Gigs or a job after graduation?

Why you should seriously consider getting “gigs” before seeking a job after graduating university or college.

New graduates, and their parents, typically consider the end of university and college the ideal time to seek a job as the launch point of a successful career. Reading and hearing that many graduates end up doing “gigs” – short to medium-term projects that they get paid for as contractors – causes many grads and their parents distress. Why? Because a “job” is secure and “gigs” are not, despite what the pay might be. Gigs come with no employee benefit plans, and unlike a job, have a defined end date.

Let’s decode this:

A full-time job = “safety”. Why do you want safety? So you can invest in a house, buy a car, and start a family. This is the life path your parents wanted and expected.

And for the tens of millions of immigrants to the U.S. and Canada over the last century, life here was also the escape from war and persecution. What did they want? Safety. So again, having a full-time and preferably unchanging job was an intense relief, or at least very, very desirable.

Gigs = “opportunity”. Why might you want opportunity? Because you are probably not trying to emulate your parents desires and life expectations – at least not immediately after you graduate university or college. And you most likely are not a refugee from a war or serious persecution. And if you have significant student loan debt which is causing you a sense of urgency to earn money, you hopefully know that there are many ways to make ends meet right now – not just through a traditional “job”.

And most importantly, you need opportunities because the world of “jobs” has changed so dramatically that even if you did try to jump directly into a stable, full-time job after graduation, you would likely find it a long and challenging journey getting there. Worse, you might find that after the euphoria of getting the job, your heart sinks when you realize what you have actually gotten yourself into. Change, stress, little structure, and scarce guidance and support are the norms of today’s busy corporate, government, and even small business workplaces.

Gigs are an “Opportunity”… to do what?

If you choose to do gigs after university or college – at least for a while – you gain some tremendous advantages over those who choose to seek jobs first:

  1. Gigs = experience that you can put on your resume. Even short-term gigs add significant value to your experience by showing potential employers what you can do.
  2. Gigs = the opportunity to define your preferences. You have been in school almost all your life. How do you know what kind of work you like to do? And what kind of a setting would suit you best? And what kind of people you would enjoy working with? Try a variety of short and medium-length gigs and you will quickly define your preferences. Really quickly. Remember: Your parents’ preferences when they were your age were usually quite different than yours will be today. Why? Because they grew up in a completely different world than you have.
  3. Gigs = building confidence. You get to succeed at real world work, which makes you feel good. And you can make mistakes, too, without long-term implications: You gain resilience.
  4. Gigs = an opportunity to learn. Yes, learn. Not the kind of learning you did in university and college, but for gaining the mindset, confidence, and professional skills you will need to be successful in the dynamic, fast-paced, technology-enabled, team-oriented, and intense world of work today.

What your parents don’t realize and media and governments are not telling you:

Those easy-to-find entry-level jobs of the past where you could learn the “professionalism skills” you needed in order to step into a high-skill role don’t exist anymore.

Where did the entry-level jobs go? Well, every time you use your phone or laptop to do online banking, visit a government web site, book a concert ticket or flight, check the weather, or send a message, you are using the replacement to entry-level jobs. Automation, in the name of cost savings, efficiency, and improved customer service has removed most of the traditional opportunities you had to gain the mind frame, confidence, and skills you need. Entry-level jobs that still exist today are being eliminated as quickly as organizations can automate them.

Now, you must leap a big gap between university and what employers need from you. There are few stepping-stone entry-level professional jobs where you can learn how to meet employers needs.

And no, a job in a fast food restaurant is not an entry-level job that will give you the professional skills you will need.

Choosing to do professional gigs after you graduate university or college, a real example of which is the image for this article, can be a smart part of the rapid development of a successful career.

For many new graduates, “gigs” may not be an option: They may be necessary. A good necessary!

The author: Paul Kurucz is a former university faculty who now coaches graduates to more quickly and confidently leap the gap between their studies and successful careers.

Teaching reset: “How do you want to use technology in the classroom?”

