Careers and Turkey?
The turkey metaphor comes from the book End of Jobs by Taylor Pearson. I reviewed this book a couple of months ago in the post The End of Jobs – A Book Every Boomer Should Read.
The following quote is actually from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile – Things That Gain from Disorder.
Taylor compares our careers to turkeys. Taylor quote’s Taleb in his book:
A turkey is fed for a thousand days by a butcher; every day confirms to its staff of analysts that butchers love turkeys ‘with increased statistical confidence.’ The butcher will keep feeding the turkey until a few days before Thanksgiving…[The] turkey will have a revision of belief—right when its confidence in the statement that the butcher loves turkeys is maximal and ‘it is very quiet’ and soothingly predictable in the life of the turkey.” N.N. Taleb
From the day a Thanksgiving turkey is born, everything about its life indicates that things are only going to get better. It’s hatched in a safe, sterile environment. It’s cared for and fed daily.
Every single day, this pattern happens again. It wakes up to find plenty of food and a place to live.
It is at the moment when the turkey has the most historical data to show that its life is likely to keep improving, on the 4th Wednesday of November, that it realizes — it’s not so good to be a turkey.
We are living through such an event right now. The experts knew a pandemic would come but could not say when it would come.
We knew a recession would come as they always do, we just did not know when.
Note: This post was originally published in April 2016 and was updated in April of 2020.
Being a Turkey
We have all explored being a turkey from time to time. Particularly, those of us who graduated from college and went to work for big companies.
In 1978, when I was right out of Northwestern, I went to work for IBM. I was a turkey.
No worries. I would always have a job. Well, until January of 1993 when IBM nearly filed for bankruptcy. I then realized it was not so good to be a turkey at IBM. IBM discontinued its full employment policy; they had their first layoffs in history and closed multiple locations.
Many of my colleagues were blindsided by what happened. They were not prepared financially or emotionally.
Before October of 2001, Enron was a great place to work. Their stock was soaring. The company executives encouraged everyone to invest in Enron stock. Of course, then October of 2001 – and the rest is history. Many Enron employees lost everything, as they had all of their retirement savings in Enron stock.
In reality, almost none of us planned for a pandemic to occur. If you did, you were probably an epidemiologist. We know some did see this before the majority.
In January, there were all of the signs that something was coming. There were a few who saw something was wrong. I highly recommend you read Inside the Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic.
The leadership at H-E-B did not allow themselves to be a turkey. They were paying attention and saw it coming.
This is particularly personal to me because I was in Shenzen in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in November of 2002. I was there to teach a class to Huawei, which is commonly known in the news as one of the “bad boy” technology companies from China. Little did I know that this was the epicenter of the SARS epidemic.
I left after a few days to head for Shanghai, then Nanjing and on to Seoul, South Korea. Only when I returned home did I find out that many that were around me got very sick. I dodged a bullet. I was almost a turkey.
It is easy to be lulled into being a turkey when things are good.
Have you been a turkey? I guess that many of you will say yes.
Not Being a Turkey with Gig Economy and Portfolio Careers
When I originally wrote this post in 2016, the gig economy was still evolving. The gig economy is now here, and to prove it the US federal government included gig workers in the CARES Act, the current giant relief program during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many of you will develop portfolio careers as you reach your 60s and 70s. You will piece together gig work, part-time jobs, self-employment, and contract work. When you do this you will need to keep track of trends and look for the signs of opportunities and declines. You will not able to sit back and let things play out on their own – i.e., to be a turkey.
I published the article Adapting Your Career to the Post CoronaVirus World because innovation is something that always occurs in disasters such as this pandemic. The post-coronavirus world will look different than our world of just a few months ago.
You can not afford to be a turkey. You should always be looking for industry trends and for that next gig, contract, customer or job. I know this is not fun for most of you. You want to get into a position, do a good job and stay there for a while. For some, that will be possible. However, today, the average job lasts a little under 5 years. If you think you will be in a job for the next 10 years, it may be possible…but not likely. You have to be prepared to move on at any time, or you will be a turkey.
What steps are you taking so you will not be a turkey?Marc Miller
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Mike Stankavich says
I was told today that my freelance contract is on indefinite hold as of next week. Good thing I was already planning my next move and looking for other options.
FWIW Taylor’s turkey originated with Taleb’s Antifragile. It is indeed an apt metaphor. Everything is good until one day suddenly it isn’t.
Marc Miller says
Thanks for the pointer on the origin of the metaphor. Good luck on your next move.