Wasted Talent

“Don’t let’s waste waste” – that’s the rather awkward title of an article from the The Economist that just flashed across my Facebook news feed. I skimmed it (Barack Obama is setting up an e-waste task force), but it got me thinking of a waste-oriented conversation in which I participated about a week ago.

It happened in the Railway Club … but that’s neither here nor there.

Moving on…

There I sat with my good friend Bu – who is a Senior Research Manager for the Department of Community and Government Services in Nunavut – and we, along with some other fine folks, were discussing Canada’s North. As a resident of one of Canada’s most Northern communities, Iqaluit, Bu had some inside knowledge and thoughtful opinions about the territory, which suffers from, among other things, an 11.6% unemployment rate.

And this is when – amidst several delicious jugs – I had a semi-eloquent moment: “People talk a lot about how much our world wastes,” I said. “I don’t think that there’s an example of waste more disappointing than the way we waste human talent.”

You see, human beings are the only species on this planet without full employment. All the other ones – from worms to whales to walruses to wallabies – have jobs (or, more accurately, they all have work to be done). This is not a new concept – undoubtedly, the delicious jugs made me seem very wise at the time – but it should be noted that, according to the International Labour Organization, nearly one billion people on this planet are unemployed and countless others find themselves underemployed because of barriers like technology, mental illness, poverty, the price of education, apathy, addiction, fear, and laziness to name a few.

Says co-author of Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, “In a world where a billion workers cannot find a decent job or any employment at all, it bears stating the obvious: we cannot by any means – monetarily, governmentally, or charitably – create a sense of value and dignity in people’s lives when we are simultaneously creating a a society that clearly has no need for them.”

Says Godfrey von Bismarck, co-author of The History of Work Series on the Daily Gumboot, “Wow, this gives whole new meaning to getting wasted.”

Jokes and tangents aside, while Canada should be proud of it’s 7.6% unemployment rate in this fragile global market, we still have a long way to go before being a truly inclusive, efficient and productive society. Especially when it comes to the value that we place on work and employment.

After all, a society that wastes so many electronics logically wastes so many people, too. And the price for both kinds of waste is higher than we can afford to pay.

Introducing the History of Work Series

While so many people – especially the staff of the Daily Gumboot – are on vacation, Godfrey von Bismarck and I thought we’d talk about work. Specifically, the History of it.

Work is perhaps the most central thing to the concept of community – in fact, the measurement of our lives as “successful” or not typically have work in the equation somewhere. According to Philosopher and Friend-of-the-’Boot, Alain de Botton, “Pick up any newspaper or magazine, open the TV, and you’ll be bombarded with suggestions of how to have a successful life. Some of these suggestions are deeply unhelpful to our own projects and priorities – and we should take care.” This series is not one of those unhelpful things. It’s amazing. Just ask Alain de Botton!

Further, the Fraser Institute’s Patrick Basham and Jason Clemens point out that “Labour is a dynamic process through which individuals add value to raw materials, generate wealth for society, and give form to previously only imagined ideas. At the heart of the labour process is the opportunity for individuals to provide for themselves (and their families) a standard of living based on their own hard work, ingenuity, creativity, and skills.”  The Fraser Institute’s mortal enemy, The New Economic Foundation, argues that work represents a necessary component of a flourishing society: “High-quality work can profoundly affect our well-being by providing us with purpose, challenge, and opportunities for social relationships. It can constitute a meaningful part of our identity.” No matter what conceptual spectrum you approach it from, work is quite clearly the fabric of communities from Vancouver to Nairobi to Melbourne to Downtown Germania.

For the record, health is important, too. And the environment. Education has value as well, unless, of course, you are a Feudal Lord who needs to ensure that your Serfs do not gain access to movable type and, consequently, overthrow you.

Moving on…

Since human beings killed dinosaurs around 5,000 BC, work has been a central part of every human community. From the Discover Channel to the Harvard Business Review to the recently celebrated One Week Job Program to Philosophers, Teachers, Consultants, Coaches, Writers, Academics, and countless other professionals, holistic examinations of work – and what it means to humans – have threaded their way through textbooks, conferences, professional development seminars, and pop-culture. Some people say this series will add to the narrative of humans and work. Others say that this series will replace the entire thing because it’s so amazing.

Godfrey and I leave the final decision to you.

Below, as identified by the American Management Association, are five skills that have always made great workers masters of their craft. In order to put them in context, we will use the job of Circus Clown (pictured) to show their timeless application. Here they are:

  1. Effective Communication - delivers comprehensive water-spraying instructions to five-person team with no verbal cues, just first-class miming techniques.
  2. Critical Thinking and Analysisbased on research and analysis of previous five (unsuccessful) attempts by colleagues, removed head from lion’s mouth in timely fashion.
  3. Teamwork and Collaborationcollaborated with 89-person team to seamlessly enter and exit a three-cubic-meter car in under seven minutes.
  4. Innovation and Creativitycontinually include fire and roller skates into components of show, such as engaging with young audience members during the “trampolines and shark tank” performance.
  5. John’s bonus skills: Adaptability (new). Leadership (experienced) - demonstrated flexibility by securing myself in a cannon, resulting in a post-explosion-travel of approximately 96 meters (new) or demonstrated comprehensive knowledge of safety procedures – such as location of 13 different fire extinguishers, medical personal and digital camera – during the rookie-clown-cannon-experience component of Circus’s closing ceremonies.

The relationship of these skills to certain jobs guided our selection process (for example, how frequently – or infrequently – does a churl demonstrate effective critical thinking and analysis when compared to a Product Manager at Google?), but there are other elements that informed our decision-making, too. During our evaluations, we really liked it when jobs spanned time and place. Here are some other factors that helped us nominate and rank  the five best and worst jobs in history:

  • Level of Hardship – “how much does this job make my life suck?
  • Opportunity for Advancement – “how many paths are there from this job to cooler ones?
  • Meaningful Nature of Work – “how much do I absolutely love doing this job?”

Each category has a five-point scale. In the case of a tie, “Grossness” and “Satisfaction“  will be used as the deciding factors.

Here are the shortlists for the best and worst jobs in the history of the world:

Candidates for the Best Job Ever.

  • Creative Leader at Google
  • Doctor
  • Carrier Fleet Admiral
  • King, Queen, Emperor, or Sultan
  • Landed 19th C Aristocrat
  • Explorer
  • Pirate (all the different kinds, ie. sea pirate, hacker, corporate raider)
  • Sponsored Surfer
  • Professional Athlete
  • Cult Leader
  • Food Critic
  • Superhero
  • Singer
  • Firefighters
  • University Professor
  • Educational and Vocational Counsellor
  • Hand model
  • Philosopher
  • Editor-in-Chief of a Major Newspaper
  • Johnny Depp

Candidates for the Worst Job Ever.

  • Slave
  • Serf
  • First World War Message Runner
  • Stand up Comedian
  • Entrepreneur
  • Pardoner
  • Politician
  • French Revolution Guillotine Operator
  • Collector of Plague Dead
  • Anarchist
  • Gladiator
  • The Coin Stamper
  • Leech Collector
  • Castrato
  • Adviser to Kim Jong Il
  • Telemarketer
  • Mine sweeper
  • Fact-checker at Fox News
  • Worker on Oil Rig
  • Ship Breaker

Over the next five days, Godfrey and I will count down the five best and five worst jobs in human history.

We hope that you enjoy the experience as much as we do and that it makes you really excited about returning to work or, alternatively, deciding that you never want to go back to work again!

Have fun with it!

- Godfrey and John