Sustainable Work, Sustainable Life

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ftss circles
Earlier this month I wrote about the possibility of developing a Finding Your Sweet Spot Workbook to accompany my book Finding the Sweet Spot. I proposed a schema of nine types of what might be called Natural Work, that might help people hone in on their Gifts (what they’re uniquely good at doing) and their Passions (what they love doing):

  1. Explorers, whose work is study and research, and whose work-product is discovery and insight
  2. Interpreters, whose work is mentoring and facilitation, and whose work-product is understanding
  3. Inventors, whose work is imagining, and whose work-product is ideas
  4. Designers, whose work is crafting, and whose work-product is models
  5. Generators, whose work is creating and building, and whose work-product is ‘goods’ and services
  6. Nurturers, whose work is cultivating, and whose work-product is well-being
  7. Menders, whose work is sustaining, and whose work-product is regeneration
  8. Actors, whose work is re-creating, and whose work-product is fun
  9. Connectors, whose work is distributing, and whose work-product is cross-pollination

I also proposed to take the various published lists of ‘green’ jobs and jobs that meet real needs of the 21st century, and classify them into these nine categories, to help people identify their Purpose (what’s needed in the world that they care about).

Quite a few readers of the book have told me that, while they love the concept of the three circles and the Sweet Spot where they intersect, they have two practical problems using the model. First, they say that the exercises in the book to help them find their Gifts, Passions and Purpose don’t ‘work’ for them — they’re too conceptual and require more self-knowledge and more knowledge of what the world needs than they, or the average person, can be expected to have. Second, they assert that most of what they think fits in their Sweet Spot (work that they love doing and are good at, and which meets a real need) is not ‘valued’ highly enough for them to make a decent living at it — either it’s something (art, literature, software, music, design etc.) that so many people do (or which is so easy to copy) that the market price for such work is nearly zero, or it’s something (e.g. legitimate, practical health, mental health, and geriatric health products and services, and healthy, unpolluted foods) that their desperate customers are too poor to afford.

As I thought of this, I began to realize two things that I should have noticed earlier:

  • People learn (including learning what they love doing and are good at doing) by doing things, not by thinking or reading lists of ideas or types of jobs.
  • The entire economy is shifting, fairly quickly and radically, from the unsustainable Industrial Economy to a post-industrial Natural Economy characterized by high prices for scarce materials and low prices for labour. [At a conference of financial forecasters I attended yesterday, I heard that this will be a long-term trend. That means lower prices (as in free) for non-commodities and services, and hence an increasing struggle for entrepreneurs (anyone who isn’t subsidized by government handouts, payoffs and bailouts)].

Learning-by-doing is in fact how most Natural Entrepreneurs I know discovered their Sweet Spot. So, my workbook will be light on intellectual exercises (like thinking about what tasks in your life you’ve been most praised for, or most relished taking on) and heavy on real-life adventures (like going and observing and talking with the owner of a small, local business you admire, with a list of questions to talk with them about, or taking up a new hobby or volunteer role you’ve always wanted to do, or at least thought you did). My hope is that, just as my friends Paul and Grace had their aha! moment about their Sweet Spot (helping the world eat better) after they made an excursion to Tibet, encouraging people to just get out and try stuff they’ve never thought of doing, might help a lot of readers really discover their Gifts and Passions, those they might never have considered if they’d stayed inside the confines of their house and workplace.

Another thing my Workbook will offer is a way to take some of the research activities discussed later in my book, and apply them earlier in the process of discovering your Purpose. Many people, I’ve discovered, don’t see unmet needs that are staring them in the face and which offer wonderful entrepreneurial opportunities, because they don’t know how to look for them, recognize them, research them and ask the right questions to surface them. As I explain in the book, you can’t just ask people what they need, because usually they don’t know. (I described a product much like an iPod to people in 1971 as part of my university thesis work, and respondents looked at me as if I were from Mars.) Surfacing needs that you can turn into entrepreneurial opportunities is an iterative, emergent process that comes from exploring and prompting and imagining possibilities with the people who will become your customers. The same thing applies to discovering your Purpose. You’ll never discover it inside your own head, no matter how knowledgeable and imaginative you may be. So the workbook will take a much more externally-focused, conversational, research-based approach to finding your Purpose, and hence ultimately your Sweet Spot.

