case scenario if you were lucky enough to graduate in a booming economy holding a degree in a booming industry that’s looking for bright young candidates like yourself. If you weren’t, tough luck, you’d be faced with the depressing option to settle for whatever jobs are being offered.
Naturally, this will eventually lead you to live your life in perpetual bitterness and a sense of resentment. Unfulfilled and knowing full well you’re not living up to your potential, not by a long shot, and that it isn’t much you can do about it. You’re basically stuck with ever-increasing pent-up anger that will be unleashed on the first unlucky person who tries to test your patience.
So, you check out your social media feeds and, of course, you feel like you’re missing out. These guys are striking it big being internet billionaires really really fast, and you’re smarter and more capable of these fools, and of course, you can do a better job at it and become even richer than the pictures you see on Instagram.
Don’t let these guys fool you. All of these so-called Instagram millionaires and Twitter financial wizards are only selling you the dream and preying on your emotional vulnerability. The only person getting rich from a get-rich-quick course is the person selling it to you.
People are getting swindled, cheated, and screwed over, pretty much all the time.
You don’t even have to zoom out for the bigger picture and start looking at the statistics. That detached cold and calculated set of figures, arranged in a spreadsheet or a graph, will always dehumanize the situation. All you need is to think of your brother or sister, friend or neighbor who’s lost his livelihood because of a major catastrophic economical event.
Take your pick from power struggles, military coups, revolutions, monarchies disbanded and thrown out of power, policy changes, welfare programs initiated or canceled, educational systems improved or demolished, universal healthcare offered to the public or rescinded, currency inflation, trade laws amended, tariffs and duties increases, investment laws attracting or repelling foreign investors, taxation hikes, public sector expansion or downsizing, trade deficits, budget deficits, corruption, world bank, and monetary fund loan stipulations, austerity measures, financial market collapse, natural disasters, etc.
Even during such times of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have got to keep our optimism. Economies might crash, jobs might be lost, people might struggle, but they’ll find their resilience in the darkest patches of human history and get back on their own two feet again. Humankind is relentless and life always finds a way.
Though it’s been said that desperate times call for desperate measures, but even throughout the darkest patches you can’t easily rob people of their drive and their courage.
No matter what’s going on, some people will always figure out a way to start a small business and it’s actually not that hard to come up with a concept for a small business. There are many tried and proven small business models that everyone knows can work. We know, for example, that providing any type of service to people is a good business, especially when there’s a market gap that’s just waiting to be filled, such as opening a convenience store in a neighborhood that doesn’t have one.
The fact of the matter, and what usually stops people from taking action, remains that building a business is extremely hard work. It takes courage, persistence, perseverance, tremendous effort, and a whole lot of time. There are some necessary learning curves that are usually built upon rubbles of failure and hard-learned lessons, and not everyone has the stomach for those.
There’s so much garbage being peddled to people online. It’s the worst kind of advice to tell someone to quit their day job and start a business.
If someone tries to sell you that, know for a fact they’re trying to hustle you out of your hard-earned cash. The simple truth that every real business owner knows is that you don’t bet the entire farm in one go. Real business is all about minimizing risk, and an asymmetric risk-reward ratio. This means that the upside is very high, or unlimited in some cases, and the downside is capped at a manageable finite amount. The example is that I am going to risk $1 of investment capital that I am willing to lose, but the return on investment will be $5 if everything works out.
There is no substitute for experience. You have got to take the initiative, plan carefully, do the smart thing, and take action. It was Helmuth von Moltke who said “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Even with careful planning and implementation, something unexpected always happens. The plan should always guarantee that even if everything goes wrong, you’ll be able to play another day. You won’t have enough time to knit a parachute after you jump off a cliff.
Not surviving such a crash-landing will also wreck a person’s self-confidence and deflate their courage enough to abandon their lofty dreams and back to taking any paying gig.
The only way to go about solving this riddle is to find the middle ground between succumbing to the daily 9-to-5 grind and playing start-up Russian roulette.
