The New Yeoman

Thoughts on Making a Living

Amazon.com and the New Jobs Landscape

The New Jobs Landscape

I liked this article from the WSJ on how the e-commerce boom has created better and more jobs. It makes the point that traditional retail jobs’ pay has hardly moved in decades. I think a lot of people still like retail, because you can do little to nothing in many retail jobs while you post on Facebook about something else. It is also generally clean and temperature controlled. However, if you don’t mind doing the physical work of walking around a warehouse and picking goods, you can make a reasonable wage for a starting job. And, with the kind of growth we’ve seen, you can be a supervisor in short order and a shift leader in a year or two.

Those aren’t real jobs

I know, I can hear people scoffing about this already, but I have done this job and loved it. Also, I was no spring chicken when I did so. I loved walking around picking books for Amazon.com when all they sold was books. I’ll admit I liked it less when we moved into CDS, then DVDS, then everydamnthingelse. It was a good job and I saw lots of young people move up the ranks into other things. I saw them become coders, book review editors, customer service leaders, supply chain professionals, and warehouse managers. These were A-Level graduates (UK), Bachelors and Masters degree holders. They were from many places, including many west African immigrants. Some even wrote and sold books on Amazon. 😉

I think these are the “bridge” jobs of the new economy. We have a severe mismatch of job openings and skills as a nation. This gap has proven hard to fill with our traditional education models. However, jobs like Amazon warehouse jobs introduce people to cutting edge technology in the work place. Robotics, sorting technologies, transportation algorithms, etc. are well known in these fields. Proximity to them in the work place breeds familiarity and a level of understanding that is often hard to teach in a class. One can start by being trained quickly as a user of the technology, then move on to be a “manipulator” of locally run programs, then move to be a “configurer” of programs, then finally someone who knows enough about them to actually program them in some way. That is what a relatively short two year stint will get a switched-on graduate at an e-commerce warehouse. Unlike the retail and fast food industries, the new jobs landscape helps develop real skills that come with competitive wages.

If these are not the types of jobs we want for the masses, what would those jobs look like?

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.”

  • James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

A great quote that definitely applies to me via Tim Ferriss, 

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”

– Duke Ellington

Samuel Hulick, Product Benefits, and Our Better Selves

Make Your Customers Better with Your Product Benefits

User interface maestro, Samuel Hulick, makes a great point that features are not benefits. People want to know how a product will make them better. That can mean feel better, look better, perform better, act better… all kinds of things.

How Your Product Benefits Them, Not What It Does

They don’t want to know “what” your product does, they want to know “how” your product will make them better. Good advice for anyone making a product.

People don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.

-Samuel Hulick

Product Benefits of Polyhistorious

I’m trying to take this idea into account with my products, specifically with Polyhistorious,™ where I propose that a wide-ranging mastery of history makes people better versions of themselves. Knowing the history of your profession, means that you can put situations into context. It is also a spectacular way to improve innovative thought, so to channel Hulick, Mastery of History will make you better at innovation and coherent thought. Below is how I describe it at Polyhistorio.us

The work world is changing fast. Robots, software, and off-shoring are eating jobs at an alarming rate. The robots, software, and people who will work cheaper than you can be taught most routine jobs. The road to continued career relevance is having an “imaginative intellect,” or in other words … to be innovative in your chosen field. Innovation can be learned and there is nothing magical about it. However, innovation skills divorced from knowledge and/or experience are almost useless. Innovation skills have to be paired with a wide ranging background knowledge and erudition across many subjects. Combining wide-ranging information is where the new stuff comes from.

Sounds like a Catch-22 situation for young professionals? How can one build this capability?

At any age from about 15 years old and up, one can learn the innovation skills and master the history of your chosen field (and others) to give one’s imagination a chance to make connections and design new ways of doing things.

Well, that sounds good, but school’s and university’s ideas of preparing young people for the world of work is an accounting or marketing course that is rarely practical about how things work in the real world. History courses can be good, but are too general and theoretical to be of daily use. Where can one learn these critical skills of Innovation and History?

I thought you would never ask.

Right here at Polyhistorious. Polyhistorious will help you start to learn Practical Innovation Techniques with a course named, appropriately, PIT-Start. Once you have completed this course, you can begin a course of study on the history of your chosen field. You can choose one of our History courses to get underway on your life-long commitment to understanding how your field got to where it is today.

Well, I can take a history course anywhere. In fact, I already have in school.

That is great! How much do you remember off the top of your head? When you are in a brain-storming session with your peers and boss and she asks you, “Any ideas?”, are you going to bring in your college text book to look up the facts you need?

