The foreman at a lumber mill is giving a tour to the Human Resources manager. He hears a voice over the din of all the machinery. “Ouch!” Concerned that the new, accelerated production schedule is resulting in accidents, they follow the sound to a worker running a huge saw that slices through trees like bars of butter. “What’s the matter? Why’d you cry ouch?” asks the foreman. “Well,” says the saw operator. “I was trying to put more logs through the saw faster, like we were told, and I just stuck my arm out like this, and… Whoa! I’ll be darned! There goes the other one!” The foreman turns to the HR manager: “Well, that does it. You were right. There goes another one. We need to post these jobs on CareerBuilder long before we need to fill them.”
Once again, a lousy economy is thrusting people into a job market where the talent is running scared. People will snatch up jobs, any jobs, to pay the mortgage.
I try to teach people the importance of pursuing the right job, not just a paycheck. But I always qualify that, because I certainly understand that putting food on the table and paying the rent may be a good reason — maybe the only reason — to take a job, any job. But even in dire circumstances, it’s important to step back and consider the consequences of such short-term thinking and decision making. The trouble is, business is leading the way.
Two articles in a recent edition of Computerworld highlight the problem. In Software Holding Back Spread of Multicore Chips, we learn that new computer microprocessors with four “cores” (translation: four brains) are now shipping to companies that want the extra processing power. But customers and analysts alike complain that there’s no software that takes advantage of this massive leap in computer hardware. Oops.
“We have a serious developer problem,” says Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group in San Jose. Software developers just don’t know how to write programs for these new, ultra-powerful chips. The article goes on to say that it will take five years for software to catch up with the new hardware. Gee, why is that? Hah, somebody forgot to fund long-term computer science research, but Intel managed to ship those new processors to meet revenue targets. [Sigh of relief. The investors are happy for another quarter.]
In another Computerworld article (same edition — kudos to CW for driving a point home) tech thinker Judy Estrin (On The U.S. Innovation Gap) begins to explain the problem: “Look at the culture of instant gratification in this country; everyone wants everything yesterday. And technology — especially the Internet — has helped to create that.”
What’s Estrin’s big beef with this country? Here it comes… We don’t have software as powerful as our hardware because we have no commitment to science and technology, “so research funding has dropped dramatically.” My beef is that this means fewer good jobs and more lousy ones.
Dopey us. The most innovative nation in history is too busy trying to make money for the short term. To pay the rent. To put food on the table. We’re so busy trying to grab those slippery fish in the river with our bare hands before the competition does that we don’t have time to invent a net or a fishing pole… Create better ways to fish so we can eat better in the future? No time for that… feed us now!
Jump back to that other article: “Companies must prove a strong business benefit when seeking to build or buy new technologies.” And they have created powerful methodologies to push stuff out the door faster and faster; methods that now dominate business. Estrin sees this another way: “A natural inclination in the country and in the business world is to put in rigid processes, policies and metrics — things like Six Sigma or No Child Left Behind. Some of those things actually discourage the behaviors you need for innovation,” says Estrin. She complains that people have become “very short-term focused.” No kidding.
Six Sigma is bad? Lordy, Corcodilos, you’ve gone off the deep end!
Our craving for short-term success (“I got a job! Whew!”) is killing us. Our new computers work great! But we forgot to research new ways to program them. Oops. My new job pays the rent. Oops — there goes another job! (A guy named Michael just called me to say he won a job at United Airlines early in the year. He just got laid off.) Instant gratification in the job hunt is a fallacy. Call it No Worker Left Behind. Or, the Six Sigma approach to fishing, lumber milling, and hiring.
I still have no problem with you taking a job because you need to pay the rent. Intel ships chips to make revenue targets, but, Oops! There’s no application for those new chips. Oops! There go a few thousand jobs for a new kind of programmer who can write software for those chips… well, something is very screwed up. The lack of funding for basic research means you may have a bigger problem landing a good job than you think. And employers are having a hell of a time with the hiring process. The severed arms are piling up.
So, who is doing research on how people can make money doing work for companies that plan for long-term success? Is every company grinding away for the instant business benefit and the instant stock-price boost? Is every poor sucker looking for an instant job to pay the mortgage? Oops — there goes another one!
The instant future is our future on the skids. Today’s posting offers no advice to job hunters because I need to stop and take time to think about this.