I was watching TV last night and on came a commercial break. There were 5 commercials in this pod along with a couple of promo spots for the network I was watching. When the pod was over, something dawned on me and that has prompted today’s thought.
Not one of the five companies that were advertising was in business a decade ago. Every single one of them was digitally-based and every single one of them was disrupting an existing business sector.
There was an online realtor who would buy or sell you a house without using a local agent. There was the online employment site that would find you a job and serve as your headhunter. There was a site that would pack your pills into individual doses and mail them to you, no trip to the pharmacists needed. The next company would book your next vacation and notify you if now was not the optimal time to book.
I wonder, a decade ago, if the pharmacists thought that they would be threatened by a company that could fill prescriptions in a way no drug store could and at prices that are reflective of their no physical outlet cost structure? Why bother going on interviews with headhunters when you can post your resume and let the algorithm find you interested employers? Why spend on a recruiter when you can have candidates screened electronically and only see the best?
Satchel Paige is quoted as reminding us “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” I think that’s optimistic. If you are in any business these days, something IS gaining on you and they may be the advertisers whose commercials you watch as they go by. Disruption is a fact of business life and unless you’re thinking about how your business could be replaced, you’re missing the boat.
A decade has passed since I last held a “real” job. My kids call the work I do now “Daddy’s Phony Baloney Made Up Job” but hey, it pays the bills so what can I say?
I didn’t realize when I left corporate life 10 years ago that I was actually beginning to ride a wave that continues to grow. I had joined the gig economy. What’s that? A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and companies sign up independent workers for short-term engagements. Companies don’t have “employees”, they have consultants or contractors. Think Uber – every driver works for themselves. Rather than a corporation of thousands, we have a thousand corporations of one.
According to Intuit, by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors. It’s liberating in some ways and incredibly stressful in others. No guaranteed paycheck. No paid-for healthcare or other benefits. You can set your own schedule and work as you choose but you have to go find that work. I mean, unless you’re a pro, playing a lot of golf doesn’t pay the bills.
We’ve become a society where we’re on our own. Putting aside what may be happening with small social safety net we do have here (no politics, please!), many more people are going through their daily lives without the safety net a “real” job provides, and many of the full-time jobs that are out there pay wages that haven’t increased in years because the demand for the shrinking number of jobs is still high. We have seen the growth of businesses and services that support individuals rather than corporations. Sites that help you find gigs (as opposed to full-time employment) are plentiful although in many cases they become places where it’s a race to the bottom with respect to what you can get paid.
What strikes me is that I struggled in many ways to get my business on a good track despite many years of business experience, having managed dozens of people, and being responsible for a multi-million dollar P&L. I often wonder how many kids starting out in this economy are going to struggle and fail without any sort of mentoring. I don’t mean the relatively easy stuff such as how to keep a proper set of books so you don’t have tax issues. I wonder about the hard stuff that involves learning how to formulate ideas and how to express them. It’s the stuff that we don’t learn in school that forms our business education (and that means you too, MBA’s). It’s hard to get that while you’re on your own.
This trend of being on your own is going to continue and to grow as more companies downsize and robots of some sort begin to perform tasks once performed by humans. Who is going to program and service those robots? Independent contractors, no doubt. Maybe you?
The government is one of everyone’s favorite punching bags. It really doesn’t matter where on the political spectrum you fall. The government is the target of an angry rant and/or much headshaking at some point. Today’s topic is a great example of that and it’s instructive to business as well. No, I haven’t reconsidered my self-imposed ban on politics in this space. This has nothing to do with politics and a lot to do with things such as management, customer service, and accountability.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The town in which I live just installed new curbs on Main Street. The new curbs, which meet federal and state standards, are made of granite for their durability (lots of salt and snow plows on the roads here in New England). They also have really sharp edges which, as documented in this article from a local blog shows, have been shredding tires. No, driving on the curb isn’t normal here, but parallel parking is, and apparently there have been many cases of the curbs cutting down tires as the tires bump into them. The government’s response?
The granite curbs used on Main Street are the same material and construction that is used throughout Connecticut and meets state and federal specifications. Because it is cut stone it does have a sharper edge than asphalt or concrete. It is a chosen material because of it hardness and resilience to salt. It can stand up to New England winters with routine snow plowing and application of salt. The curb is not intended to be driven upon and will not damage a tire on routine contact.
In other words, not my problem. We’re following the rules and despite the fact that the rules have caused the citizens (read customers) whom we serve to suffer flat tires, it’s your fault. Quit hitting the curb. Rather than thinking about how to round the edges and to solve the problem, the government official is thinking about how to blame the victim.
You might be shaking your head about this (as you should) but business does the same thing. Rather than fixing customer problems we look to shift blame. We do things such as ask customers to sign lengthy agreements written in legalese in which they waive rights. We impose hidden fees which are only clearly disclosed when someone complains. I can’t wait to hear the Downtown Merchants Association (a local business group), who will lose business as customers choose other places to park (and shop) weigh in on the topic of how the nicer new curbs have “helped” make downtown more attractive to business.
I happen to believe there is a valuable role for government to play in our lives (so do you every time you call a cop or report a fire or drive on a road). I don’t think there is a place for any business – government included – to ignore its customers nor to leave obvious problems unsolved. You?