We have to think smarter, keeping the day job while working in tandem towards our own plans. Such plans do not have to be on creating the next Amazon, they could simply be about transitioning into a different industry. Upskilling into some other profession that’s in-demand and building a body of work and expertise that would make the transition possible and create a bridge to other opportunities.
But there’s a catch, of course, and that it’s going to take a very long time to accomplish such a thing. People have done it before, and keep on doing it even today. Those unsung heroes who grind in a job they absolutely hate with every fiber of their being, all the while, never losing hope that their work will pay off in the end and their own projects, their own studies, the time they invest every single day towards creating their own destiny will lead them to a brighter future.
People have taken online courses, gone to night-schools, worked on books, manuscripts, designs, and scientific experiments, all while keeping a day’s job.
On the other hand, people who have lost their jobs will take even longer to be able to even start on their life’s work and creating their own destinies. When you take a person’s job and their source of income they go into crisis mode and their creativity goes numb.
‘Tis time to pay heed to the writing that is literally on the wall.
There is a technological tide that is coming and a cascade of minimum skill jobs are going to evaporate overnight in lots of industries.
It’s going to start happening and when it does, it’s going to happen fast.
Metro, tram, and train drivers’ jobs are going extinct with automated public transportation systems. In less than a decade self-driving vehicles are going to be the norm, and taxi cab drivers, truck drivers, heavy machinery drivers, agricultural machinery drivers are going to be all out of a job.
Your Uber car might be your neighbor’s car moonlighting as an autonomous Uber driver to provide some extra income while your neighbor is at work. Who knows, maybe the concept of owning a personal transportation vehicle of any kind is going to be obsolete and Uber will become a public transportation monopoly that will buy off all taxi companies and be the sole transportation provider in the world.
The car industry itself might collapse if the market for car ownership suddenly disappears! That might affect the insurance industry, the maintenance, spare parts, and repair industries, traffic laws, and human society as a whole.
With better, smaller, and faster computers, along with a wider satellite network coverage, and perhaps with stronger dedicated Artificial intelligence, we might find that flying airplanes and navigating shipping lanes with cargoships, containerships, and oil tankers will all turn to automation. Think of how Amazon’s “AWS” can become the global shipping and logistics company in the world and all of its workforce is pure software running in cloud servers. Just imagine the millions working in seaports, airports, and other logistics functions that could gradually find themselves out of a job.
Robots are going to fill in the factory floors, army bases, construction sites, farming lands, homes, hospitals, and perhaps even our own bodies. Humanity’s role will be reduced to doing work that requires a great deal of creativity, critical thinking, good old-fashioned human judgment, and other superior general intelligence functions that cannot be delegated to AI.
Siri, Alexa, and the Google assistant are going to become the scaffolding to build autonomous interactive customer support and interactive personal assistant services. When you don’t have to have an actual human being work as the middleman between you and other human beings, entities, products, or services, things like customer support are going to disappear overnight, along with secretaries, office managers, talent managers, and possibly lawyers.
Humanity will need plenty of engineers, artists, poets, writers, programmers, dancers, painters, sculptors, technicians, designers, entrepreneurs, problem-solvers, creators, thinkers, and visionaries of all sorts. And the time to stay ahead of the wave is right now.
Building skills and mastering creative abilities takes time. There’s no telling of what the timeline could be, it could be a couple of centuries, or it could be within our lifetimes.
Yeah, sure, some pockets of resistance might sporadically stand their ground here and there, banning or outlawing certain technologies for some time or a few years, but they’re going to have the same luck as the Ottoman Sultan “Selim I” who outlawed the Guttenberg printing press in 1515.
The solution is not to stop technological progress but to adapt to the situation and find proactive and preemptive solutions. We should all learn a crucial lesson about adaptation to new technology from the colossal collapse of the Kodak company and its catastrophic failure to transition into digital photography which was pioneered by one of their very own engineers, no less.
Disruption is upon us. I can’t help but think of that amazing Jeremy Irons scene in “Margin Call” when he told the board that his job and “why he earns the big bucks’ is to “guess what the music might do a week, a month, a year from now” and that “standing here tonight, I’m afraid I don’t hear a thing.”
