Getting Out of this Recession

Throughout this recession business, I’ve been counting my blessings. Sure we weren’t able to sell our house to move to a decent school district, but we got lucky and did get our son into a different district. I’ve been able to make positive career changes in a climate where so many have had to cling to substandard employment just to get by. I appreciate that my family has been pretty lucky.

But I’m worried. Anxious for my country, my children, myself, and my neighbors. How are things going to get better? Seth Godin identified the heart of the problem:

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

This represents a significant discontinuity, a life-changing disappointment for hard-working people who are hoping for stability but are unlikely to get it. It’s a recession, the recession of a hundred years of the growth of the industrial complex.

The forever recession (and the coming revolution) -Seth Godin

That’s it! America excelled at industrialization. We crushed it. Schooled the world on how to produce bigger-better-faster-more. Then we looked around and decided that workers needed better compensation, better living conditions, and a shot at providing a nice life for their families. Labor became more expensive at home than abroad. The jobs followed. The American industrial worker has been watching his job prospects shrink since the 1980’s. Along with jobs, gone are pensions and the security of holding the same good job for the duration of one’s working life.

We keep trying to get those jobs back. Reduce our trade deficits and make it more financially appealing for businesses to stay in America. We have yet to realize that we are trying to recreate the past, turn back the clock. Let’s face reality. The world has changed. We were the ones who changed it.

In the past 50 years, our country has changed. Women make up half the workforce. The demographics of our country have shifted. Mexican-Americans, African-Americans and other minorities out-number the white majority. And there’s this thing called the internet.

It’s time to focus on this new direction, and realize that America is blazing a new trail. Let’s take advantage of our strengths. The American people firmly believe that they have the ability to change their destinies. In the past, it was the sweat of a man’s brow that was the means to a prosperous future. Today it’s networking, ingenuity, information, and the ability to seek out resources that are the tools for success.

Today’s successful entrepreneurs start small with what they have. They borrow, build co-ops, crowd-source and improvise to get their product to market. They don’t wait for someone to fund their great idea. They go after it themselves. Today’s workers own their careers. We don’t wait for a promotion in order to add to our skills. We find a way to build the skills on our own and then go get the position, usually at a new organization. Job-hopping is no longer a stain on your permanent record. As a matter of fact, staying in one place too long is a warning flag.

The answer to getting out of this recession is beginning to embrace this new world we’ve created. We cannot continue to do the same things we’ve always done and expect different results. Our children need to be prepared for this new working world in our schools. The unemployed need to learn new skills to get the jobs that are already available, unfilled because no one is qualified.

Stop being afraid of things staying the same or getting worse. Get excited about building this new future. Let’s get after it.

Kids and Design Inspiration

My son is 5. He just started kindergarten, but has been asking challenging questions since he was able to talk. On the way to school one day he asked what “Percent” means. That’s a pretty profound concept for a little guy to wrap his head around. As I tried to find a metaphor or something to compare it to, I realized what I needed was a mental model that fit in the world of a 5 yr old.

Boy at dinner table
Kids see things from a different perspective.

Last year we took our first family vacation. I loved watching my son’s reaction to the icons and symbols he saw on our travels. He regularly called out pictures such as no smoking signs, train, bus and restaurant icons. It occurred to me that children are a great litmus test for the effectiveness of visual information displayed to a general audience or in situations where written language is ineffective.

Moments like these are great mental design exercises. Nearly every project requires me to create a virtual environment that makes sense to users whose frames of reference are very different from mine. Sometimes I am guilty of forgetting that what makes sense to me doesn’t matter. The design needs to fit into the world of those people who will use it.

As for explaining the concept of percentages, I thought of the 4 out of 5 dentists recommend tagline. I told him that it’s a way of pointing out how many out of a group are different in a certain way from the rest. “For example, if there are 10 kids in your class, 2 are wearing yellow shirts and the rest are wearing red shirts, you could say that 20 percent of your class are wearing yellow shirts.” That seemed to makes sense to him. Now if I could just come up with a good answer for his question today, “Mama, why is there war?”