You don’t work the way your grandfather did. Even if you come from a long line of graphic artists or lawyers, what you do daily and how you do it have evolved with each generation. Part of this, of course, is sheer technology. But an even greater shaper of your workday is the whimsical hand of cultural demand.
“After all,” says management consultant Clare Novak, “Each job exists only to fill the wants of consumers. Those jobs best positioned to meet these demands will lead their companies to thrive.” To help career guidance professionals to consider a broader scope of where occupational trends are heading, the Tri-State Human Resource Management Resources Association has invited Novak to speak on “Business in Your Peripheral Vision” on Thursday, December 4, at 7:30 a.m. at the Mount Laurel Marriott. Cost: $50. Visit www.wss3.tristate.hr.org.
Years of teaching, executive coaching, and now cross-continental management consulting have kept Novak’s own eyes ever on the broader picture. A native of the Pennsylvania, Novak grew up in Middletown near her father’s workplace at the Olmdsted Air Force Base. She attended Clarion College, graduating in 1976 with a bachelor’s in secondary education. She then earned her master’s in communication from Wake Forest University, which led her to teach at several colleges, including the University of Kansas where she took her graduate studies.
“I got out of academe,” says Novak, “because I wanted to own something.” She immediately took advantage of a series executive coaching positions, internally and externally, for several of Pennsylvania’s larger corporations.
In l994 Novak set out on her own, founding Novak and Associates management consulting services in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. While most of her clients are major firms, she always takes care to have at least two non-profits on her roster, which she aids pro bono. One of her clients for the past 12 years has included an Egyptian corporation that sends her traipsing often to the land of the Pharaohs.
In 2006 Novak wrote the book “Never Rule Without a Magician, a Sage, and a Fool,” describing the three most vital employees required by every entrepreneur. The magician, she explains, is that individual who holds up the owner’s long distance goals and clarifies the company’s vision. The sage, with a knowledge of history and the consumer, would direct — think of automakers who resurrect a 1930s auto body for nostalgia’s sake, or go green and develop an electric car. The fool keeps his leader human and grounded. When all employees stand cowering, he will announce that his emperor has no clothes. He will express the general thought and question unnecessary rigidity. This volume is available on Amazon.com and her website, www.novakassoc.com.
Playing a little of all three roles in her talk, Novak states that today’s job trends have evolved from mainly left-brain tasks toward an increasingly whole-brain efforts.
Jobs past. “The left side of our brains,” says Novak, “is the organizational side. We employ it to put structures into place and set up systems that allow us to perform routine tasks.” This systematizing of the manufacture of an item into a series of routine, repetitive tasks has proved the making of American business. It moved the auto making shop from six cars a week to assembly lines producing thousands. But such systems inherently work themselves to a limit.
The computer industry serves as a prime example. Originally the prime work of computers was in the programming. Experts wrote the logical code that allowed the computer to perform a set of functions. It was a very structured, controlled process, requiring exacting attention to established templates. The programmers were highly paid because the product was very desired and very necessary.
Soon, however, the job became so routinized and simple that the required skill level dropped. “As DOS transformed into html, the process shifted down to a lesser-paying tier,” says Novak. American makers realized that they could ship this programming task overseas and have it accomplished much cheaper. Enter Asia into the computer market.
Jobs present. So were the old computer programmers banished to fast-food’s deepest recesses for minimum-wage employment? Not on your life. As consumers called for new uses, these formerly high-income programmers became high-income developers and designers, creating new applications for the old code to labor on. And herein the job changed. Puzzling out these new applications still demanded the old left-brain-structured process, but now it also embraced the other lobe — that one of creativity and innovation. Like so many jobs today, the whole brain has become involved.
This call for creativity has meanwhile been fed by our cultural environment, specifically our growing affluence and automation. As Americans figured out how to structure our manufacturing systems, we made more stuff, sold more stuff, and became richer.
“Do you have electric lights in your home?” asks Novak. “And do they work dependably?” Most folks nod. “Do you have candles at home?” Most nod again. “If the lights work,” she asks, “what do you have candles for?” A small number of the nodders say that candles hedge their bet against blackouts. But most admit that they like the esthetic atmosphere, the aroma, the emotional appeal of candles. In fact, so strong is this emotional appeal that candles are a multibillion U.S. industry. In short, we have the affluence to not merely grub along feeding our survival instincts, but to feed our emotions as well.
Creativity’s call continues to bring us a series of job evolutions brought about through automation. The assembly line worker has become a robot overseer. The old job of secretary has either vanished or morphed into office organizer due to the advent of the easy word processor and E-mail. Legal secretaries remain, but the demands of their bosses have shifted. Discount store and online forms allow individuals to create their own wills, house-closings, even divorces with attorneys merely called upon to sign off. Printing, publishing . . . the list goes on.
Jobs future. Fortunately for us, as the culture nudges our jobs toward whole-brain mode, America is being pushed toward her traditional strength. “Part of what has made America the world’s historic innovation capital,” says Novak, “comes from our education system. In this country we place lot more emphasis on choosing one’s career.” In Europe and Asia, conversely, education is a track system where one exam or grade leads the student to an ever-narrowing specialization. The other innovation booster is the fertile soil of our freewheeling economy, with the entrepreneurial process comparatively easy to fund and the logistical hurdles fewer.
Thus, do not look for the title “Creative Director” on tomorrow’s office doors. Novak foresees our cranial lobes uniting under consumer pressure. The jobs that will thrive will be those that combine form and function. The jobs that provide some service to our logical needs and our emotional appeal see a bright consumer future, regardless of economic climate. Likewise, jobs that take an old process, like programming a computer, and carry it into a new need, like finding a pizza shop or tailor anywhere on one’s cell phone, will be snapped up.
When ancient Roman generals were establishing their armies, they studied the popular Greek phalanx, which packed each soldier into a tight line and set him forward to perform a set method of fighting tasks. Instead, the Romans decided to spread their troops out, training each soldier in a set of tactical options, and giving him two more feet on each side to use his head and creatively employ them. They cut the Greeks to ribbons.
If history holds any lessons, companies may want to take some of the sage’s advice from Clare Novak and prepare new jobs encouraging clients to use their entire brains. They will probably surprise you at how successfully they meet all the consumer’s whimsical needs.