Sunday, August 02, 2009

You Aren't What You Eat (or What You Do, Either)

The recession has made me think anew of the relationships among profession and our sense of identity.

The US is famous for 12-hour work days, short holidays, and a focus on profession to the exclusion of all else.

Europeans, who came up with the stereotype and like to look down on the US for this attitude, brags a higher quality of life with long holidays and much shorter work days.

But how different are the cross-continental individuals' sense of self based on what they do?

What Has Changed

So many people have lost jobs that there is a big push to "retrain". Not just in the US but everywhere. Look at how much effort the UK, for example, has put into new initiatives for just this.

It's going to be a problem.

Re-learning, on the other hand -- particularly learning how to learn -- is going to be the key to success in the new economy. Just ask a financial services leader.. Or for that matter, anyone in the world -- CEOs, policemen, teachers -- with charges to tend and grow.

I've banged on enough in past posts on the differences between training and learning. Long story short, the former is about mastering a specific set of skills, usually in a particular environment to accomplish a fixed group of tasks. Learning is about seeing the relationships -- among environments, ideas, skills, tasks, and so forth -- across disciplines and contexts. And it's process-driven as well as oriented toward results.

Again, ask a business leader in advertising who feels passionate about it.

And This Has Changed.

I've found in the past, when asked "What do you do?", most people describe a profession with conviction. Lately the statements sound a bit shakier. And they're amended with "But I've also done other things."

Being someone myself who has had a series of interesting jobs rather than a career -- and being forced to justify the relationship among them -- I find this encouraging.

Not just for me, either. Given momentum, it could be very good for the economy.

If we retrain, what happens if the new job goes away like the old one did? Retrain again?

Why not instead be the kind of effective learner that everyone is looking for -- from kindergarten through the Boardroom?

Just a thought.

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