The Minister of Finance Pravin Gorhand tabled his budget speech a few days ago. One of the things he said among (many others) is that “the average South Africa is becoming poorer.” This speech comes a few weeks after Anglo America announced that as part of its restructuring, it will sell off 39 assets and shed 78 000 jobs. China is on an economic slow-down since the past few years. Our economic growth has been down-scaled to less 1%. We are not creating jobs. This phenomena is not unique to South Africa, it is something that is experienced in the African continent and worldwide.
People are frustrated with the world and pessimistic about the future. They are losing patience with the economy, with their prospects, with their leaders.
What is actually happening is this: we are realising that the industrial revolution is fading. The 100 year long run that brought ever increasing productivity (and along with it, well-paying jobs for an ever-expanding middle class) is ending.
It is one thing to read about the changes the internet brought, it is another to experience them. People who thought they had a valuable skill or degree have discovered that being an anonymous middleman does not guarantee job security. Individuals who were trained to comply and follow instructions have discovered that the deal is over… and it is not their fault, because they have always done what they were told. I believe that employees at Anglo American were doing what is expected of them, how do you then explain to them that even though they followed instructions, they will lose their jobs.
Suddenly keeping it safe is no longer safe.
This is not fair of course. It is not fair to train for years, to pay your dues, to invest in a house or a career and then suddenly see it fade.
For a while, politicians and organisations promised that things would get back to normal. Those promises are not enough, though, and it is clear to many that this might be the new normal. In fact, it is the new normal.
I regularly hear from people who say, “enough with this conceptual stuff, tell me how to get my factory moving, my day job replaced, my guaranteed salary restored…” There is an idea that somehow, if we just do things with more effort or skill, we can go back to the mass markets and mediocre products that pay off for years. It is not an idea, though, it is a myth.
Some people insist that if we focus on “business fundamentals” and get “back to basics,” all will return to normal. Not so.
The promise that you can get paid really well to do precisely what your boss instructs you to do is now a dream, no longer a reality.
It takes a long time for a generation to come around to significant revolutionary change. The newspaper business, the steel business, law firms, the car business, the music business, library business, phone business, even computers… one by one, our industries are being turned upside down, and so quickly that it requires us to change faster than we would like.
The definition of a revolution: it destroys the perfect and enables the impossible.
The thing with this type of revolution is that it is silent. It is not the revolution that we see making headlines, it is not televised on TV like the Arab Spring, we hardly talk about it. The only time we get to notice that things are changing is when slowly but surely companies are laying off stay, the structure of the company to sell average products to average people is fading, when business are closing down. This is the revolution of the end of the industrial age.
Doing what you are told by your boss, keeping your head down, and following instructions like sheep is no longer a guarantee that you will have a salary for life.
It is unpleasant, it is not fair, but it is all we have got.
The sooner we realise that the world has changed, the sooner we can accept it and make something of what we have got. Complaining is not a scalable solution.
The realisation is now.
Tomorrow: part II — the opportunity