And don’t expect governments to intervene in time, if at all. Governments suffer from a chronic case of short-sightedness and they don’t do projections well. Reactionary measures are never going to be up to the task. What’s necessary here is long-term conscious preparation.
Some notion of a welfare state system that could be left holding the bag of the economy is never going to hold water. Socialism is not the answer. It’s a heavy financial burden on any society, no matter how economically wealthy it really is.
It’s a nice deflector shield sort of argument to rid people of responsibility. It’s not on us, let the government deal with it. Let the big guys in the expensive suits who work at the really nice buildings, and who make all the rules figure this one out. Allow them to collect extortionate taxes from all of us to hand out unemployment checks, free medical care, and subsidized food supplies.
That’s the kind of an argument a child would throw at their parents. People who suggest such things make it a full-time occupation to complain about how the government is not living up to their standards and not doing its proper job, and we call them politicians. The government cannot be our surrogate parents. And people cannot be children forever.
In recent years, the idea of a universal basic income has been floating around. I don’t think that this idea is ever going to carry a tune even if the proverbial bucket could be made available, for several practical and psychological reasons.
When we train people to expect a comfortable social safety net that is going to last them forever, we practically rob them of their drive, agency, and responsibility. This hampers their hope for a better life, their work ethics, and their confidence. This is where the disconnect happens and fuels all sorts of social problems with resentment, nihilism, entitlement, apathy, learned helplessness, victimhood, and criminality.
On the other end of the spectrum, those law-abiding tax-paying citizens are simmering with fury at how their hard-earned income is being taxed and the collections are being poorly managed to line the pockets of everyone who handles their money, and then the left is not enough to provide them with adequate services, that they actually have to share with the recipient of welfare. They feel betrayed by the system they serve, crushed by their debts and financial burdens, shackled to the oars of serfdom at their corporate jobs, and fearful of suddenly joining the welfare system.
The solution can never be based on government-sponsored handouts or charitable donations.
This is completely another rant, but I do believe that in the long run, any type of non-profit, philanthropic, or charity organization that its whole business model is to give away free stuff to poor people is not doing much good in the world at all.
Yes, of course, giving aid and providing relief in times of crisis, is a good thing, such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless in the dead of winter, but this is not an effective long-term policy.
If there’s a catastrophic event like a flood sweeping over people’s homes and farmlands, a volcano eruption destroying a country, or an earthquake that demolished a building and caused a loss of life, please, go in with your medical supplies, food, tents, trucks, and volunteers.
But if you’re going into a remote village in an undeveloped nation and all that you’re doing is digging water wells, building homes, giving away equipment and resources, and then packing up and going home, leaving people to fend for themselves, pray tell, how is this considered help?
If this is all you are willing to offer and this flash giveaway is your idea of charity, I beg to differ.
We’ve known this for a very long time, and we’ve all heard that timeless wisdom being repeated time and time again: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Real help, the kind of help that would really make a difference, is in education and teaching people to be self-sufficient and self-dependent. Give people the knowledge they so desperately need to solve their own problems. Not only will they thank you for it with real honest undying gratitude, but you’ll give them another priceless gift, which is the self-respect they would feel from knowing they were able to save themselves.
Let me give you this recurring real-life example.
Quite often I see the same post on social media for a person pleading for people to help find a job for a loved one. The concerned individual, out of desperation, decides to advertise the pain of someone who has recently lost their job, detailing the several aspects of their dire situation, their responsibilities, their families, their debts, their willingness to indiscriminatingly accept any job that provides any source of income.
Sometimes that person is poorly educated, with only basic education and no marketable skills, but other times, and that’s even more heartbreaking, that person is a highly educated professional who’s unlucky to hold a degree in an over-saturated market. Even if you can rationalize blaming the former for not working on their skills, you find it hard to blame the latter who had worked years on acquiring skills that people are no longer paying for.
