That question alone may bring about a reality adjustment on the part of a job-seeker. When I first asked myself that back in 1976, it completely changed the way I looked at employment.
Up until that point, I was taking employment personally. If they were paying me a great salary, they liked me. If they wanted to get rid of me, it meant they didn’t like me.
Once I understood the ramifications of the question, "What do people want that I can produce?", I was on my way to understanding the power of "exchange".
Exchange is not just you doing a superlative job and making sure that you deliver everything that you promised. Exchange is what happens when you have a client or an employer who understands the value what you are giving him and he provides the agreed-upon compensation for what you have delivered.
Exchange, by definition, two-way. You provide goods or services to someone as agreed and that person pays you as agreed or gives you some in-kind exchange as agreed.
If we go back to the original question posed at the top of this article, we can see that people need to want what you can produce. You can start out producing work that people want and circumstances can change so that people want something else. If you cannot or do not want to produce that new thing, you need to find new employment.
I learned recently of a hard-working factory manager who was terminated after 25 years of employment because he would not adapt to the computer age. When a company’s business absolutely depends on email, a computerized inventory system and a computerized manufacturing system, it becomes painfully obvious that a top manager who resists computer literacy is not only an annoyance, he is a threat to the business.
There is another side to asking yourself the original question. It may blow into view the fact that what they want you to do will destroy your integrity over time.
For example, you are busily assisting a sales team to sell prescription drugs and then you discover that your company is convincing doctors to prescribe maximum doses of its product for all patients for the purposes of increasing revenue in spite of the fact that this dramatically increases health risks.
Or in a high tech company, you may discover that the product or service that you are being asked to deliver is faulty and will damage the reputation of the customer.
Exchange is a funny thing. If you are part of an outright scam or part of something like the previous examples, you will eventually suffer the consequences of an emerging conscience and will experience emotional and health problems.
If you are providing exchange in abundance to someone who wants what you are providing and keeps their exchange in also, you are probably having the time of your life!
If you, on the other hand, think that your job sucks big time, the exchange is probably out somewhere. You will feel a lot better when it is fixed.