I got this idea from here. Let’s look at the “standard first-world life path:”
Pretty simple, yes? You start in a “safety net” — meaning your parents are economically responsible for you, then you learn (K-12, college), and then you leave the “learn” stage and can contribute. This leads you to a job/career. You do that for decades, and then you eventually fall back to “safety net,” which is your retirement savings. This has been the conventional model for about 100 years, but definitely since WW2. However, it’s changed quite a bit in the last 10-20 years. Now it probably looks a bit more like this:
Indeed, it’s all over the place. Sometimes you’re contributing, sometimes you’re back in the safety net, and learning has to happen pretty much at all stages. It’s much more about “adaptability” than it ever was before.
This has an insane amount of off-shoots for the very structure of society, including:
- Education and Hiring: This is fatally flawed right now. Education tells you, or inspires you, to learn and grow. Hiring models are based on “We want people who have done this exact thing before.” That is a massive disconnect.
- The Sharing Economy: It’s begin to be everything, to the point that freelancers could be deciding the next Presidential election. We’re starting to really think about the value of reputation in everything. But some, like Robert Reich, argue that the sharing economy is just a return to the early 1900s, where workers have no rights and companies that successfully build structure and platforms to use those workers will hoard all the money.
- Retirement: Retirement used to be a much shorter pocket of time. Now it’s 20-30 years for some people. That’s great in the sense of time with your loved ones, but it’s a mess in terms of how far your money can go and what that means for future generations. What if we start leaving “experiences” (instead of “money”) down the generational line? Huge economic impact there. (Thank God for 12 percent mutual funds, am I right?!?!?)
- The rich getting richer: There’s a growing sense in America that the top dogs are getting all the scratch, and meanwhile our earnings are stagnant — potentially to the tune of about $30,000.
- Training: You would think that the “learn” section above has some responsibility back to corporations, right? Because if corporations want people to contribute (and make money for the bottom line), they need to teach them things — i.e. new skills sometimes. That’s actually what the best companies focus on. Here’s the problem: at most companies, training and things like that are the first thing out the window when margins collapse. The attitude of most top dogs about training is “Eff it, they’ll leave anyway and then we just paid to make our competitors smarter.” It’s the same attitude about “talent strategy.” In short, people matter a lot less — external customers matter a lot more.
Now, obviously every person’s path through life is very different. (“We’re all snowflakes, baby!”) But … we almost need a full-scale re-evaluation of how we think about the progression of learning, career, and retirement. It’s not linear anymore. It’s very much that second graphic.
Here’s an idea from the writer of that Forbes article up top:
It can also broaden our skills away from becoming specialized in one thing until we decide to. We become Neo-Generalists, revolving our insight and experience across from multiple domains to solve new challenges. I would also postulate that we try working on multiple things in parallel, and reduce the dependency on a single job.
And here’s a speech from the same guy, Rawn Shah:
I like his ideas, but I worry they represent too big a change from how our brains are ultimately wired, you know? People are very comfortable with linear paths and ideas they understand; it takes a really long time for people to become comfortable with an opposite idea. For example, IMHO, no one should be going to a four-year, $60K/year college anymore. It’s ludicrous, especially with a mid-level job market on the back end. But for middle-class white people, do you know how ridiculous it is in most families to say “Eh, I don’t want to go to college?” It’s hopefully getting easier, but it’s not there yet by any means (best I can tell). Most of us like ideas and people that are familiar to us, and that’s exacerbated by “the algorithm bubble.” It’s hard for us to think of “insight and experience across multiple domains.” Most people would rather say “I’m a finance guy!” or whatever. That’s how I see it.
But maybe we’ll just absolutely need to evolve our thinking on learning, development, career and retirement over time.