Why Creating Jobs Won’t Help Our Economy

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. –Albert Einstein

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.

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Paul Alberti

Kathleen, you have some interesting thoughts here. I remember seeing a video by Mike Rowe – of Dirty Jobs fame; his comment was people with some of the dirtiest jobs are in general happier than people with clean office jobs. The premise being, at the end of the day they can point to a physical accomplishment. Office workers have typically the same routine day in & day out, meetings, conferences, emails, reports, etc. Over a period of time we can say – we worked that program that is helping 1000s, but at the end of the day – what can we point to? That is not to say we all need to go clean grease traps at McDonald’s!
Maybe the service economy we are in by definition creates a “less happy” or “just a job” environment. I wonder how many people have a hands on hobby making something at home? I started making long bows a few years ago – from a blank piece of wood to a functioning longbow that I physically made – the satisfaction is fantastic. My government job is certainly good and satisfying to a point and it pays my bills, but my hands on hobbies provide my deepest sense of satisfaction. And so far, I have bartered my bows for other peoples hobby products; I have not sold one yet.
Maybe if we redeveloped our production economy would we see an increase in satisfaction, happiness, productivity and increase the number of jobs?

Allison Primack

You’ve brought up some good points in this post, Kathleen. If you were President, what would you do to help fix the job situation in this country?

Chris Poirier

Though I do like your opening Albert Einstein quote, I think Albert had another attributed quote that is more on the money in this respect: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

More so to the point I tend to agree with your position. It is quality of work that is lacking in this country. I amconstantly seeing “now hiring” signs all throughout the retail, food service, and other blue collar fields yet then read on the news that we are over 9% in unemployment. Sorry folks but this is not a lack of jobs creating that unemployment rate: it’s a lack of drive. Closing this gap cannot happen by throwing money at it and jobs that will disappear when the work is done. It’s a cultural issue, quality of work life issue, and an issue of perception.

Kathleen Schafer

Paul–Your experience is shared by many people, after years of “working” they discover talents, skills and passions they never knew existed–particularly those that deal with creating something with their hands. While taking a leap from office work to that of a craftsman may be too big, or unnecessary, it is interesting to see how a life that includes both could open up a variety of new opportunities from part-time work that would create a new opportunity for another government employee and a new product line for people who like your craft!

Kathleen Schafer

Allison–with the caveat that if I had been President for the past few years, we wouldn’t be here now, if I were President I would focus on three key areas:

1. Fundamentally reorganize our public education system to support children in unleashing their potential instead of sitting in mind-numbing classrooms that drive it out of them. I would do it by utilizing the untapped potential of many people in communities who could support our children’s educational experience.

2. Re-focus community development to create core neighborhoods, where people can access all the daily services they need within walking distance or a short drive, to stimulate community engagement, support by creatively offering their talents to others their daily lives. This can be accomplished in larger metropolitan areas neighborhood by neighborhood.

3. Engage the public a sincere conversation about government priorities, roles and citizen engagement. We are in the mess we are in because no one talks about real issues and we don’t do it in a way that moves us toward results, only more arguing to grab ratings and win elections.

Joe Williams

I did a double-take on your title because in my mind, jobs and the economy are linked inextricably. After reading the rest, the point I’m taking away is that it’s not just a black-and-white numbers game. Capturing and building upon the passion that each of us has inside of us is a powerful force for recovery and change. What I’d offer beyond your words is to identify vehicles for capturing and building upon passion, if it is not in a job. Options such as volunteer work, supporting your local community and neighborhood organizations, and other similar outlets offer great opportunities. The successful road to recovery depends as much on the small and local efforts, just as much as it does from anything emanating from inside the Beltway.

Kathleen Schafer

Well said Joe, and by offering our talents and skills wherever we can, we never know where the path may lead . . . some of the most successful people began their assent by volunteering!