January 29

Deus ex machina


January 29, 2023

Deus ex machina

In ancient greek theatre, the protagonists often found themselves in such a complicated, messy situation, that no solution to their plight seemed possible…

…until, finally a god would descend and fix everything. As there aren’t any deities probable to descend upon companies to miraculously end declining birth rates and increase productivity, it is upon us to act.

Today, when we read about a movie or a play, and critics feel they need to point to its “deus ex machina” moment, that’s usually a telltale sign for a badly written piece. At its end, things make so little sense, that it takes the proverbial god lowered form the “machina” (the ropes and rails and pulleys behind the stage) to bring the story to some end.

The same goes for the economic landscape today. The German “KfW” ( Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, Germany’s state run Bank für business subsidies & grants ) warns, yet again, of an unprecedented era of declining wealth and growth – and, yet again, skills shortage and lack of growth in productivity are cited as the main reasons.

we keep repeating our pleas for years on end—but still happily steer towards the abyss, trusting in a miracle to happen at the final moment

With the story having been told for so long, how can we not be ashamed that, as advanced economies, we keep repeating our pleas for years on end—but still happily steer towards the abyss, trusting in a miracle to happen at the final moment? In western Europe, the deity being “the state”, wich, as if it were a bad joke, is at the same time tasked with reducing its involvement & regulating of business.

Like junkies demanding the next hit—and being freed of their addiction at the same time—from the same person

We have become like junkies, addicted to the drug of a never ending stream of cheap workforce and eager youngsters willing to work 200+ hours, lining up at our recruitment offices begging for a job. For our growth, we europeans—minus the Scandinavian Countries and France—have gotten so used to just throwing more people with longer workdays at a problem, we have un-learned even considering working on productivity, lean principles, or in the more extreme cases, even offering decent working conditions in the first place. And all we can come up with now is screaming “the end is nigh!”, scrambling to fight a zero-sum game for the remaining human resources and hoping for a higher power to have it magically rain babies (note how talk about migration has shifted over the last 10 years).

It’s only 2023. The demographic fold lies still before us. We need to get our act together right now.

Considering the demographic fold lies yet before us, we better get our act together right now. Yes, we live in a world where the solution often seems just one click away, our movie heroes save the world in under 2 hours, and what we need is delivered by tomorrow, for free, if we have “prime”. But intellectually, we already do know this is not how the world really works. Our “prime” delivered goodies don’t arrive within a day because Jeff Bezos decided yesterday on a whim that that shall be so. It too decades until we got to that point, and it takes an armada of soft- and hardware robots, and an equally large armada of minimum wage workers to make happen (note the irony…).

So what does that mean for us? It means, we need to stop whining. It also means, we are not going to create value if we throw our resources into an arms race with our competitors over better scores on kununu, higher bids to rank our job openings first on monster or indeed, or better job bikes, fancier fitness studio memberships and more in-office massages. It means, to quote the fictional astronaut from “the Martian”: We need to science the sh*t out of this.

Do the little things. Do them again, and do them persistently.

The good news: We don’t need a magic bullet. We can do a lot of little things, and as with the compound effect in finance, doing little good things persistently over time will yield massive results. So we can start with increasing our understanding. For that we need to get data, and that means, we need to start asking questions. And actually listen to the answers. And do it again. And again. And again.

It’s like with the addict: Every minute she decides not to get that hit just yet, but do something else, increases her chance of getting out of her addiction. Without a god descending from a fancy contraption.


Business, Continuous Improvement, Labour Shortage, Management, Skills Shortage, Strategy, Well-Being

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