Every so often I do a reset of my teaching habits in order to see if I am in synch with my MBA students. They are mature adults with years and sometimes even decades of international work experience behind them. I want to be sure I am current with their professional realities. It is time again for a reset, so I used the beginning of the new term to ask them how they wished to use technology during our class time together.

I love turning the tables on my students and inviting them to take ownership of their learning process. Many are delighted with the invitation and eagerly embrace the opportunity. Others are unsure, as their previous learning experiences have been largely out of their control. Empowerment takes a bit of getting used to, as a Japanese student reflected to me at the end of the class.

I had expected the discussion of technology in the classroom to take a maximum of 15 minutes. It would be simple, right?  Use smart phones or not? Easy. Laptops or not? Easy.

Not so.  Each of my three sections of students took over an hour, with one section going to 90 minutes. Clearly, the topic touched on real concerns they had about the use of technology in the classroom and the workplace.

Some fascinating insights emerged:

1.  Personal use of technology is now the accepted norm in the workplace.

The old world of separation between work and personal life is over.  Not only is it unenforceable, but it is simply impractical. Even just 10 years ago the assumption was that when you were at work you were working. Only emergency personal communication was expected by your employer. You should be focused on your work when at work.

Now? While some old-school dictatorial type managers can still be observed in the wilds of the workplace, they are an endangered species.  It is now the socially and professionally accepted norm that you will flow between work and personal smoothly and without significant concern.  Only when you are clearly not getting your work done or are disturbing others with your personal interactions will a concern be raised with you.

This is the world of work.  Students feel that the classroom should be the same as the workplace:  Technology for personal use should be just fine.

2. You are always connected and reachable.

Again, even just 10 years ago when someone in your personal sphere wanted to connect with you they would hesitate if it was during working hours: “Is this important enough for me to ask for your attention?” might go through their subconscious.

Now? Send a text message. Initiate an online chat. Or call. Anytime. You are expected to be reachable 24×7 to friends and family now. For any reason.

3. Everyone must develop their own discipline.

My students were most vocal about this. Do not restrict our use of technology in the classroom or workplace. Let us learn the hard way to discipline ourselves. When we fail in our studies or in meeting our goals in the workplace, we will learn when to put the phone into silent mode and close personal windows on our laptops so that we can focus on what we have to get done.

The Pavlovian urge to check text messages must be overcome by the individual. They need results oriented feedback before they will begin to discipline themselves.

Personally I question this, but mostly for self-preservation reasons as a professor.  When a student fails in their studies their first reaction is that it is not their fault. Blame is projected outward and the blame gun is pointed directly at the professor.  And in this era of “the student is a customer mindset” of institutions, the student must be placated, if only for institutional marketing reasons.

4. Our classrooms and workplaces are 100 years out of date.

This is my personal favourite. We have “Master” centric classrooms with mechanical layouts that encourage students and workers to think and act like robots being prepared for 19th century factories when they graduate. Desks all lined up in the classroom so the teacher is the authority. In the same way, cubicles in the workplace de-humanize employees in the workplace. Yikes.

We brainstormed what the 21st century classroom and workplace should look like.  Tables with wireless charging built into them.  Groupings of tables so that teams can work together face-to-face to solve problems and construct things.  Wireless projectors so that students can easily project what is on their smartphone to the whole class. Continual, natural, and individual-driven use of technology, all the time. Co-working, an emerging evolution of the workspace, is an example of how positive change is happening in the real world, where technology is fully integrated into the physical place people work.

Ahhh….I love the smell of empowerment in the classroom.

But then I asked them:  “May I use my smartphone during class?”

Their reply:  “No! Not you. We paid for you to be here and teach us.”

Clearly, there are still some limits on the use of technology in the classroom. Well, limits on my use, anyway.  And of course, they don’t see the irony:  “Teach us, but we won’t necessarily be listening, engaging, or learning from what you are doing. We might be busy focusing elsewhere with our phones and laptops.  But keep going.  We paid you to do this, so do it anyway. And make sure that we get good grades, too.  Oh, and thank you for doing all that. ”

They are polite.  I give them that.

Self-empowerment 101: I will make fewer decisions

Undoing mental patterns and habitual behaviors can be devilishly hard to do.  This is in direct contrast to how easily we create mental patterns and habitual behaviors.

