Harvard lecturer and global trend watcher Vikram Mansharamani wrote in his most recent book Think for Yourself: “The world, to put it bluntly, has changed, but our philosophy around skills development has not. It’s time to rethink our love affair with depth. The pendulum between depth and breadth has swung too far in favor of depth.” While we both agree that keeping a healthy balance between experts and generalists is beneficial, Vikram did not comment on the reason behind today’s urgent need to swing back the pendulum in favor of breadth.
While supporters of the scientific management method perfected the division of labor and specialism principles, they (perhaps unintentionally) undermined cross-functional collaboration and creativity. Consequently, from the seventies onward, the pace of innovation stalled, except maybe for the world of bits, as argued by Peter Thiel.
No Increase In Purchasing Power
At the same time, the average worker’s purchasing power has not increased over the past 40 years. According to Pew Research Center (2018): “In real terms, average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would be today.”
The Great Resignation
Doing repetitive tasks day in and day out while not escaping a hopeless situation of having to make ends meet ─ year in and year out ─ seriously affects human health. The Great Resignation was long due. Some believe the massive amounts of resignations were caused by:
- Existing burnout ─ While 42% of employees were already experiencing burnout before the pandemic, that number skyrocketed to 72% a few months into lockdown—mainly due to increased anxiety, heavier workloads, and people taking less time off.
- Bad managers ─ Managers influence an employee’s job satisfaction, well-being, and likelihood to stay at a company: 57% of employees have left at least one company because of their boss.
- Poor recognition ─ 69% of employees say they’d be more likely to stay at a company if they received more recognition.
- Systemic injustice ─ People who have been historically marginalized are being vocal about how much safer they feel working from home, where they can escape (to some extent) the stress and burnout of constant microaggressions and the sense of not belonging.
Research by Zety on why people had resigned explains a lot. People were quitting because of:
- Low Salary (67%)
- Limited career opportunities (66%)
- Not being valued by my manager (65%)
- Relationship with my colleagues (64%)
- inadequate pandemic health measures (64%)
- Poor employee benefits (64%)
- Wanting to change job industry entirely (62%)
- Negative interactions with customers (57%)
- Being forced to return to on-site work (55%)
- Seeing other colleagues quit (54%)
The Cost of Profit-first
It isn’t excessive to say that leadership’s obsession with productivity and maximizing profit came at a high price ─ not just to technological progress but to our overall well-being and the environment. The pandemic forced people out of their proverbial treadmill back into their homes while realizing that the fear of losing a job isn’t as scary as losing one’s life.
Where Does That Leave Us?
But because we have bluntly ignored this fundamental principle in economics, a sign of global mismanagement, we find ourselves knee-deep in global depth, battling with historically high inflation, while trying to cope with a heavily disengaged workforce (Research by Gallup: 85% of employees worldwide are disengaged or actively disengaged).
How To Go From Here?
First, business leaders need to realize that economic progress, as stated by renowned economists such as Joseph Schumpeter and Carlota Perez, can only come from meaningful technological innovation, not from excessively exploiting workers or slashing costs.
To progress Means To Innovate
Meaningful innovation requires creativity which demands diversity to bring a variety of disciplines, viewpoints, and backgrounds to the table. This calls upon people to communicate and collaborate more effectively across the silos or hire for multipotentiality to increase our breadth of perspective and enhance our creative and innovative capacity. We can’t progress if we continue to allow the functional silos and their leaders to hoard information and thereby hamper innovation.
As we’ve reached the end of the business cycle, this is not a time to capture value; it is a time to create value. It is time to embrace our differences. Not to grab on desperately to what we have achieved. While conformity serves to preserve the status quo, it is a shared commitment to a future that we all want to bring about that drives us forward with purpose and responsibility.
As a long-time entrepreneur in the internet industry, we often had to make tough choices. Since we were convinced that server virtualization and market consolidation would turn internet hosting into a commodity, we decided to diversify by investing in application development. It was a long shot, but we knew that even our somewhat declining revenue streams would finance our new venture, at least long enough to make the leap. We launched two proprietary web applications. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, we lost momentum. One year later, the conditions had changed dramatically, requiring a redesign of large parts of the software. But our existing revenue streams no longer provided the funds to do so – the industry had transformed even faster than we anticipated. Would it have made any difference if we had chosen to invest in the core business instead? Probably not. We lacked the scale. To this day, I believe the decision to diversify to software was the right one. You just need a bit of luck on your side.