We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
While this ubiquitous quote from one of the 20th Century’s greatest thinkers seems simple, it is amazing how often our country’s leaders seem to fall into this trap. Unlike a college football coach who after only running the ball up the middle to his team’s repeated demise would be fired after a few losses, we are willing to indulge continual mistakes from political leaders as they tell us they can fix the problem. Trying to assuage our concerns about the economy they say they can “create” more jobs instead of addressing a more fundamental question—does anyone really want a job?
Having worked with hundreds of coaching clients, I have yet to meet one, who was looking for a job. Without question, people need a paycheck to provide the necessities of life for themselves and their families; and without an outlet for meaningful contributions in their lives, having a just a job is a recipe for disaster. The notion that a simple exchange of labor for money is going to be sustainable, let alone an impetus for growth is at best naive and at worst, cynical support for continuing on the current path where a very few benefit at the expense of the greater good.
Let’s take a look at what created our current economic mess. During the past several decades, success, personally and as a country, was measured by our consumption—the more, the better, the bigger defined who we were and our value. Thus our economy was thrust forward by unfettered consumption, financed through credit cards and mortgages that allowed those with jobs to live well beyond their means. Acquiring goods and services mollified the gnawing emptiness of processing loans for people who couldn’t afford them (and a whole host of other soulless work) and kept our economy “moving” through its own momentum. When the house of cards came tumbling down, it not only revealed bad mortgages, inflated balance sheets and dubious investments, it laid bare the fact that most people had sold out for a paycheck and new toys, rather than developing meaningful work and quality products.
Which brings us back to the current challenge that our political leaders are addressing our economic woes at the same level of thinking that created them—by focusing on jobs! The last thing our country needs now is more jobs. What we need are people who are passionate, motivated and clear about their skills and talents and who want to put them to work in innovative ways that serve our communities. Our power to change the situation is immense; it simply needs to be unleashed to create a very new economy.
Which is exactly why it isn’t happening, because the current leaders in business and politics like the system the way it is. They have succeeded in it and it works for them—there is absolutely no motivation on their part to create real, systemic, fundamental change because it would (and will) change their lives. The change that will “fix” the economy will not come from Washington, Wall Street or any presidential candidate—it will come from us. It will happen as people shift from linear thinking about getting or having job to pay for stuff to creating lives where they are fulfilled by tapping into inherent talents and skills in meaningful ways.
The amazing transformation that occurs as people become happier in their daily work, is that “stuff” becomes less important and relationships and creating are more highly valued—that is where innovation and success are born. I have every confidence that the American people have unlimited and untapped potential to create a bright future for our country. If we are to create this future, it will require a fundamental shift from our current economic indicators that dehumanize individuals into production units to a whole new set of markers that value happiness, health, life-long learning and service as the basis for a thriving economy.
Some may say this sounds Pollyannaish and I invite those who feel this way to review a host of statistics that show that when people are satisfied, engaged and respected production skyrockets and workplace challenges diminish. Regardless of one’s views on the subject, we agree that we need a new strategy as the tired policies of the past are not working. Moving beyond the current economic woes will only happen with innovative and dramatic new ideas . . . and I bet we can find millions of unemployed people who would be willing to share some along with a new wave of talents and skills they long to bring to the marketplace.