Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Design Your Own Job

There’s an economic downturn, and people are losing their jobs. But all is not doom and gloom – some people are using this opportunity to create their own jobs. There have been a lot of media stories this past week about the important role played by small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Upsetting the Apple Cart
Entrepreneurs can be narrowly defined as somebody who “upsets and disorganizes” (Peter Drucker). They create new and innovative products or solutions. For example, Alex Andon is building jellyfish aquariums, using new technology that helps the fragile creatures survive in captivity (via O'Reilly Radar).

The School of Life in London, England is turning the traditional job search on its head. They are inviting job seekers to write an ad for the job of their dreams and to let employers decide if they can offer it to them.

The School of Life is itself an innovative organization. They define themselves as a “new social enterprise offering good ideas for everyday living” and offer “a variety of programmes and services concerned with how to live wisely and well.” These range from meals where strangers come together to have meaningful conversations to “extraordinary journeys around unusual parts of the UK” (for example, a holiday inside your head examining the latest medical imaging techniques and psychological tests).

Don’t Let Age Get in your Way
You don’t have to be young to be innovative. Luke Johnson, a columnist with The Financial Times, cites his favourite example of senior entrepreneurship, Roy Thomson: “In 1953, aged 60, he suffered two blows. First, his wife of many decades died; then his business partner of 20 years, Jack Kent Cooke, left to run another business. So he left his modest radio company in Canada for Edinburgh and, almost on a whim, bought the struggling newspaper The Scotsman. A year later, he founded STV, the first commercial broadcaster north of the border. It was an astounding success, making a return of at least 1,500 per cent for its original subscribers. It was he who muttered the immortal phrase describing a television franchise as a “licence to print money” – not quite such a valid statement today. He went on to become a pioneer backer of North Sea oil, and later launched Thomson Holidays, Britain’s first package tour operator. Subsequently, he became the owner of The Times and The Sunday Times, and ultimately his organisation merged with Reuters to become one of Canada’s largest corporations. All this, and a peerage too, after 60.”

In addition, Herb Kelleher was 40 when he founded Southwest Airlines, and Harland Sanders was 65 when he started franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken (from The Economist’s special report on Entrepreneurship).

Getting Government’s Attention
According to an article in The Washington Post (via O’Reilly Radar), “Small companies . . . pay nearly 45 percent of U.S. private payroll and have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the past decade.” The article goes on to state that Microsoft, MTV, CNN, FedEx, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Burger King all opened during a period of economic downturn. Today they employ hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

Maybe our governments will pay attention and devote some of their stimulus packages to providing start-up capital.

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