Replaceability, it’s the great equalizer of unskilled labor and skilled labor in a saturated market, what’s on offer way exceeds the demand. It renders such people’s services cheap to hire, cheap to fire, and with no substantial economical value.
The main challenge is and has always been, one of perception and of having a hand over the pulse of the times, being aware, and noticing that the winds of change are coming. What was always necessary for the human species to survive and thrive was those one thing, and this one thing alone: evolution.
That is the ability to adapt to the circumstances and the changes that surround us. This is maintaining a level of intellectual flexibility that will accept that change is happening, and not denying it simply because one doesn’t like to change. There is wisdom in recognizing that the change is beyond one’s own control, and there is absolutely no point in trying to change it. Your two options are to stand rigidly and firmly in the face of gale wind and break mercilessly or bend and adapt to the gusts of change and evolve the necessary knowledge and tools to actually thrive in such an alien environment.
It’s what is now called Antifragility. The term was coined by Nassim Taleb in his book aptly called “Antifragile.” Here is a direct quote from the book to make my point:
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.”
That is exactly what the business literature calls cultivating the “beginner’s mindset” or applying the freshman student or learner’s attitude to everything one needs to start doing with zero prior knowledge. It’s the power to handle random events and deal with chaos and uncertainty, actually making room for it in your model of the world.
It’s a higher level of intelligence to know that at one time or another you’re going to have to drop that skill you’ve mastered over a long time, and in which you’ve found your comfort zone, and carved your own niche, only because you’ve recognized it’s no longer relevant, or at best severely lacking another complementary skill that will allow it to remain relevant in a new market.
It serves you nothing to be a typewriter repairman in a world where everyone uses computer laptops. Something needs to change, and you must evolve, optimally, before all typewriter manufacturers go out of business.
There’s no one size fits all advice that will work with everyone who needs to be ready for a change in their life. People simply should upskill like mad. Increase their repertoire of marketable skills, dive deeply into fields related to their main body of expertise, complement their knowledge with practical experience, invest their time in any creative vocation that will allow them to expand their problem-solving skills.
This may include learning new languages, coding, taking public speaking courses, getting a degree of a professional license, starting a side-hustle business, or becoming an original content creator.
You may be reading this and agreeing with me (or not), and you’ve already stopped reading ( or actually started daydreaming) to examine your own thoughts about how to account for a chaotic random event such as your entire industry going bust overnight. Maybe you do have the luxury to work upon this contingency plan of yours in your free time, but what about the rest of the world who isn’t just seeing the writing on the wall? How can we help them?
Hear me out.
Ever heard of the Lambda School? It is an online learning platform that offers you an elite education in the highly technical fields of coding and data science for free, but you only pay when you get hired based on your new skills. It’s an entirely different model than student loans and scholarship programs.
Ever heard of the Duke of Edinburgh International Award in the UK or The Possibilities Project in the UAE? These programs are aimed at developing skills in young students and then matching these skills to real-world professional needs through a career-matching and placement program run in cooperation with partner corporations and organizations.
So, why don’t we create a whole new platform, a whole new system based on old practical wisdom to teach a man to fish instead of training him to wait for the fish we throw at him when we can. How can we incorporate all of these ideas into a single massive upskilling program that can be run by governments or by charitable organizations to teach people how to fish their own dinner.
The idea is simple:
Universal unemployment, and upskilling aid program.
You don’t have a job? No problem. You come to the organization (or government-run agency) that offers the program and apply for a slot.
You are provided with an incentive-based limited-time aid package that corresponds to your immediate economical situation and your dependents.
It’s not going to be a universal basic income kind of deal. Single people are not going to get the same support as people with kids or people who care for elderly parents. Some sensible compromises have to be made on part of the applicant because the program only provides reasonable support and not an invitation to abuse and game the system.
You are going to be supported while learning a new marketable skill and high in demand technical vocation in an expanding futuristic industry. It is equivalent to getting a college degree but we’re not going to bother with teaching you all of the nonsensical BS that you’re not going to ever use in real life. You’re there to get a new skill that makes you valuable enough to pull your own weight in the world.
