Early This Morning...

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Early this
morning, a once-a-century event took place. At two minutes and three
seconds after 1 a.m., the time and date was:

01:02:03:04:05:06

I dedicate
this vital piece of information to the memory of Lawrence Welk.

Next, here
is a report
on one of the most remarkable scientific meetings
of our era. See what your tax money supports, since most of these
people teach in public universities. Note: these are not the usual
social science crazies.

Finally, the
late Marion
Rappe
, then a young history professor, once announced at the
beginning of a lecture: "If the taxpayers of California ever
figured out the racket we’ve got going here, they would line the
faculty up against the wall and shoot us." Wishful thinking,
I say. The public knows; no one cares.

For
example.

CREATIVITY,
ARTISTRY, AND SHOWMANSHIP DEFEAT TECHNIQUE

I am going
to make a point in this report. It has to do with your career plans
and the insecurity of your job. But first, I want you to watch a
video.

This video
is on Google’s new free video-posting service. It costs people nothing
to post videos on Google.

This video
is being e-mailed all over the Internet. There is a reason for this.
It’s spectacular. It’s from a segment on Jay Leno’s show. It’s a
juggling act.

This is the
sort of thing that Ed Sullivan served up every Sunday evening for
over two decades. It’s an art form for circus acts and vaudeville
acts — nothing special. Yet there is something very special about
what you are about to see . . . and hear. That’s the key: the sound
track. They performer matches music to his juggling routine in a
way like nothing most of us have ever seen.

Second, the
juggler is not a professional juggler. At least not any more. Years
ago, he was. Today, he’s a stand-up comic.

It is not his
juggling skills that have made this performance an Internet phenomenon.
Its success has to do with his showmanship, his artistic creativity,
and his courage to do this live in front of an audience, where no
mistakes are allowed. Turn up your speakers. You
are about to see an amazing performance.

Can you see
why the audience stood up and cheered?

A professional
juggler can’t understand this. Why not? Because he possesses the
skill required to imitate this act. But there is no market today
for professional jugglers. There hasn’t been for a generation. Juggling
is just another peculiar skill, like riding a monocycle, which some
jugglers also develop. It’s common enough so as not to elicit a
standing ovation, or even get on the Leno show.

What is never
common is artistry. Putting together an act that involves a piece
of popular music and then matching it with sharp, visible moves
is what grabbed his audience. His very lack of smoothness shows
the audience what he is doing: matching his moves to a piece of
music that is not smooth and flowing. It’s pure showmanship. It’s
a wonder to behold.

Most important,
Bliss is not a full-time professional juggler, meaning a guy just
doing his job.

Bliss presumably
had a marketing strategy: to enhance his name identification, but
as a comic, not as a juggler. Some of the versions of this clip
include clips from his comedy routines. This is the heart of his
marketing strategy. No other comic has ever done anything like this
one-show performance. Now the Web is carrying this performance across
the world.

Ed Sullivan
used to take vaudeville performers and let them reach a national
audience. But if all they could do was one remarkable act, this
killed the market for their act. Everyone had seen it. "Next!"

In response
to this video, another
juggler has imitated Bliss’s performance
. He is a much better
juggler. He uses five balls, not three. Yet his performance lacks
something fundamental. He is not an artistic creator; he is an imitator.
He is not a skilled amateur; he is a professional. He stands in
front of a video camera. If he drops a ball, he can re-shoot the
video. There is no audience. He risks nothing. He is quite good,
yet the performance did not elicit "ah’s" from a live
audience, or from me. At best, I thought, "This guy is good."
Good isn’t good enough.

The comments
by people who have posted this video indicate that they resent the
first performer’s success. They judge in terms of technical competence,
not audience satisfaction.

This is a common
failure of skilled people.

This leads
me to my message for today.

BEING
TECHNICALLY SKILLED ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Most people
are not highly creative. They may be creative in a narrow niche
of some market, but few other people recognize this creativity or
are willing to pay for it.

The best that
most people hope for is to become competent in their field. They
become technicians. By paying close attention to detail over many
years of practice, they lock in their jobs. Then their main threat
is the loss of interest in their industry by consumers.

