The New Normal: It Might Be New But Far From Normal

The term New Normal came to pass in the summer of 2009 when Bill Gross of Pimco included the term in an investor letter that apparently went viral.  “Growth is slower, profit margins are narrower, and asset returns are smaller than in decades past.”  Normalcy is certainly a state of mind and not as new as you may think.  In 1920 Warren G. Harding ran for President under the banner “Return to Normalcy” and in 1939, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia remarked “We must realize that it is not a temperorary depression but a New Normal and adjust ourselves accordingly.”

According to the December 10, 2010 edition of Business Week “Normals feel permanent.  They never are.  The old normal, whatever it was at the time, just doesn’t stick around very long says business historian John Steele Gordon.  He ticks off panics in 1837,1857, 1873, 1907, and the crashes of 1929 and 1987.   Most were followed by pretty good times.  World War II ended the Depression and was followed by more than two decades of strong growth.  The crash of 1987 gave way to the 1990’s boom.  The dot-com bust of the early 200s then gave way to the real estate bubble, which burst into…..this New Normal.”  Roben Farzad, the author of the article completes the thought by stating,  “As economic eras go, this one has already worn out its welcome.”

Earlier this year at the Ameican Economics Association annual conference, Dr. David Laibson of Harvard remarked, “The economy is more robust than people think, and we never seem to suffer the ‘new normal’ the way we think we will.  People just have a tendency to overact to economic times.”

For those who find themselves on the negative side of this new normal, meaning looking for work, it is no consolation that this economic era may or may not be unique.  Newsweek in a recent cover page article entitled: The Beached White Male – He Had a Big Job, a Big Office, a Big Bonus.  Now He’s All Washed Up and Doesn’t Have a Freaken Prayer addresses the new phenomonon of educated white males who are not employable.  The curent long-term unemployed for the  white, college-educated, male category is 16%, compared to 7% in 1983,  38% are older than 45 compared to 24% in 1983 and 6% of these are white compared to only 3% in 1983.

John Wells, whose acclaimed drama The Company Men details the lives of four older, unemployed white males in Boston calls the era we are living in the “lost decade” according to the Newsweek article.  Though we are now seeing 200,000 new jobs a month being filled and unemployment rates currently below 9%, it will take until 2018 at this current rate of employment just to get back to the job levels we experienced prior to the 2008 recession.

So how do you market yourself as a unique brand and not fall into the deep dark hole of the “lost decade.”  Well, one option is to position yourself as “a consultant” and provide your services as an independent contractor which affords a company all the benefits of a trained expert without having to deal with 401Ks, sick days and seasonal layoffs.   However such a rebranding may not be as unique as you may think.  According to George Mason University economist Jeffrey Eisenach more than 1 million formerly employed business people now find themselves as management, finance or business consultants since 2005 alone.

To be relevant in the new job environment you must find a new technique or positioning that will make you marketable.  It also would not hurt to determine a unique niche that you can take your skills to.  Maybe you can be a specialist on start-ups or small entities.  Maybe your past experiences can provide your new potential employer some peace of mind and solace when it comes to finance.  Every organization is looking for just the right person to save them money – you could be that person.

How about positioning yourself as the individual who can bring organized change and an improved bottom-line.  You can also be just that person who can be the “thought leader” for the organization since you are not tainted by an existing,  internal perspective.  Whatever it takes, position yourself as something special, different and not the same old-same old candidate that they have interviewed since the beginning of time.

For those who state that this current economic condition is just a detour along a continual road to prosperity do not comprehend the totality of what has taken place in the last 4 years or so.  Jobs have been eliminated and many of those will never return.  Companies and associations have become very comfortable with a flat org chart and the days of multiple layers of management are gone forever!  Associations and companies alike have more competition for services, products and members than ever before and their reaction to such will determine their lifespan.

The New Normal is evolving but it certainly doesn’t mean we will regress back to the 90’s anytime soon.  The business world has evolved and will continue to evolve before our eyes.  We always told ourselves that we wanted to live in “Confucious’ Interesting Times” and Lord knows our new normal is just that and so much more.



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