The program is time-limited. So, you have to complete the program in a specific time frame or else you’re going to get expelled.
The aid-package is incentivized and has a variable booster component that depends on getting excellent grades, finishing the program in an expedited time frame, or on graduating and going into a higher specialized tier reserved only for exceptional academic excellence in completing the program. Simply put, if you do well, you actually get paid more, if you do exceptionally well, you get paid exceptionally more, and if you graduate and go back into a more specialized higher training, you’re going to get a nicer aid package.
The idea is to get you a foot in the door in a market that has room for you. You are NOT going to spend your whole life in the program. Not everyone is a genius, and some people will need to go through the program again. There are second chances, or maybe even third chances based on validated special circumstances. But that’s it, three strikes and you’re out. You are being given a chance, not a free ride.
You are allowed to upgrade your training to a certain higher level and spend two or maybe three upgrade and upskilling courses of the aid program if the specialization you’re seeking is exceptionally valuable and you have proven that you can pull through it in one go.
Participating organizations and companies from the private sector and government may be incentivized to offer limited positions based on excellence. But you are also expected to find an opportunity that suits you. Special counseling and training in how to seek and create such opportunities and how to negotiate for such positions are also part of the program.
Excellent candidates can also find employment as part of the teaching staff on a loaner temporary basis, or a permanent position based on the local program needs. Such candidates are going to be nominated by their teachers and students cannot apply for these positions.
The program will welcome volunteer educators who have retired from traditional educational careers. Volunteer businessmen, speakers, athletes, artists, and accomplished people can volunteer to lecture or speak at special functions organized by the program.
It’s a program that is also mainly aimed at reskilling the current unskilled workforce who wants to be competitive or to gain relevant knowledge or skills that will allow them to provide for their own families.
It is part Universal Basic Income, part full-ride student scholarship, part vocational placement program all rolled into one.
I think it is something worth thinking about. I believe lots of people are willing to take that chance and upgrade their lives if you can provide them with an alternative to the paycheck that stops them from doing exactly that.
The time and money restrictions are in place to weed out the free-loaders.
Seriously committed people are going to be handsomely rewarded by getting more aid money and by getting a chance at being offered a prime-tier job in the private sector.
The program can be run in a small pilot-phase at the beginning to prove its efficacy, and later it can be adapted by as many cities, countries as possible and the model is infinitely scalable.
Celebrities and wealthy people who want to give back and leave behind a legacy can start or sponsor such programs. The Warren Buffet Pledge can jump on that deal. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can take part in it. It could be a program run by charities, governments, or UNESCO to raise the efficiency of the current workforce in any country.
It is the way to get the world freed from the shackles of corporate slavery, one person at a time.
You might ask, what about the jobs that these people are going to quit, who is going to do them?
Well, first of all, these programs are most probably going to launch on a really small scale, so big corporations will still find people to shackle to the oars at the bottom of their corporate slave ships.
Second, not everyone is going to jump ship at the same time, people are going to be very skeptical at the beginning, but perhaps the leap is going to be massive once the program proves to be working. Still, slots are going to be limited depending on the available funds to run the program.
Third, even in full swing, the program is never going to accommodate the entire unemployed workforce.
Fourth, some people will fail the program and revert back to those same old jobs they used to have (until they really find they have no other option once those jobs disappear).
Fifth, these old manual jobs are going to be automated and taken over by robots sooner or later.
The bottom line is that we don’t really have to just give people a fish to eat for a day. The alternative plan is to still give them the fish but only under the condition that along with it they must pick up a fishing pole and learn how to do the fishing on their own.
Set a deadline, guarantee sustenance during that time, reward compliance, industry, and excellence with more ‘fish,’ and when they graduate, set them up with work on a decent fishing boat.
This way you don’t only give people the help they so desperately need, but you offer them something even more valuable: Dignity. To allow a person the means to pull themselves out of a tough situation, will give meaning to their lives and allow them to have pride in their accomplishments.
And who knows, maybe this will change things when robots eventually take over the world. 🙂
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