At Polyhistorious, we use cutting edge teaching, learning, and studying techniques. We teach the courses in an engaging, often times comical and seemingly ridiculous, fashion to help our students remember better. Think of Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money teaching Innovation and History. We also teach the latest research-driven skills for learning and studying what we teach. Our focus is entirely on retention of information for future use. We believe that information that is well retained forms the basis for being able to take on new and continuing information in a logical and memorable way. When more and more information is taken on organically, it is easier to make connection for disparate fields and come up with new ideas, i.e. being innovative.

In other words, the history course features are not what we are trying to give you. How you can use those features to become a better you in your field is what we are trying to do.

Grit For Organizations

What is this “Grit” I keep hearing about?

Grit is a hot concept right now, but largely in the self-improvement space. I listened to a good Freakonomics Radio podcast interview of Angela Lee Duckworth by Steven J. Dubner about Duckworth’s book entitled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance. Duckworth’s basic premise is that people with the most grit have the following characteristics, in order;

  1. They cultivate an interest in a subject
  2. They practice that subject deliberately (a la Anders Ericsson’s Peak)
  3. They feel the subject has meaning or purpose in their lives
  4.  They are optimistic about their outcomes with that subject

By the way, Duckworth reveals a great tool to fight off boredom of a subject. It involves nuance versus novelty, but you should listen to hear her talk about it.

So, that is the personal version of grit in a nutshell (according to Duckworth), but what about organizations?

Can organizations have grit?

On my walk yesterday, I came to this question as I pondered an organization that I was talking to recently about their culture and how to ensure they kept it as they grow. It occurred to me that, yes, organizations could have grit, but many organizations have only three of the four characteristics. They have interest in their work, they generally have purpose in their field, and for the most part they are optimistic that their hard work will result in good things. Sometimes, they have deliberate practice in the sexy fields of website and product design (e.g. A/B testing). However, many fail in the deliberate practice characteristic, especially with their sales and customer services work. For certain, they are “practicing” all day, every day at their work. They are answering an increasing number of phone calls, emails, webchats, etc., but are they deliberately trying to improve in a well-chosen and specific area every day in a way that stays true to their mission? Sadly, many are not. This led me to think of grit in another manner. Let’s call it “Strategic Grit.”

What is Strategic Grit?

First of all, it is entirely reasonable to have this conversation based on Anders Ericsson‘s concept of deliberate practice, instead of grit. However, I like to think of it in terms of grit, because deliberate practice is recursive inside of Duckworth’s concept of grit, so you get a twofer. In other words, to want to practice deliberately, you probably have to have an interest in the subject, feel that it has meaning (purpose) in your work, and be optimistic about the outcome. That’s when I started thinking about how, in order to know what to deliberately practice, an organization needs to analyze its current state and compare it honestly against its desired future state. In other words, finding out about what should interest the organization. This is the first step (Diagnosis) in Richard Rumelt‘s Good Strategy, Bad Strategy (Excellent book, BTW. If you have not read it, the Kindle edition is $1.99 right now). But being clear-headed about strategy requires a little grit too. At this point, I was starting to confuse myself, so I tried to simplify what I thought grit was, in terms of analyzing (diagnosing) what should interest an organization. I decided to use Duckworth’s model of four characteristics, in order, that I had personally seen in organizations that truly faced up to what was causing them problems, especially in dealing with customer service and sales. I created an acronym, because that is what consultants do. Here is my attempt to define Strategic Grit.

TJ Linzy’s definition of Strategic Grit for Organizations

G – Guts – Have the guts to face up to the real issues (take interest) that confront your organization based on your core mission and prioritize them for deliberate practice. Not those that everyone else focusses on, but the ones that will most help meet your mission. This is where the nuance versus novelty discussion is often pertinent.
R – Resolve to improve (deliberately practice)  on the issues mentioned above, even if it means changing KPIs, bucking industry trends, or challenging the status quo. For the other issues that are not part of your core mission, resolve to be at the market standard and stop fretting about them.
I – Integrity. Know what you want to be remembered for ethically (feel what your doing has purpose). Ensure integrity with your ethics by ensuring your actions are aligned with your values.
T – Tenacity. Keep going, even when it looks bleak and going back to your old ways seems like a safe bet (optimism in the outcome helps with tenacity). If you honestly diagnosed your gaps, aligned your principles to guide you, and used logic to ensure your actions were coherent with your diagnosis and principles, you’ll be on the right track and only tenacity will separate you from success.

Well, that’s it. Any value to anyone?

 

Photo credit – By zaui/Scott Catron [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Coding is the New Average Job, Not Blue-Collar

Article: Coding jobs are the new blue-collar jobs

​Wired writes that ” The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding”. Aside from the odd use of “blue-collar” to simply mean “average,”I generally agree with the idea that coding will become a strong field for middle class employees. It really is just another form of doing the things we already do with a new kind of language.