I recently began undoing my belief that I have to make decisions all the time.  I guess I made a decision to stop making so many decisions!  A most fascinating and empowering journey has followed.

I gained the belief early in life that we are in control of our lives and destinies.  This control is called free will, and I was taught in school and by the world that it is a precious thing that should be exercised daily.  This belief in my free will has been at the foundation of my philosophy of life.  In fact, I still have the belief that I have free will.

What has changed, however, is in how I choose to use my free will.  One choice I made was to undo the belief that I have to make decisions all the time.  I used to believe that if I am not making decisions all the time I am not actually exercising my free will.

I now have a different belief.  Free will is not about making decisions all the time.  It is about “freely using my will”.

If this is getting too theoretical, here is an example:

ballotElection day.  You are to elect a new government leader.  You are presented with a list of 4 candidates.  You must decide on one and choose him/her.

Full stop.

First, who said you have to choose one from a set of options you didn’t create?

Second, who said you must participate in this decision process called an election?

Why did you buy into these two beliefs?

“If you don’t vote, you are not fulfilling your legal, moral, and ethical responsibilities to this country. ”

Ahhh…there we go:  I was forced, encouraged, or guilted into participating in a decision making process called an election.  And I am a bad person if I do not participate.  Someone decided that participating in elections makes you a good person and not participating in elections makes you a bad person.

Wait a minute!

How many other beliefs and decision making processes have I been invited to ascribe to and participate in?  How many have I chosen to believe and participate in, quite willingly, because I thought it was the fulfillment of the reason I have free will?

Lots, and lots, and lots.

Let’s take a step further back to uncover more goodies:

In university I chose a business education, where I gained the belief that leaders and managers are decisive, take initiative as a part of their minute-by-minute workday.  You must “drive the agenda”.  And another saying goes:  “Decide, or someone else will decide for you.”

This is where it gets even more interesting:  “Decide, or someone else will decide for you”, is actually a fear-based belief!

I chose long ago not to live or act from a state of fear.

But I am still playing out the habits of my university training!

Decide. decide. decide.

“People who don’t decide are weak, spineless individuals. They are soft.  They don’t take initiative, but let life walk all over them. The meek may inherit the earth, as the saying goes, but I would never want to be meek! Why be a victim when you can be a victor!”

Again, full stop.

This is getting silly.

One last look at this:

How many times have I encouraged my children to make decisions, when they did not understand the need for the decision to be made, the choices available, or the consequences?  How traumatic was it for me to have to make “blind” decisions as a child, when I learned that decision making often resulted in outcomes that I didn’t understand and that hurt?  Ouch.

What I believe free will is not

Free will is not about becoming a “decision junkie”, thinking we have to make decisions all the time when we really don’t.  it is not about habitually making decisions out of fear, usually without understanding the real reasons for the decision needing to be made in the first place. It is not about accepting the choices we are being presented and assuming without thought that they are the only options and the most valid ones. Free will is also not about making decisions without understanding the importance of the consequences of the decisions.

And it is not about forcing others to make decisions when they don’t need to.

What I believe free will is

Free will is about exercising our ability to choose how we live our lives: What we believe, and how we act from those beliefs.

This year, I will use my free will to undo lots of beliefs and to make fewer decisions. And in doing so, I choose to empower myself to stay focused on the quality of my life itself and how I wish to live it.

I can hear the critics gleefully challenging this logic with “you just made a decision!”

Intellectualize all you want. I won’t play that game (another decision).

I am backing out of my addiction to the distracting activity called decision making.

And in doing so I am taking my power back to use my free will to focus on what will make me stronger and happier in my life.

What exactly do customers want to feel?

In Part 1 of this look at what customers want,  I made the case that they want to buy a future set of feelings.  To prove my point, I sent the willing reader to a grocery store to uncover for themselves how everyday products have deeper underlying meanings with emotional attachments.  The logical mind does not want to believe in the emotional reality of our purchasing habits because admitting so triggers feelings of vulnerability and ego responses.

In this Part 2, we answer a “how” question. If customers only want a future set of feelings when they are buying things, how can we figure out what those desired feelings are?

What do customers want to feel?

Principle 1:  You must know yourself

We all have subconscious and unconscious beliefs, habits, fears, and dreams.  They drive most of our thinking and behavior.  As marketers, we see, hear, interpret, analyze, and assess through the lens of this “stuff” that is bubbling constantly under our mental surface.

Want to become excellent at figuring out what customers really want?

Get yourself out of the way.

In other words, by becoming conscious of the engine that is under your own mental hood, you quickly clear the lens of how you see and understand other people.

Is this something you can do in one day or one week?  No.  Self-inquiry is a process that you start and never end – it takes a lifetime.  That said, the fact that you choose to initiate a self-inquiry process instantly puts you into a mental position that you want to see and understand the world they way it is, not the way you think it is.  If you are successful at making self-inquiry a daily habit, you actually reap the benefits in the first day and the very first week.

And as times goes by, you become more and more astute with your observations and understandings of human motivations and behavior.

Principle 2:  You can’t ask people what they want to feel

Another survey a company wants me to complete. Uggghh…

Surveys don’t work if you are trying to get at what customers really want.  Nor does simply asking customers in any form.  Oh, asking customers their opinions is good for uncovering some feelings after they have interacted with your product or service.  A survey can give you a sense of customer satisfaction. But asking customers cannot actually uncover their true purchase motivations.

Why? Because customers don’t know what they want.  I mean this literally: They don’t know the real reasons they want something.   By “know” I mean be able to clearly and in detail articulate the emotional underpinnings to their desires.

They think they know why and will defend their position vehemently if you were to press them or challenge them. But they generally can’t and won’t be able to give you the underlying reasons – the real reasons.

To give you the real reasons would be worse for them than stripping physically naked in front of you: It would be stripping emotionally naked in front of you. Most people are afraid to be physically naked in private and look at themselves in a mirror.  How many people are strong enough to strip emotionally naked to you, a stranger, when stripping emotionally naked to themselves would be one of the most terrifying things they could do as a human being?

A ridiculous example to make my point:

Researcher:  “So, what are the emotional reasons you want to buy the new iPhone?”

Customer:  “I want an iPhone because I am afraid of being left behind. If I don’t get a new iPhone, my friends will think I am loser and no-one will like me anymore. Girls will think I am poor and I will end up lonely and worse: I won’t be part of the “normal” people at school.  I fear this will lead to me becoming irrelevant and lost in social and work settings, leading to a life living without money or hope for the future. Belonging is extremely important to me, and if I don’t belong to what Apple and the iPhone represent, I will engage in negative habits and behaviors such as addictions, anger, sadness, and ultimately, self-destruction – I will die on the street as a beggar.”

While this is silly example, can you see that almost no-one in this world would allow themselves to uncover true feelings to themselves, much less openly to someone doing marketing research?

Principle 3:  You must uncover true customer desires

So, if you can’t ask customers why they really want to buy something, how do you find out?

You have to uncover the deeper truths – the emotions customers desire to feel.

To uncover the truth, you need to use a lot more of yourself than just your logical, rational brain.  You need to use a whole host of aspects, skills, and abilities in yourself, including emotional intelligence and some that are innate – they can’t be “learned”, but they can be developed.

Here is a summary PowerPoint slide I use in my MBA marketing course:

How do you find out what people really want?

 

Uncovering the truth is a messy business.

It means observing and engaging with your customers and allowing yourself to see deeply into their lives, gaining insights from their lifestyle behaviors, purchasing habits, and thinking.

It takes time, effort, strength of will, and allowing your own vulnerabilities to be exposed.

It means creating a connection to your customer so they will open up to you.

Would you like to see a master at work, someone who isn’t afraid to delve into his own emotions as he figures out what people really want?

Mad Men:  Don Draper and the Kodak Slide Carousel:

How do I build the skills and abilities to be like Don Draper?

The best marketers, as exemplified by Don Draper in Mad Men, must learn and develop more of themselves than simply their intellect.

Want to become like Don Draper?  Start learning and developing the following:

1.  About yourself (as noted earlier)

2.  Emotional intelligence – how other people feel, and why.

3.  The ability to feel emotions in yourself without pushing them down or getting overwhelmed.

4.  The personal strength to interact openly with others so as to engage much more of yourself with them.

These are life skills, really.  And perhaps engaging in life is the best way, if not the only way,  to learn these.

An exercise

As in Part 1, here is an exercise that can get you started on the path to expanding your skills and abilities in uncovering the truth about what people and customers really want.

1. Go to a coffee shop by yourself. Starbucks is a good one to begin with.

2.  Order your drink and get a seat where you can observe the lineup and at the same time be near other people who are sitting and drinking and chatting.

3.  Shut off your cell phone, shut off your laptop, remove your earphones, put down anything you are holding, and sit comfortably with your hands on your lap.

4.  Feeling a bit naked and uncomfortable?  Good!  You are used to being with friends, holding something, and being “plugged in” to your electronics.  Now you are alone, with no safety blanket and unplugged. You are a bit naked, no?  Sit with this feeling for 5 minutes or so.  What happens?  Are people looking at you, pointing their fingers and whispering to each other?

No, of course not.

As you come to realize that you are OK just sitting there, you will also begin to notice that your discomfort levels rise and fall, depending on what thoughts flow through your mind.  You may also notice that your mind tries to escape by going into stories, fantasies, or memories.  Gently return your attention to the coffee shop when this happens.

5.  Do a conscious observation:  Watch how people enter the coffee shop and line up to buy their drinks.  Watch how they stand in line, chat with each other, and how they interact with staff when it is their turn to order.

How do they behave? Where do they look? Do they seem comfortable or nervous? What patterns do you start to see emerging?

6.  Do another conscious exercise:  Listen to a conversation that is taking place near you.  Of course you cannot watch the people as this would be socially unacceptable (staring), but you can listen in. Or can you? Do you feel uncomfortable doing this? Why?

As you listen, sit with any feelings that arise in you. Are they your feelings being triggered by what you hear, or are you simply picking up the feelings of the people who are conversing, just as you pick up the heat of the sun when it shines on your skin?

As you listen to the conversation, can you observe your mind picking up interesting patterns and insights?  Can you hear your mind comparing what you are hearing to your own experience of life?

After 20-30 minutes of holding yourself separate from your habits and simply observing, you may find yourself getting mentally tired, emotionally upset , and even stressed.  Or you may find yourself in a new and exciting state of being, similar to a meditative state.  There is no right or wrong here of what you experience.  Be gentle with yourself if you do find this hard.  It takes practice to be by yourself and feel safe, strong, and open to hearing and experiencing the realities around you.

Question: How many times in the 20-30 minutes did you pick up your drink?  Was it a habitual movement, a nervous reaction, or simply a desire for a drink?  Be honest with yourself!

At the end of this exercise, walk out of the coffee shop and observe any feelings you have as you walk out. Relief? Exhilaration? Or feeling nothing?

Walk off the experience to clear your mind and emotions and reflect on what you learned.

Congratulations! You have practiced several skills and abilities that the best marketers have!

Are you ready and willing to do it again in another coffee shop?

The paradox of teaching “entrepreneurship”

I watched a video on entrepreneurship yesterday.

Well, actually, I only watched the first 10 minutes of the video – it was an hour long.

During those first 10 minutes, the very well-intentioned university professor attempted to intellectually conceptualize entrepreneurship and say something meaningful.

I gave up after 10 minutes of watching him struggle to bridge the gap between what he wanted to do and what entrepreneurship is.   He wanted to make something active into something passive.

The paradox of teaching “entrepreneurship”

Entrepreneur:  “A person who organizes and manages…”   (Dictionary.com)

There are two verbs in this definition: “organize” and “manage”.

These are active.  You organize and manage.  You do these things.

And you get good at organizing and managing as an entrepreneur by practicing organizing and managing. By independently daring to do the organizing and managing.  No-one gives you permission.  You answer to no-one. You initiate and do them yourself.

Like riding a bike, you can’t really study entrepreneurship in a way that makes it passive.  Well you, can. And you can study how to ride a bike, can’t you?

But in the end, you learn to ride a bike by…riding a bike.

And you learn entrepreneurship by…organizing and managing a business.

Which leads to the paradox:  Can you teach entrepreneurship?

Lorne Fingarson figured out how to teach entrepreneurship.

Homage:  Thank you, Lorne Fingarson, for inviting me to develop “curriculum” and “teach” in the Business Incubator Program at BCIT – The British Columbia Institute of Technology – from 1991-1993.

Lorne figured it out.  He convinced BCIT to deliver a program where entrepreneurs would get the learning and support they needed to increase their chances of startup success. His stats showed that with incubator support, he could get the success rate of business startups from 10-20% up to 60-70%.

But my “curriculum” and “teaching” in the program were anything but normal “university” lecturing.  Instead, at BCIT I supported entrepreneurs in learning the financial and marketing skills they needed for their businesses to be successful.  Not by lecturing, but by coaching them during their active “organizing” and “managing” of their businesses.

And that is the key difference:  The focus was on the entrepreneur and their business, not on me and my knowledge.

Student centered learning – the “flipped classroom”

When I first took a case-based business course during my undergrad, I was hooked.  Cases opened my mind to how the world works and gave me a chance to solve real problems. My MBA was entirely case-based.

And when we actually had to “do” a business in another undergrad course – actually make a business happen – I was ecstatic.

It is no wonder, then, that my teaching these last 23 years has been student centered.

In Dubai I led a team of faculty in creating something unique:  An entrepreneurship-based e-business bachelor degree program.  With the brilliant Tony Degazon in the co-pilot seat, we pushed and pushed to see how much we could get away with in a post-secondary institution.

Could we create an incubator-style program where students created online businesses?

We did!  And what an amazing Program!  From laying out their “classroom” (including painting the room and laying out the “office”) to choosing their own businesses that they actually started, our students were at the center of the learning.  This was the true student-centered, flipped classroom.

And it worked.

Back in Canada after 6-1/2 year in Dubai, I did two things:  Teach business part-time at a university and start my own businesses.

I wanted to organize and manage my own businesses for the sheer joy of being an entrepreneur and I wanted to share my passion for “doing entrepreneurship” in the higher-ed classroom.

The organizing and managing of my own businesses has been a wonderful journey, and often quite profitable.

The entrepreneurship “teaching”?

Kind of “hit and miss”.

Entrepreneurship and universities:  An awkward fit

Despite my best intentions, the fit was never a strong one between entrepreneurship – an active way of doing business – and the more passive study of business, as universities are set up to do.

Oh, I write lots of case studies for universities, colleges, and corporate trainers all over the world.

And in years past I got away with teaching an international marketing course primarily through my students creating real international businesses in their 14 weeks in the course. And again, amazing outcomes resulted.  One student team created such a successful business that they had to shut it down to finish their studies – it would take too much of their time.  In the end, the defacto team leader told me that she wanted to get her MBA because she wanted to work in a corporation, not run her own business.

A successful startup business...in an MBA Program marketing course
A successful startup business…in an MBA Program marketing course

 

(Oh the sometimes startling agony in being a teacher:  The most successful online venture from all the teams in all the running of the course and the business gets shut down because it was too successful and not what the student wanted to do!)

In the end, universities are set up to study things, not do things.  And no slight intended: The world needs things studied.  But so does entrepreneurship need a student-centred or “flipped classroom” approach to succeed. Perhaps not something that hundreds of years of history, process, and tradition, called the university model, is designed to support well.

We need more Lorne Fingarsons and more business incubators

Start-up weekends“, Lorne Fingarson,  business incubators, community support,  and $100 Startup’s Chris Guillebeau and his World Domination Summit entrepreneurial culture creation.

These are events, people, infrastructure, and cultures where entrepreneurship happens and where it can be “taught”.

We need more of these.

Bring it on!

A final note:

Lorne and his wife Pat keep on giving to BCIT.  Inspirational.