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By: Beebe Nelson

Published February 15, 2017

Robert Gough began his talk, “2017: The economic opportunities we have never seen before,” at the January 25, 2015 NSTC  Business Breakfast — not surprisingly — by talking about Trump and people’s responses to him.  He had already said, in the introduction to his talk on NSTC’s website, that “Trump is not the messenger, he is the message.”

Robert Gough addresses the NSTC breakfast on January 25, 2017

On a couple of slides Gough pulled together a number of very different ways that people have described Trump.  One slide showed the top 25 words people use to describe Trump according to a recent poll.  Most of them were extreme, and the entire list, which included “asshole” and “intelligent,” could easily be separated into two groups — ones used by Trump voters and ones used by Clinton supporters.

“It’s not about Trump,” Gough told us.  Trump, according to Gough, is not an ideologue;  he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  Instead, Gough asked us to keep returning to the most important people in Trump’s message: The American Worker. Further, he said the election results show that what affects a person is far more important than what offends him or her.

Gough then talked of four major changes in our economic landscape: Make it New, Economic Disorder, True Nostalgia, and the Known and Unknown.

1)  Make it New. Things have changed, and continue to change rapidly. The approaches that used to work are not working now. That is a real problem for all of us — how can we effectively use what we have access to?  It is a subtle nuance — this new economy will bring new opportunities, but the probability of executing on all opportunities is greater.

2) Economic disorder. 2017 will be a volatile year. As interest rates go higher, the US dollar gets stronger, while emerging currencies become weaker and their debt becomes larger. Mergers and acquisitions will have a record-breaking year, and central banks will become weaker. More importantly, objective facts are less influential than what people want to believe. We live in a “post-truth” world.

3) True Nostalgia. There has been a great change in taste and values.  Elegance and grace are in, as is the millennial mindset for buying local, organic, non-GMO, Made in America, etc. Gough assures us that “The NY Times is a dead newspaper” and warns us against reliance on a single journalistic source.  “Freedom of the press,” he reminds us, refers to divergent publications. “If all you read is the Wall Street Journal, then that’s all you’re going to get — the WSJ’s perspective.”

4) The Known and the Unknown. Silicon Valley is a mindset not a location. There is going to be a rapid worldwide transformation in how we live, work and play. Jobs will fall to technology.  Artificial Intelligence, drones, big data, robotics, Deep Learning (e.g. Watson) are becoming the core of the new economy.  Jobs in service, assembly line, middle management, customer service, and education are becoming less and less necessary.

One of Gough’s slides from the presentation

Gough ended his talk and the floor was opened to questions. There was some spirited debate about the loss of jobs and how, or if, workers could be retrained – especially if robots were to take over (think self-driving trucks and cars). Gough admitted that some people may be left behind. Another audience member asked him to remember to include women, people of color, and immigrants when thinking of the economy and the benefits they bring.

On a personal note, time did not allow for me to ask my question, which was, “Who is the American Worker who is at the center of your thinking?” So, I posit this response for your consideration. Trump’s successful candidacy, his surprising victory in the Republican primary and even more astounding election as US President, has revealed a huge divide in our country.  The divide is between those of us who are liberal, college educated, part of the economic, educational and governmental system, and those whom Gough called the “American Worker” – those whose livelihoods and success depend on traditional occupations — the jobs that are becoming less and less necessary because of technological advances. Arlie Russell Hochschild, in her wonderful book Strangers in Their Own Land, provides us with a sociologist’s view of the Trump supporter. He or she [!] wants jobs that will pay satisfactory wages, wants few or no regulations of the large corporations (in particular the fuel companies), and is very disturbed to see immigrants, people of color, and women moving up the ladder of success ahead of them.

No matter who won the election, the recognition of this divide between those whom Regan called the “silent majority” and the rest of us, best recognized as “liberals,” is critical to our future, and we must learn how to work together, to bind the wounds that have torn us apart.

Beebe Nelson’s firm, Working Forums LLC, provides consulting, training, and expert coaching in innovation and new product development focused on the implementation of effective processes and practices.