Blue-Collar or “Average”?

However, why substitute “blue-collar” for “average?” As Mike Rowe as repetitively shown us, blue-collar does not mean average. A master carpenter is blue-collar, but far from average and a really good one with ambition can be far above middle-class too. So, in my humble opinion, coding will become the new average job, but we need not redefine blue-collar to make the point.

Does everyone need a computer science degree?

I think this article makes a valid point about the educational requirement to get the necessary skills,

Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school.

On another note, for all you parents out there, simply getting your kid to dabble in programming for fun is not enough. When something becomes the new normal, it means that it is a minimum requirement, not a guarantee. Coding is becoming more like writing – a basic requirement.

On still another note; Although, I agree with much of this article, I worry that we are in the process of moving this wonderful tool (coding) of self-employment, independence, and self-enrichment into the next bureaucratic and organizational “job.” I would much rather see us loan kids $50K to get $5K worth of programming training and use the $45K to start a business with a mentor rather than using it on worthless university degrees spread over 4-6 unproductive years.

Doing Business Versus Project Management

I think Stuart Hamilton gets this right. I work with a lot of start ups that are looking to grow fast. I can normally tell if they are going to make it when they make their first few Project manager hires. If they are widely experienced (not even deeply experienced in many instances) and can make things happen day in and day out and can explain themselves in multiple, daily “hallway” discussions, they’ll be fine. However, if the first hires are documentation buffs who avoid discussions by pointing people to the voluminous project documentation, the organization is normally doomed.

Art is for Life

“Art is for life, not the other way around.” I think Austin Kleon is exactly right and it is not just about making art, it is about making a living… if there is any real difference in that statement.

 

Freedom and Whiskey Go Together

Cross posted on Hillbilly Haiku and Battlefield Biker.

I actually agree with the premise, but this video, though entertaining, is more about the new whiskey craze than talking about how whiskey is related to freedom.

I’d like to see a full length documentary about how whiskey, commerce, and treating people like adults is what makes freedom.

A Moped, a Wheelbarrow, and Grit

I met a man on Friday while I was walking around Reno waiting for my car that was being serviced. I was vexed with my work and I was trying to sort it out in my head while I walked. I mean I was wound up tight over some trivial issue. I probably had a scowl on my face. I was totally in my own head.

I spotted him as he rode past me on his moped pulling a two-wheeled wheelbarrow. My first thought was, “That is so cool!” I suspected he was a guy trying start his landscaping business. However, a little further down the road, I saw him pulled up next to a dumpster. At first, my opinion of him changed, but then I thought “Why?”

I went over to talk to him. I told him I liked his rig. He said it was much better than pushing a shopping cart around. However, it had gotten him in trouble with a traffic cop who had recently given him a ticket for riding his moped in a bicycle lane. He showed me a contraption that had a matching backpack that he had just found in a dumpster. He had me guess what it was, but I could not. He popped it open and it was a combined propane lamp and stove with a matching backpack. It had probably cost $50 or more when new. He said he thought he could get it going and sell it to someone. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was walking while my car was in the shop. He immediately asked what was wrong with my car and asked if I needed some help. I explained that it was just a routine service, but thanked him for the offer. We talked about a few other things. It was still hot for the 1st of October, but supposed to turn cold in the next few days. (Do people who live on the street hear about the weather forecast? Or does it just sneak up on them?)

He asked if I was a soldier. I told him no, but I had been at one point earlier in my life. He said he guessed that, because I stopped to talk to him. He had slept in front of a recruiting center the other night. He had been awakened by a female officer who handed him a Egg McMuffin, but told him he couldn’t sleep there. He said soldiers had always been good to him. That made my eyes well up a little. Soldiers know what it is like to sleep on the floor and how to make equipment work for us in odd combinations. Soldiers also know that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

I wished him good luck and repeated that I really liked his rig. I walked away thinking about him and how blessed I am. The walk had worked for my tangled mind, but not in the way I had supposed when I set off. A hundred yards down the sidewalk, I realized I did not get his name. In most social circles that is the first thing I get when I meet someone. I was ashamed of myself, so I turned around and went back. I asked him his name. He said it was “JT” and I laughed and said, “Well, mine is TJ.” We said good-bye again with a hand shake.

I’ve got no profound truth for you here, Reader, but I know who had more grit and grace at that moment next to a dumpster in a parking lot in Reno, Nevada.

His name is JT and he rides a moped and pulls a wheelbarrow around Reno trying to make a living. It was 31° in Reno this morning.

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