I’m reading an insightful book right now called Race Against the Machine by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. The basic premise is that accelerating technological innovation is now destroying old jobs and creating new ones faster than people have been able to adjust.
To make their case, the authors cite this depressing statistic: the decade between 1999 and 2009 was the first since data were collected to see the median household income in the U.S. decline. The median household was earning $60,746 at the beginning of that ten year stretch and just $55,821 at the end.
What is the median in this case? It is the exact midpoint of all households. In other words, half of all households earned more than that amount, and half earned less.
My definition, however, is different. It is the breakpoint between being good enough on the job and being better than that. Or to put it more bluntly, it is the dividing line between workers who are thriving and those on their way to a pink slip.
Wait you say. Some jobs just pay less so it’s unfair to say that those below the median aren’t working as hard or as smart as they can.
While it’s true that different jobs provide different pay, what’s also true is that employers pay top dollar for top performers in every job. If you have any doubt about that, consider this comforting statistic: according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), almost one-third of all employers are now paying above the norm in starting salaries to recruit high performing workers and better than six-out-of-ten are raising salaries of current high performers to retain them.
Employers are no longer competing with cheaper labor overseas; they’re competing with smarter labor. They are desperate, therefore, to hire and hang onto those workers who can and do excel at their work.
While our school system tells us that human talent falls into a “normal distribution” – a few have a lot of it, most of us have a bit of it and some of us have none at all – the truth is something else altogether.
You see, talent is actually an absolute human attribute. You don’t have a little or a lot of it because talent is the capacity for excellence. Not only have we all have been endowed with it, but that gift enables every single one of us to do superior work.
For that capacity to be realized, however, we have to make two commitments:
• First, we have to commit ourselves to keeping our talent at the state-of-the-art. Our ability to deliver the full dimension of our excellence can diminish if we let it. That’s why I urge career activists to practice Career Fitness – a regimen of power-building activities that will keep their talent vibrant and fully accessible.
• Second, we have to commit to bringing our talent to work with us. When we do that – when we apply our talent on-the-job – we also make clear just how much our employer’s success depends upon the contribution we make. And, it’s that realization which ensures our pay will always be above the median household income line.
We don’t have to race against the machines in the workplace. We can race ahead with them … but only if we respect our talent and use it to be better than good enough.