(While I'm overseas for business this week, my Dad, Robert D. Gilbreath, Sr., offered to guest post this week for the second time this year. Thanks, Dad, good stuff below...)
Ever notice how many trucks and workers swarm a new subdivision under construction? And after it's built-out, only a few return. A carpet cleaner here, a pizza delivery car there. That's because once dreams are achieved, once something new and bold has been established, it takes so many fewer people with so lesser talents to operate the result. America's economy works the same way. A dream-build economy creates many more and much better jobs than an operate-defend version. And it’s the latter version we're mired in.
Offshoring and outsourcing are minor villains in today's anemic job market. There is a much larger specter stealing jobs and crushing our national business spirit. It's the death of dreams, and the commensurate courage to build upon them. When we built the Interstate Highway system hundreds of thousands of jobs were created and sustained for years--high-paying, imaginative jobs. But once completed, how many architects, engineers, urban planners, and environmentalists does it take to maintain these same roads? Answer: none. Just a few folks in orange vests to pick up the trash and repair the occasional guardrail. And a good number of those are prisoners.
The same is true for other great, ennobling national endeavors like the Alaska pipeline, space exploration and the internet. We have nothing like these now. Our great national goals have shrunk to the defeat of a band of murderous, Third-World thugs. Not very ennobling.
We are asleep, but not dreaming. We are using, but not building. This is why we get more inspiration from Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe sword and sorcerer movies than from our national political and business leaders. Timidity, protection, defense, and fear drive out the great in us. They stymie investment, shut down innovation, and seize up the job-creation machine.
The reason for the job bonanza of the nineties was three-fold: 1) Reengineering our business processes, 2) Mergers and acquisitions, and 3) the Internet. Each of these required tremendous amounts of planning, analysis, expert design and skillful, bold execution to pull off. When a company changes its strategy or embarks on the release of a new product, a streamlined process, or a new organization it takes an initial burst of highly talented people working excitedly, in great faith that their efforts will bear fruit. However, every reengineered process uses fewer people, every merger results in net reductions, and every up and running web site requires virtually no one to run it.
Dream and build economies trump operating ones when it comes to job creation--every time, no matter what. It took an army of geniuses together with battalions of talented, highly skilled men and women to create Microsoft's Windows operating system and their Office application suite--more and more varied talent than required by the Manhattan Project of World War II. But once done, this software can be run by a schoolchild. Operating is easier, duller and uninspiring. Operating is dumbing down, not dreaming up. We need dreams to build on, otherwise we'll have nothing but decayed infrastructure and defeatist businesses to operate in the future.
We cannot grow jobs, advance our standard of living, or provide the tax base to lessen our social and cultural ills when we are cowering in fear. When boardroom talk is dominated by "business continuity" (read: "surviving an attack"), "focus" (read: "contraction, staying and thinking in the box") and "contingency management" (read: "being afraid to stand for anything or commit to any principles"), we're living in the land of fear. When the business leader is hazed and body searched at the airport on the way to a meeting, it's unlikely he or she will be in the mood for innovation, risk-taking or exploration upon arrival.
Fear is not prudence--it is reckless prudence--the great destroyer of the future. We need to trump it with creativity and courage.
Robert Gilbreath is an Alpharetta-based
author of six business texts and a frequent commentator on national work
Robert Gilbreath is an Alpharetta-based author of six business texts and a frequent commentator on national work trends.