Updated: Mar 26
By Misunderstanding the Reasons Behind Brain Drain, Nebraska's 'Limbs' Face 'Amputation'
Pretend that the entire state is condensed into one, 30-ish male with a few subtle symptoms of diabetes. Always thirsty. Frequent urination.
He would shrug off these symptoms.
Pretend, also, that no medically approved medication existed to lower blood sugar.
As our symbolic male ages, his symptoms worsen. He loses weight for no obvious reason. His vision deteriorates. He gets tired easily.
When he's out in the sun, he's particularly vulnerable to heat-stroke.
Eventually, the nerves in his lower extremities deteriorate.
By the time he's fifty, he has to have his right foot amputated. As a result, his career declines and his financial situation worsens.
In a very real way, this metaphorical situation describes Nebraska's chronic problem with brain drain and the state's inability to attract and retain knowledge workers (defined as 'people who can identify and solve a problem without having to confer with a supervisor). However, the symbolic 'no medication' problem has been solved. The 'diabetes pill' - a metaphor for insights derived from research with young grads who grew up in Nebraska but were determined to leave - has been manufactured and transformed into a multifaceted, readily-available solution for the insidious brain drain 'disease.'
It's easy to be naive and irresponsible about preventing brain drain because it is a slow and subtle form of community decline. Unless a large employer closes its doors, there's nobody to blame when yet another young grad gets a job out of state and says, "Sayanara." That's why acting on the feedback, below, is critical, despite its common-sense complexity.
Question: "So why are you guys determined to leave this state where you grew up?"
Answer: "The owners of businesses in this state are traditional, conservative and stuck in their operating model. We must have heard 50 lectures at UNL about the importance of innovation, but business owners here are not at all interested in innovation. They're making money, so why mess with the formula? That's how they think. But we want something new. Recruiters call us with opportunities to lead digital innovation projects and the money's about the same, so why wouldn't we just go? They're not going to change anything because of us."
Question: "What else motivates you to leave?"
Answer: "Businesses here are into hierarchy and politics. Newbies have to start in the back and on the bottom. It's all about control and blame. It's who you know. That's just the way it is. But that's not how business is these days, right? People use the web to meet people all over the place and collaborate on things. People are supposed to be open, trade ideas...the culture is really important. I gotta want to go to work where people are into it and they help the community, somehow. This is like the most important thing to me...fitting in while doing my thing in my way, being respected, not just known."
The other thing is Nebraska's business owners are not open to meeting new people or people who look different or come from somewhere else. Outsiders. Sometimes, these people have good ideas or special skills, but.. they're not given a chance. That can hurt a community.
Question: "What else is important to you as you ramp up your career?"
Answer: "I want to live in a stylish place, maybe downtown where other people like me hang out, relax, eat, chat over coffee, have a drink...etc. Activity. Energy. There's got to be a place where i can meet other people and be proud of my lifestyle. I'd also like to walk to work and just drop the whole car responsibility. Someplace sustainable. Work is not everything, no way. So I need a place to socialize and chill."
Question: "Anything else you want to tell me about career issues?"
Answer: "This is probably basic, but I want to work with a company that is successful. If it comes down to two companies that I like, I will choose the one that's succeeding, obviously."
Three tactical actions emerge from this research: