The difference between having a job and going to work

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, November 21, 2016

What does it mean to have a job, and what does it mean to go to work? They are not the same. And the implications and differences in the two are stark in many ways.

As many of you know, I have been spending time at Donovan State Prison talking about entrepreneurship to the inmates. At my most recent visit, one of the guards shared with me his lament that they do not have enough jobs for the number of inmates they have in the prison (in part because of prison overcrowding). He went on to say that when the inmates have “jobs” — i.e. things that they get to do each day, like laundry, food service, clean-up, haircuts, library — anything that gives them some sense of purpose, then the outcome is vastly less violence in the yards. The inmates do not get into fights when they have a job to go to, even if this job pays only a few dollars per day. Having a job in prison is a privilege.

This country just endured 18 months of talk about jobs, but I am not sure that either presidential candidate fully understood that having a job can be seen as a privilege. It defines self-worth. To some extent, this is the conundrum of the entrepreneur. The idea of a startup is to create a job for yourself — and others — but the work you do is personal.

I recently heard a writer on NPR talk about this distinction. He says he has lots of work (meaning that he has a place to go every day to create something that he hopes someone will pay for), but he does not have a job because he defines his own day. If the editor of the magazine likes his work, he will get paid — if not, he won’t. This whole topic has roots in the idea that “You are the Brand.” It opens the door to the appealing idea of being self-employed.

I concede that I do not have this fully thought out. But the prison story reminded me of the anger and pain that Donald Trump tapped into. When I talk to the prisoners, they do not talk about having a job, they talk about working for themselves when they get out, bringing other prisoners with them into their venture. Who knows how much reality there is in this desire, but it is obvious that there is a deep passion.

On a more current note, let me share some thoughts from John Quelch, a professor at Harvard Business School, about marketing and the election. His theme is that good marketing “gives consumers a job.” He points out that Trump’s “make America great again” calls for an action and a goal. Hillary Clinton’s slogan was “stronger together.” Point for Trump.

Quelch writes that “show the past as prologue” recalls a better day even if the steel mills will never come back. It is like Instagram with a vintage filter. Oldies and goldies.

It’s important to “pursue forgotten consumers,” according to Quelch. Trump invoked the “forgotten man” theme, winning over “lunch-bucket” Democrats. The corollary for the entrepreneur is customer acquisition versus customer retention. Fish where no one has trampled the stream.

“Sizzle beats steak,” Quelch writes. The dark sentence here is that yes, it is true on the menu, but when it comes time to deliver and if it is only a burger, the server is going to have some explaining to do.

“Build enthusiasm” is a classic tenet of marketing, says Quelch. The “ground game” of the past elections was beaten soundly by the rallies. The crowds carried more sway than knocking on each door. In this instance, the herd instinct won out. It matters not that some of us think the herd is being led to slaughter. For now, they are in high cotton.

Finally, good marketers “close the sale,” says Quelch. Timing is everything. As he notes, “you do not need to win the votes every day, you need to win the votes on one particular day.” Trump constantly claimed to be ahead in the polls, which was not true, but if you say it enough — well, so be it. People like to back a winner — then they will see themselves as winners, and that is when regardless of the truth, it becomes a movement.

Bottom line — Trump is no dummy. His campaign will be studied for years as a brilliant example of marketing.

Rule No. 489: Who wuddha thunk?

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