How Economic Growth Dulled Our Brains

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Professional Life, Random

Steve, the husband of a friend of mine has worked for 20 years laying concrete slabs. Between you and me, their marriage is on the rocks. His once vivacious brain has been dulled; a hollow shell that rattles as he walks, mainly due to his monotonous trade.

I am of an era where children were educated and trained for niche working. At 16, we gave up several subjects to focus on 8-10 of them for O-level or GCSE. At 18 (if we’re still in education) we give up a further 7 to focus on just 3. And then we usually work our whole lives in one profession which niches us even further.

But now we are seeing the results of our systemic stupidity. Greed for profit through drone working, has created the greatest depression since the 1930s. It has made us unable to respond to the demands of our changing society.

As a management accountant I’ve worked with costs my whole life. How to apportion them. How to budget for them. How to reduce them. People believe me to be intelligent, yet I know frighteningly little about anything else.

Taylorism (the analysis of workflows and breakdown of tasks into smaller – more repetitive tasks – in order to increase productivity) is one of the cornerstones of my professional career and economies of scale something to which every company aspires.  Think Industrialization. Think economic efficiency. Think mass production.

Cheeseburger Assembly Line: Drone working and obesity in one fell swoop. Lovely.

Cheeseburger Assembly Line

And now think about what effect that compartmentalization has done to our society and our people. There are many Steves in this world who were once bright inquiring children curious as to what the word had to offer. I’ll bet none of them said,

‘When I grow up I want to assemble cheeseburgers.’

In corporate life compartmentalization is hidden and thus all the more insidious. As a finance professional, it has been hell’s own job for me to re-invent myself during this recession after 15 years of analysis and planning. The cost barriers of retraining are high, not only in initial outlay but in missed future earnings in exchange for the entry level salaries one is forced to take after making a career change. Everything in the system is geared towards keeping us focused on a tiny area of work, and to lose not only our peripheral skills, but also the potential we once had for innovation. Until now.

Because the old system is broken. Few jobs and little hope of an end to the current downturn, has inspired entrepreneurial phoenixes to rise from the ashes. Entrepreneurship, working online at home and social business are the seeds of our future. Now we are forced to turn our minds to creating wealth out of our own initiative outside of the office because even people like me–with three degrees–can no longer find work for which I’ve been trained. I could of course move somewhere, but that would mean uprooting my kids, my family. Moving away from my friends and my family. I’m not willing to do that.

Alternatively, I could get a low wage job; as it happens I worked all of last year as a carer for a stroke patient. I had a job. But I was utterly miserable (and my kids noticed). So I’ve chosen something else. I’ve chosen to work with my passions. It is even worse paid than being a carer, and I find it ridiculous that this economy would prefer to pay me for assembling cheeseburgers than creating resources which help people have happy relationships.

Entrepreneurship is taxing for the brain and requires long hours. But it also inspires collaboration among increasing numbers of those who attempt it and gives a flexibility to your working hours that the traditional 9-5 has long since forgotten. The rise of the Mumpreneur in the last ten years is meteoric and extraordinary.

Entrepreneurship is not just about selling your knowledge, because by definition it necessitates an entire education around running a business and selling the idea itself.

Entrepreneurship is an all-encompassing discipline of micro-business and a daring venture into the unknown. It tests your courage. And your fortitude. It teaches us new skills and reminds us of other important ones. Perseverance, tenacity, and success is all the sweeter because it is your own. I might be less well paid, but I am far happier.

And an entrepreneur’s kids not only have a parent who sets the example of ‘he who dares wins’ but also in all probability, one who is available to pick them up from school – even if he who dares might have to work late at night after their bedtime.