When this happens,
they become like buggy whip craftsmen: highly skilled but unemployed.

Because of
the speed with which new technologies make obsolescent familiar
skills, no one’s career is safe. No one can safely afford to rest
on his laurels. Laurels are awards that are given for past victories,
not future prospects.

Technicians
find this difficult to believe. Forty years ago, I was chatting
with the son of the woman from whom I rented a room. He was a typesetter
at the local newspaper. He operated a Linotype machine. He assured
me that his career was secure. "There is only one way that
you can get right-hand margins to line up: a Linotype machine."
There was no doubt about it: the machine was complex. It took years
to master it. Take
a look.

Within five
years, his career was over. His trade union had collapsed. The cold
type technology of computers had replaced the hot type (lead) technology
of the Linotype machine. What had been a technological monopoly
since 1896 was dead.

He did not
see this coming. Neither did I, but it was not my career. I have
often wondered what happened to him. He had no college degree. His
skills were narrowly focused. He was surely not entrepreneurial.
Entrepreneurs see what is coming and take appropriate action.

How about you?
Is your career secure? Are you immunized from technological progress?
Does your industry have a lock on consumers?

Think of those
college-educated young people in France. They are rioting because
the government passed a law allowing businesses to fire people during
the first two years. These students entered the educational bureaucracy
and went through the hoops. Why? Because they believed that, once
hired, they could never be fired. Their college degrees would get
them hired. Now they are rioting. The thought that employers, acting
to satisfy consumers, should have the right to fire them, appalls
them. It’s just not fair! They have taken to the streets.

These kids
have not understood the reality of international competition. A
work force of two billion people in India and Asia is ready to nip
at the heels of these new graduates, whose only skills are these:
taking exams and writing term papers.

Meanwhile,
Asian capitalists are hiring workers just off the farm at low pay
and training them to perform repeatable skills that the sons of
farmers can master in a few weeks. They are paid low wages by Western
standards, but high wages by Asian rural standards. Twenty to thirty
million people move to cities every year in Asia.

Who is going
to win this competition? Consumers don’t care about term papers.
They care about price and quality and style and frequency of repairs.

The French
graduates do not care about consumers. They have never been trained
to meet the demands of consumers. They have been insulated throughout
their lives from consumers. Now they are being confronted with a
terrifying prospect: the ability of consumers, for 24 months, to
act through their surrogates, business owners, to turn thumbs down
on the students and their finely tuned academic skills.

Those rioting
students in France were misled by their teachers, who have been
promoting a variation of this same illusion for two centuries. In
1952, F. A. Hayek, the Nobel Prize-winning economist (1974), wrote
about the overly bureaucratic institutions of higher learning in
France. For over two centuries, they have been the incarnation of
the illusion that academic skills are their own justification, and
that society must be forced by law to employ the graduates of these
institutions. Hayek’s book, The
Counter-Revolution of Science
, traces the results of this
philosophy: the loss of freedom.

If your response
to those students is the same as mine — "It’s
about time that the French government called their bluff” — then
you understand the free market’s supreme principle: consumer’s sovereignty.
But what is easy for us to honor with respect to the French may
be more difficult for us to honor here at home.

The free market
is relentless and uncaring about the desires of producers. That
is to say, consumers are ruthless and uncaring. They get away with
this in a free market because they possess the most marketable commodity:
money. Because producers seek money, they must meet the demands
of consumers.

Producers more
and more resent this position of subservience to consumers when
they secure their niche in a market. They begin to imagine that
their prior success ought to guarantee their continuing success,
despite new competitors and changes in consumer demand.

The American
automobile industry is a case in point. American car producers in
1970 had the lion’s share of the largest car market on earth. Today,
they are heading toward bankruptcy. Their cars are inferior, their
profits are long gone even in boom times, and their legal obligations
to their retirees are an albatross around their necks. They issue
a stream of public relations assurances about bankruptcy not being
an option. It’s not only an option, it’s their only visible way
out of their pension and medical obligations to retirees.

Yet their workers
persist in staying on board these visibly sinking ships. Their senior
executives also stay on board, because they hope that their retirement
prospects are not so bad as the prospects of all those retired floor
workers. Fantasy is less painful in the short run, and these are
short-run people. They work for Enron Motors, but they are determined
not to change careers at this late date.