The issue of how our economy is shifting, quietly but tectonically, from an Industrial Growth economy that rewards wealth, size, ruthlessness and political connections, to what I am calling a Natural Economy characterized by much lower prices (except for scarce resources), generosity, reciprocality, trust, modesty, responsiveness, responsibility, sustainability and the importance of relationships, is staggeringly important, and I’m kicking myself for not recognizing the signs of its emergence earlier. Chris Anderson’s book Free demystifies the phenomenon that has delinked price from value and obsolesced hoarding of intellectual capital. The proportion of a car’s ‘dealer cost’ attributable to labour is expected to plummet from 70% to 30% within a decade. Generation Y is justifiably complaining that their wages are subsistence with little hope of improvement, and the returns for fledgling entrepreneurs, no matter how lucky or bright, don’t look much better to them.

This is a world that no longer pays fair.

Unions will wail. Overpaid executives and fat financial industry Ponzi-scheme artists, recently or soon to be laid off, will sell their sports cars and buy taxi licenses. And the poor, working long hours in multiple jobs for pathetic wages, will become even poorer. Not fair, but it’s here to stay. Five billion people vying for jobs means labour supply is so much higher than demand that your work is worth next to nothing.

What’s good about this is that much of what we want and need now will also soon cost next to nothing. Your income will keep dropping, but so will a significant proportion of your costs of living. It’s called deflation, and while it’s currently being hidden from consumers by price-gouging corporatist oligopolies who are stealing the labour savings as obscene profits and more obscene bonuses, it’s only a matter of time before wage-earners run out of money and stop buying products with outrageous markups, opening the way for new providers who will disintermediate the corporatists and offer their products and services for next to nothing. For a short while these may well be Chinese providers, but as oil and commodity and resultant transportation costs soar, the providers will ultimately be mostly your neighbours. We are headed for a relocalized, community-based Gift Economy, with low prices for most things, and low wages. Such an economy will not respond to advertising or hype. It will be based on trust, generosity and reciprocity, and those who try to exploit it will be quickly identified and ostracized. It’s already begun, as Chris’ book explains.

Just as Generation Y has blurred the distinction between work and non-work activities, they are learning that sustainable work is inseparable from a sustainable life. With that worldview, the Sweet Spot no longer identifies just the work you’re meant to do, it identifies the way you’re meant to live. So, instead of complaining that the work in their Sweet Spot (what they love to do, and are good at doing, that meets a real need in the world) doesn’t pay enough, Generation Y is beginning to look at how much they need to earn to do what is in their Sweet Spot, essentially turning my whole model on its head. Some retirees with inadequate pensions are doing the same thing. They are looking not only to find work that is sustainable, responsible and joyful, but to find a way of life that is sustainable, responsible and joyful, of which work is an indistiguishable part. This is part of what Thomas Princen calls The Logic of Sufficiency, and some of us now get it, and a lot more will soon have no choice but to follow.

My workbook then, will not just help readers discover the work that is in their Sweet Spot, but help them to determine how much they need to earn, and what they need to do in their non-work lives, to “afford” that work. It will explore, for example, the paradox that often an extra dollar of income can actually ‘cost’ (in taxes, higher clothing, transportation, child-care, late night fast-food meals, etc.) more than a dollar, and that conversely accepting a lower income can actually increase both your quality of life and your net wealth.

The workbook will be, in short, not only a more practical guide to discovering how we can discover the work we’re meant to do; it will be a guide to discovering the life we’re meant to live.

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2 Responses to Sustainable Work, Sustainable Life

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’m very excited about the workbook and agree that a practical, hands-on guide will be really helpful! Looking forward to getting out into the world and trying something new!

  2. BB says:

    I love the schema but think you should make it 10 and add “Dreamers, whose work is thinking and whose work-product is pondering :)

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