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What the former President of Ford can teach us about rebounding from a layoff…

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

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Did You Know? with Gorick is the official newsletter of Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules. Each week, you’ll receive one story from the past, one study from the present, and one strategy for your future.

My goal: to give you—in the time it takes to finish on the toilet—one piece of practical career wisdom you can apply today, no matter if you’re a student or a seasoned professional.

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Did You Know? Your ideas matter!

A study of the present

Last Monday, I woke up to a news alert from my Wall Street Journal app with the title,  “The Disappearing White-Collar Job” (paywall). It became one of the WSJ’s most-commented pieces:

  • “For the year ended in March, the number of unemployed white-collar workers rose by roughly 150,000… That included workers in professional services, management, computer occupations, engineering, and scientists.”

What does this data suggest? Atif Rafiq, a former chief digital officer at McDonald’s and Volvo, gives a warning: “We may be at the peak of the need for knowledge workers… We just need fewer people to do the same thing.”

So what? If you were recently laid off from a white-collar job, you’re not alone. And just because you weren’t laid off—or just because you’re still in school—doesn’t mean you’re safe. Change is coming—and not even those with a college/university degree will be able to hide.

A story from the past

It’s July 1978, and Lee Iacocca was just fired as President of Ford after spending 32 years at the auto company. When Iacocca asked Henry Ford II, his boss, why he was fired, Ford replied, “Sometimes you just don’t like somebody.”

This could have been the end of Iacocca’s career. But no. The following year, Chrysler, a competing automaker, hired Iacocca. Iacocca brought with him an idea that he had advocated for at Ford but that had been dismissed: a van that was big enough to fit a family but small enough to fit into a garage.

Fast forward, and Iacocca led Chrysler to pioneer the North American minivan.

So, the next time you see a minivan, remember that it may not exist had Iacocca not gotten fired—and brought his ideas with him.

The North American minivan (Creative Commons)

A strategy for your future

A robot can automate a task. An employer can lay you off. But your ideas? They’re what make you irreplaceable. And just because one person doesn’t like your idea doesn’t mean your idea is worthless. You might just need a different audience.

Try this:

  1. The next time you find yourself thinking, “Why doesn’t ______ exist?” / “Why is ______ so difficult?” / “How come ______?” write it down.
  1. Look online or ask a colleague you trust, “Has anyone ever thought about ______?” (and if the answer is “no,” ask, “I’d love to give ______ a try. What would it take to ______?”).
  1. Keep developing your ideas. Got an interview? Share it! Got time? Start a side project!

Not every idea will be worth your time, but some will be. 

I know it because I’ve experienced it: If I hadn’t kept an ideas list when I found myself thinking, Wow, how come no one ever taught me how to manage my manager? I wouldn’t have gone on to write The Unspoken Rules.

Keep striving until we meet again next week!