I hope you’re
not in a similar situation.

WHAT
DO CONSUMERS WANT?

The juggler
on Leno’s show knew exactly what consumers wanted. The juggler in
the empty room may think he knows, but the proof will be when he
gets on Letterman’s show.

I notice that
his video includes nothing on where viewers can contact him or who
he is. This is indicative of the mind-set of the technician. He
believes that merely possessing skills is sufficient: "Art
for art’s sake." He forgets about Art and Fred and Phil: who
pay the bills.

I do not understand
this mentality. I never have. Developing your skills is fine, but
unless these skills are your hobby, done to satisfy you as the final
consumer, they can easily become sources of a grand illusion, namely,
that activity is a legitimate substitute for production. Put another
way, production apart from a marketing plan is either a hobby or
a crap shoot.

Always have
your eyes on today’s market that pays for the output of your skills.
Yet even this is insufficient. You must also be thinking systematically
about the future market for your skills. That market is not etched
in stone. Neither is the supply of skilled producers who will attempt
to cash in on that future market.

Because of
the division of labor, we tend to let others do much of our planning.
A salaried worker has turned over to his employer the task of forecasting
that future market. I call this the "Trust in Kenneth Lay"
mentality.

I recommend
Ronald Reagan’s rule: "Trust, but verify."

Your employer
may know the market for the company’s products better than you do.
But does he know it better than his competitors do? You had better
find out.

Your employer
probably doesn’t pay close attention to you and your skills. He
knows the market for his skills far better than he knows the market
for yours. Do not defer to him the task of initiating your next
raise. Go onto the Web and find out what you are worth. Start
here.

If you aren’t
worth a raise, what do you need to do to become worthy? Find out.
Begin to make the necessary changes in your skills.

Don’t rest
on your laurels.

LESSONS
FROM BIG DADDY LIPSCOMB

Satchel Paige
was wrong when he said, "Don’t look back. Something may be
gaining on you." We should at all times assume that something
may be gaining on us. An occasional glance over your shoulder is
wise. You may need the motivation.

You should
not run a sprint this way, but life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.
You need to know your market. This has two aspects: present and
future. Yet most people operate in terms of what they imagine the
past to have been.

Half a century
ago, the biggest player in the National Football League was Gene
"Big Daddy" Lipscomb. He was 6 feet six (or maybe nine),
weighed 290, and was fast. I remember reading an interview with
running back Jim Brown. He said that on long, open field runs, he
could sometimes hear Big Daddy approaching him from behind. He didn’t
have to look back. He just tried to take evasive action.

You hear that
noise? That thump, thump, thump? It’s a producer who is trying to
get to the consumer’s dollar before you do. You need to take evasive
action.

LESSONS
FROM CHRIS BLISS

Chris Bliss
is a competent comic. He is a competent juggler. But he is a gifted
innovator and artist who was willing to take a chance on national
TV.

To separate
yourself from the pack you have to develop skills that are not directly
related to your field. You also have to become creative. You must
distinguish yourself from technically capable people in your field.
Most important, you have to take chances.

There comes
a time where technical virtuosity will not suffice. The audience
wants something extra.

People like
the juggler in the empty room think that technical virtuosity is
sufficient. They think that a videotape of their stellar performance
will prove their point. The point it proves is that technical virtuosity
is not enough to secure your position in your field.

If you market
yourself as poorly as the juggler in the empty room marketed himself,
you are eventually going to find yourself in an equally empty room.

If technical
virtuosity is not enough, technical competence is surely not enough.

CONCLUSION

You may not
be a technical virtuoso. You may be merely competent. This will
put food on your table for a while, but there are so many more just
like you. If you are to be a success, you must distinguish yourself.

If it’s a choice
between technical virtuosity and showmanship, go for showmanship.
You must find out what pleases the consumer, and concentrate on
this. If this is a boss like Dilbert’s, you had better start shopping
for a new boss.

If
you have not updated your resumé lately, it’s time.

Start
here.

April
5, 2006

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible
.

Gary
North Archives

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare