Will somebody please get Thomas Friedman to step away from his keyboard and give us all a break? His magical workshop of clever ideas is churning out cheap columns these days that are so clearly junk, you'd think they were made in China.
As I argued in an earlier post, the stable of Times columnists appears intellectually exhausted as a group, and Friedman is no exception. But what makes TF's weekly trash heap remarkable is the degree to which he doesn't even bother to cover up, anymore, his lackluster attempts at meaningful thought mongering.
The most recent example of this trend appeared in yesterday's Times. TF opens by taking aim at the gridlock on Capitol Hill over the debt ceiling and the impasse between Democrats and Republicans on how best to stimulate job growth. Things were actually moving along, until this:
Indeed, what is most striking when you talk to employers today is how many of them have used the pressure of the recession to become even more productive by deploying more automation technologies, software, outsourcing, robotics — anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care and pension liabilities. That is not going to change.
The fact that this is, in a nutshell, one of the defining features of capitalism and not some new phenomenon produced by recession seems to have escaped Friedman, but who cares? Our man is too busy charging toward to the next pocket of hot air to worry much over the mess he's made in previous paragraphs.
What's important to Friedman is not his own observation that the American economy is more or less dependent on a handful of companies in Sillicon Valley, and that "what's scary" is that "you could easily fit all their employees together into the 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden, and still have room for grandma." In fact, wrestling with this disturbing reality and its likely short- and long-term consequences would have been an incredibly valuable exercise.
But no. What Friedman wants to do is discuss how young American college grads can break into this elite crew of computer geeks and savvy engineers, everyone else be damned. And how do you go about doing this?
Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?
Never mind whether you should be working for an employer that's thinking along these lines. Instead, as a prospective employee, put yourself in the boss' shoes and ask yourself these questions:
Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets?
Because at the end of the day, "In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria."
Oh, crap. I'm in big trouble.
But wait: what does this even mean? How does anyone, let alone a recent college grad, demonstrate the ability to "adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job tomorrow"? The answer to this question, we're told, can be found in a new book by LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman.
Here, Friedman switches gears from pundit to salesman by converting his column into an advertisement for the business equivalent of a self-help book.
one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley — besides co-founding LinkedIn, he is on the board of Zynga, was an early investor in Facebook and sits on the board of Mozilla — has a book coming out after New Year called “The Start-Up of You,” co-authored with Ben Casnocha. Its subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you build your career today.”
Unsurprisingly, we're told by TF that
Hoffman argues that professionals need an entirely new mind-set and skill set to compete. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,” he said to me. “No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”
Instead of entertaining the notion that it may be in our best interests to resist systems that offer zero security, Friedman implores us to not to be suckers and just conform. What's the first step? "Ditch" your "grand life plan." What about building a life savings, planning for your children's future, and setting the groundwork for a retirement life that won't be utterly humiliating? Pshaw! You fool, "this is not your parents’ job market."
The next step, as far as I can tell, involves embracing a bunch of gobbledygook masquerading as wisdom and just hoping that everything more or less works out.
It...means using your network to pull in information and intelligence about where the growth opportunities are — and then investing in yourself to build skills that will allow you to take advantage of those opportunities.
What Friedman doesn't tell us is that, frankly, if you haven't already figured this much out on your own, you were doomed from the start.
The next lesson is: stop your whining!
“You can’t just say, ‘I have a college degree, I have a right to a job, now someone else should figure out how to hire and train me.’ ” You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.”
Finally, and one suspects most importantly for Friedman and Hoffman, "you have to strengthen the muscles of resilience."
“You may have seen the news that [the] online radio service Pandora went public the other week,” Hoffman said. “What’s lesser known is that in the early days [the founder] pitched his idea more than 300 times to V.C.’s with no luck.”
The same could be said of lotto winners, right? Here we see what Friedman is really up to, whether he gets it himself or not. Namely, that he is making an argument that there is no alternative to the casino capitalism of the American economy, and so instead of waiting around for government to create jobs--which admittedly it has a bizarrely difficult time doing--we should throw caution to the wind and all start playing the numbers in the hopes of hitting the jackpot.
Oh, there'll be winners all right. But at what cost, Tom Friedman? After all, the house always wins.