Insights

Commentary and insights on where the digital revolution meets the small and medium business community
John Sheridan

Frog in the well – a circular view of the digital revolution…

The digital revolution is probably one of the only major revolutions most of us have ever seen.

We have never been more connected.

The industrial revolution is long gone, though its signature factories, railways and chimneys are still with us today. It had a profound effect on the way our societies are organised, and the nature of jobs that individuals perform.

We have spend the last century refining our systems, training, education and management…just in time for that to be undermined and disrupted by a new digital revolution with characteristics that take us into the future and back to the past at the same time.

On the one hand, back to the closeness of the village, but this time a virtual closeness in a new “global village” with no boundaries, or commonly agreed rules and regulations.

And on the other hand, forwards into a multiverse of technology connectivity that externalises our senses and nervous system and connects us to others, and to information, ideas and automation never dreamed of in Wilmington, Kent where I grew up. 

Factories, chimneys, machines, smoke, steam and furnaces are hard to miss and we are still living with their industrial impacts on our environment. Digital is a different matter. 

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John Sheridan

Plans and more plans...when we need action.

It’s 2017 and according to the ever reliable Roy Morgan Research poll, unemployment (9.7%) and underemployment (8.2%) now adds up to 17.9% - a total of 2.4 million people looking for work or for more work.

Not a good start to the year.

We have now set a new record for household debt, which the Reserve Bank chief says is a threat to the economy. Which affects spending.

Wages growth is historically low. Households are cutting back on consumption, hurting the economy and employment.

Well, duh! It all joins up.

And coming towards us through the wires and wireless is an enormous wave of change, with robotisation, computerisation and automation set to steadily eliminate 40% of jobs. New jobs will replace a proportion of those lost but nowhere near enough.

And what are we doing about it?

Waiting.

John Sheridan

Export. Export. Export. Full STEAM ahead.

Alan Kohler is a good bloke. Of all the journos writing for the Australian he consistently tells it as it is. In simple English. Which is what we all expect of journalists of course, but such commentary is rare and hard to find.

The “Treasurer’s debt dilemma” is a very good piece.

It highlights the problem the treasurer has in needing to cut spending to placate the ratings agencies (which Mr Kohler points out quite rightly have little real credence after rating collateralised debt obligations - CDOs - as AAA in 2006). What do they really know and why do we listen to what they say anyway?

It’s a crazy and bizarro world we live in, trying to see through the blurry spiders webs of perception, fake news, PR and hyperbole.

Alan Kohler blows a lot of that fluff away. Regularly. In the Australian and on the ABC. Malcolm should make him the Treasurer. In the US he could, but not here. I wish it were that easy.

While the government’s attention is focused on “not” spending money, we need to shift our attention to how to “make” more money in the first place.

John Sheridan

17.5% unemployed or underemployed. What are we waiting for?

According to the Roy Morgan poll, unemployment in Australia is now at 10.4% with underemployment at 7.1%. Which means 2.249 million Australians are now looking for work, or looking for more work.

Add the ever increasing impacts of digital job destruction, ageism, lack of leadership and swiftly shifting job requirement skillsets and those figures will soon move higher, not lower.

And quicker not slower.

Inaction by federal government is hard to understand. It’s been a year now with no meaningful action. Just lots of empty words. Even Clarke and Dawe from the ABC have now turned government inaction on our economy into a parody.

See “The importance of a strong team in sales and marketing” on the ABC website. Amusing, but far too close to the truth to be completely funny.

Why so little action?

Is the scale and scope of the “no jobs and no growth” problem just too large and wide reaching?

Is it too hard to respond to, because we can’t simply look overseas for a quick answer like we normally do – because they face the same problems themselves?

Have the federal rabbits just frozen in the headlights? Do they even have a clue?

Waiting is not an option. We have to do something. The problem will only grow. And it does so day by day.

And allied to this problem is the slowing economy, increasing household debt, near zero interest rates across the world leading to diminishing returns for investors, pensioners and those heading towards retirement.

Less work, lower wage growth, more debt and increased stress on mortgages and retirement funds.

Waiting is not an option. Action is required.

John Sheridan

The future of work isn't the issue... the future of jobs is.

Banks don’t invest in small business any more. They promote credit cards instead. No social contract. Only dividends and shareholders.

They will only lend money with a lien against property, which then makes property even more collectively important as a backstop against financial disaster, and increases the risk for everyone.

We cannot build Australia’s future through investing everything into one non-productive asset class - housing. That just steals investment from scaleups and startups. It steals investment from farmers. It steals investment from manufacturers. It steals investment from small business.

And it pumps up the housing bubble, because there is nowhere else to invest money. Central banks across the world have driven interest rates so low that the traditional investment options of bonds, shares and bank deposits are broken.

Leaving property the only choice.

John Sheridan

Which way to the future?

The latest ABS job figures are interesting. And also misleading.

According to the ABS, unemployment is down to 5.7%. Yet, according to the Roy Morgan poll, unemployment sits at 11%. And 18.8% of the workforce is either unemployed or under-employed.

ABS figures are under question and it is worth visiting the Roy Morgan sitehttp://www.roymorgan.com/morganpoll/unemployment/unemployment-methodology to understand why. As it says on the website, “Roy Morgan measures real unemployment in Australia, not the perception of unemployment.”

So why is this important?

Because 5.7% unemployment doesn’t sound too bad. And even suggests the country could be heading in the right direction.

But 18.8% sounds like a big problem. And suggests that we are heading in the wrong direction. Because 18.9% means less tax, less discretionary spending, less confidence, less opportunity and we need to do something about it.

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John Sheridan

What the world needs now...

Automation, robotisation and computerisation are now estimated to destroy 50% of middle class (better paying) jobs over the next 20-30 years, further increasing the inequality that we see in our societies.

According to Oxfam, just 1% of the human population will soon own more than 50% of the world's wealth. And just 85 individuals now have the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people. We can debate the figures but the directions and trends are clear. A squeeze from both ends.

And against this background, the carrot is provocatively dangled... "Anyone can do what the 1% have done in the land of opportunity" as though it is in some way our fault for being gutless and lacking initiative, but the reality of glass, ivy league, concrete and steel, skin colour, illness, neighbourhood, parental background, gender and "old boy" ceilings demonstrates this is patently untrue. Silver spoons reach a long way.

George Orwell was remarkably prescient when he wrote 1984. Worth reading again, if you haven't done so recently.

So what went wrong?

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