What do you expect of 2013 on a personal level?
We’ve ended up in an ‘economic crisis’, or at least that the name that’s been given to the current state of the world. That word – ‘crisis’ – is often used lately to mean we’ve fallen on rough times, a difficult period we’re going through. If you look up the word ‘crisis’ in the dictionary, however, it’ll tell you that a crisis is primarily a turning point, and that seems to be the case now as well.
Is the world economy really in such a bad shape right now, or was it – seemingly – going too well for years? The motor’s overheated: at several points during the past years, in several different ways and in several areas, we’ve run into the limitations of the ‘system’ – call it the economy – in which we live. We sprained our muscles, the engine needs to cool down, we have no choice. You could also call the crisis a natural redistribution of supply and demand, because the western world has been living in a dream world for years.
When I was on the Ardèche river one day, my raft ended up in a wrong current, and it capsized. During rafting training, you’re taught not to resist strong currents, because you can’t win that anyway, but instead to protect yourself and get to safety: try to stay afloat on your back while protecting your head with your hands. When it calms down a bit again, that’s the time to use a lot of force and energy to try to swim away from the wrong current.
And that’s exactly what I think people – but also the organisations I work for as a consultant – should try to do during the next year. In my case, personally, that means doing lots and lots of reading and finding out what’s to come, trends and developments that are important to our clients: charting the currents. And talking to specialists within the various areas that companies’ challenges will be coming from, so we can use our own specialisations (technology, media, communication, entrepreneurship and law) to help them prepare but also to adjust their course, and preferably, to optimally benefit once the time is there.
What do you expect from 2013 on a societal level?
One of the greatest challenges of this time is the changing job market. It’s almost impossible to comprehend what’s going on there at this moment, because change is coming from so many different directions. There are two different ways to look at the job market: from the point of view of companies and organisations, and from that of employees (and job seekers). In the next few years, companies are going to have to deal with more and more shortage on the job market, as strange as that sounds. Just in Eindhoven, there’s a need for 30,000 educated and technologically trained employees, but those are not available. Among specialists like plumbers too, there is a high demand, while the influx of new plumbers has been shrinking for years. This trend will spread across a larger geographic area, but also to other professions. Only first there will be this crisis, or redistribution, and that means the next year will be an anxious one. A lot of people will lose their jobs nonetheless, and others will need to keep applying and churning out applications letters for even longer. That’s why I think 2013 will mainly be the year of endurance. People who give up will be swept away by the currents, and they won’t know when it’s time to swim away from them.
What would be the best way to deal with the current economic situation, as an entrepreneur but also just as a citizen?
It starts with two clear goals: what do you most want to attain?, but also: what will you settle for if that’s not feasible? What would be the best alternative? A lot of people are looking for work, or for another job, but if you’re looking for something, it’s useful to be able to recognise it. And therefore, to be able to picture it. But in my experience, it’s difficult to imagine in detail what a nice job would be like. And yet it’s important to have some idea or description of that. Otherwise, what do you hope to find?
Instead of playing drinking games, you could spend your Friday night having a discussion and asking questions about what the other person’s ideal career would be like. What organisations belong with it. How you could approach those. Who you should contact for that. In school they’ll teach you to apply to vacancies, but vacancies are only created – being published on a job board, for example – when a company is unable to fill a position in any other way. Putting up a vacancy takes time and money, so companies will always try first to fill vacant positions with existing contacts, especially in times of crisis. That’s why it’s important to get to know the right people within your field, to think well about why they should give you a job, or, if you’re an entrepreneur, why your customers should do business with you. What makes you valuable, or how can you become so? It’s not just important to show that in an application letter or your CV, but also to be very aware of that yourself. What sets you apart from other people interested in the same kind of job, or from other, similar entrepreneurs?
Where are the growth markets? What markets are shrinking, where would you do better to stay away? And… is that last thing actually true, or could a shrinking market be interesting too?
Some of the growth markets that are doing best are Kazakhstan, Brazil, Angola, Chile, Qatar, China, Hong Kong and Vietnam. The growing middle class in many of these economies creates a demand for consumer products, which means more business. More and more young people choose to seek their fortune abroad. For example, there are currently 30,000 Dutch people living and working in Silicon Valley, the technological Valhalla of the major American internet companies, and they’re living good lives there. We don’t know what the future will bring, but at least the Dutch people living and working in America now have an international network, and they’ve already shown they can adapt to a changing economy. That means a better position on the job market.
What are the upsides of a crisis?
There are no upsides to a crisis. What it does offer is more opportunities for those who are still flexible on the job market, people who still can (and are willing to) be retrained and are therefore able to go along with the redistribution, the changes in the economy and the world, and can find their place again on the newly created job market.
This interview has been published in Penthouse.