New polling out this week shows that Americans are frustrated with the world and pessimistic about the future. They're losing patience with the economy, with their prospects, with their leaders (of both parties).
What's actually happening is this: we're realizing that the industrial revolution is fading. The 80 year long run that brought ever-increasing productivity (and along with it, well-paying jobs for an ever-expanding middle class) is ending.
It's one thing to read about the changes the internet brought, it's another to experience them. People who thought they had a valuable skill or degree have discovered that being an anonymous middleman doesn't guarantee job security. Individuals who were trained to comply and follow instructions have discovered that the deal is over… and it isn't their fault, because they've always done what they were told.
This isn't fair of course. It's not fair to train for years, to pay your dues, to invest in a house or a career and then suddenly see it fade.
For a while, politicians and organizations promised that things would get back to normal. Those promises aren't enough, though, and it's clear to many that this might be the new normal. In fact, it is the new normal.
I regularly hear from people who say, "enough with this conceptual stuff, tell me how to get my factory moving, my day job replaced, my consistent paycheck restored…" There's an idea that somehow, if we just do things with more effort or skill, we can go back to the Brady Bunch and mass markets and mediocre products that pay off for years. It's not an idea, though, it's a myth.
Some people insist that if we focus on "business fundamentals" and get "back to basics," all will return. Not so. The promise that you can get paid really well to do precisely what your boss instructs you to do is now a dream, no longer a reality.
It takes a long time for a generation to come around to significant revolutionary change. The newspaper business, the steel business, law firms, the car business, the record business, even computers… one by one, our industries are being turned upside down, and so quickly that it requires us to change faster than we'd like.
It's unpleasant, it's not fair, but it's all we've got. The sooner we realize that the world has changed, the sooner we can accept it and make something of what we've got. Whining isn't a scalable solution.
Tomorrow: part II—the opportunity