I am sitting here in a building of what is probably the largest bureaucracy in the world; yep, I am in Brussels for the week helping the European Commission make decisions about allocating serious research money.
Naturally, this is a meeting ground for colleagues from different countries and with different backgrounds. We get to know each other and we talk.
Yesterday, I had lunch with a much younger Greek colleague who works at a British university.
‘How long have you worked in Britain?’ – I asked.
‘Oh’ – he said – ‘I first got a position there in 2007; stayed for two years then went back to Greece for the financial crisis. Two years later I went back to Britain.’
Social scientists are curious by nature; sociologists are also inquisitive: after all, asking questions is our craft.
‘How is life in Greece?’ – I asked – ‘Is the situation getting better after the financial crisis?’
‘Hard. It’s worst for young people – most them are unemployed and live off their parent’s pensions.’
‘Yeah’ – I heard myself saying – ‘there are no opportunities for young people.’
This is where this conversation ended.
My last sentence set me off thinking about opportunities again.
You see, young people today have it hard; they are caught between two trends feeding off each other:
- First, structural changes in the economy are taking place where entry level jobs are being de-skilled (customer service is done through call centres, for instance) and middle range jobs are being out-sourced (the raise of free lancing);
- Second, education systems that are still geared to provide knowledge for jobs that don’t exist any longer.
As a consequence, up to half of the young people in some European countries have no jobs (this includes Greece). This is shameful, wasteful and dangerous: we have another ‘lost’ generation with no jobs, no money, no family and no prospects.
This situation is not sustainable. There are high level structural changes that need to be addressed and enacted at policy level – we’ll leave these aside for the moment.
The Money Principle is a personal finance blog and I’ll keep to ‘the personal’ or
What can individuals do to break the vicious circle of disappearing jobs and obsolete skills and competencies?
It seems to me that three small changes in the way you think and act can go a long way towards breaking this circle. These are:
- You don’t need a job, you need income.
- You need to learn to spot and create opportunities.
- You need to act on these opportunities.
One: You don’t need a job, you need income
Were you told by your parents to study hard so that you can get a good job?
This is what my parents told me. And you know what? I did study hard and went ‘all the way in my education’; I also have a good job.
Problem is my generation is the last to have good jobs. Or shall I say ‘to have had’ since the over fifties currently losing our jobs. So I reckon, studying hard to get a good job is not what we should be doing any longer.
I’ve been telling my youngest son to get good education so he can make a living. Note, I insist on education not simply knowledge and qualifications.
Jobs are gone and it looks like these are not coming back; not much to do about it. But there is still a lot of work to be done.
What I’m saying is that:
- You can create income if and when you contribute value;
- You don’t have to have a job to contribute value;
- It will be wise to refocus from ‘jobs’ to generating income.
This brings us to the issue of spotting and creating opportunities.
Two: Learn to spot and create opportunities
When was the last time you thought about opportunities to make (additional) income?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. In fact, during the last six weeks I published two articles on The Money Principle that list opportunities to create income streams. One of these lists opportunities needing some initiative and no specific qualifications: these will make you enough to fill in the fridge. In another post I suggested fifteen ways to make enough to pay your bills for a month; these need qualification and a certain level of mastery. I’m working on some ways to generate enough income to become financially independent.
But here is the deal: these are opportunities I’ve been figuring out and this doesn’t matter except as an example. What matters is that you learn how to spot and create opportunities for yourself.
This is about spotting an opportunity to make money that already exists; it is just that most people won’t see it as an opportunity.
Want an example?
Let me tell you a story.
Several weeks back, someone close to me had a near miss in a car accident. None of it was her fault: she was driving back from work and two cars, racing each other, came at her. She managed to move couple of inches to the side but the road was narrow and one of the cars hit her almost frontally.
She was very lucky to be driving a well-built German car and to have managed to move a bit. So, her car is a write off but she is only bruised (when she could have been killed).
Of course she was very upset by the whole thing and very sad about her car.
You can guess the rest: the insurance calls, the lawyers and looking for another car.
Let me ask you this: what would you have done with the car that was written off?
I can tell you what I’d have done: I would have sent it for scrap metal.
What this lady’s husband did is keep the car and sell the parts that were still sound. He knows cars, you see.
This is what I call spotting an opportunity: most people would have done what I’d do. This man saw an opportunity to make a tidy profit.
And it turns out that this kind of opportunity is not only for Del Boy kind of deals (if you haven’t seen ‘Only Fools and Horses’ this is your chance): there are businesses that specialise in salvaging used car parts and selling these: after all it makes sense particularly with luxury vehicles.
There are no recipes for spotting opportunities but I suspect that there is a ‘spot the opportunity’ muscle that can be developed. The training programme would involve looking at the world and focusing on the opportunities its elements afford rather than the limitations these can present.
Ask yourself ‘is this an income generation opportunity’? Most of the time your answer will be ‘no’! Occasionally something will look like an opportunity but will turn out not to be. Rarely a large opportunity will be staring you in the face – your task is to recognise it.
Creating opportunities is very different from the ability to spot these because it takes you into a completely new territory.
Creating opportunities starts with a problem; often it is a problem you have or something that’s bugging you. If many people share this problem and you offer a solution you’ve created an awesome business opportunity.
Let me tell you a story.
Over twenty years ago we had a dog. She was called Snowy and was a border collie – very much like our dog now.
Border collies are the geniuses of the canine species and are cooperative, loving and loyal. When you have exercised them physically and mentally, this is!
For ten years we took Snowy to the nearby park twice a day. There we threw a tennis ball for her to chase.
I was always annoyed about bending down and picking up the tennis ball soaked in dog’s drool. Every day for ten years!
I never did anything about it!
Someone didn’t stop at being annoyed; they invented the BALL THROWER.
Go to the park now and every dog owner has it; and it is probably the best toy for dogs ever invented. Given it retails at about £10 and costs pennies to make (it is cheap plastic after all) I reckon someone is making a lot of money.
This is how staying annoyed screwed me out of a fortune!
Learning to create opportunities is a winner and all it needs is a change of thinking: next time something really annoys you formulate it as a problem and check whether others share it. Then solve it and sell the solution. Simples!
Three: Act on opportunities
This part is pretty straight forward: once you spot or create an opportunity act. Spotting or creating an opportunity without acting on it has the same results as not doing it: you are still screwed out of a fortune.
In today’s world of limited employment and education systems lagging behind the new imperatives of the changing economy, learning to create income by spotting and creating opportunities is vital.
And it isn’t rocket science either: you just need to tweak your thinking, practice a lot and act. This is all!