and opportunities for entrepreneurs
free agency and the new economy
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the new work ethic
I want to get a little touchy-feely on you. I think the work
ethic is fundamentally changing, and there are a new set of values
that people are bringing to work. I want to run through them
briefly, and I want to talk about them by using some movie clips.
Why movie clips? Well, I think that pop culture both shapes and,
more important, reflects some of the deeper yearnings that are out
there, including the sorts of things people don't talk about
explicitly. They'll watch a movie, or make a movie, in a way that is
very different from research.
The first one is sort of the “before” clip. It is from a
movie called Office Space.
Has anybody seen it? Wow! It has greater recognition among
netpreneurs than Al Gore. It's about a guy named Peter who works for
a company called Initech. Initech is on the ropes, so what does it
do? It brings in some high-priced consultants. Everybody knows what
that means: prelude to bloodletting. In this clip, Peter has an
interesting strategy. He's just going to tell the truth. He is
sitting down with these two consultants and he tells them honestly
about what it's like to work at Initech. Now, I don't like to make
outlandish claims, I don't want to overpromise, but I'm about to
make an outlandish claim and perhaps overpromise. I am convinced
that if every HR director in America saw this clip, the world would
be a better place. Here is Peter talking to the consultants.
(From video clip)
It's not that I'm lazy. It's that I just don't care.
It's a problem of motivation, all right. Now if I work my ass off
and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime. So
where is the motivation? Here is something else, Bob, I have eight
different bosses right now.
beg your pardon?
Eight bosses. Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake,
I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That is
my only real motivation, not to be hassled. That and the fear of
losing my job. But, you know, Bob, that will only make someone work
just hard enough not to get fired.
you bear with me for just a second, please?
if, and believe me this is a hypothetical, but what if you were
offered some kind of a stock option equity-sharing program? Would
that do anything for you?
I don't know. I guess. Listen, I'm going to go. It's been really
nice talking to both of you guys.
The pleasure is all on this side of the table. Trust me.
Good luck with your lay-offs. I hope your firings go really well.
right. This is brilliant. I mean if you think about all the
discontent in the traditional workplace, that is captured in that
The new work ethic. There are four elements of it: freedom,
authenticity, accountability and self-defined success. I want to
show you some more clips and explain each of those.
Somebody mentioned freedom earlier. Freedom is an essential
part of this new work ethic. As I interviewed people around the
country, it kept coming up and coming up and coming up. Now, freedom
can take on a number of different dimensions. It can be freedom to
spend your time the way you want, or freedom to work with great
people, or freedom to pick great projects. I'll give you a surprise
from these interviews. Many people mentioned ethics as the reason
they left large corporations. They said, "You know what? I was
asked to do something that I didn't really feel comfortable
with." It kept coming up and coming up and coming up. It was
really astonishing. There is an element of freedom of conscience
there, too. So people want freedom. It sounds self-evident, but it's
powerful a powerful force in getting people to leave.
Another factor is authenticity. This is a little bit
touchy-feely, but I want to tell you about some of the language I
heard from people. They would say, "Well, Dan, when I was
working in my other job, before I left I felt like I had to put on a
game face every time I went in. I felt I had to put on a mask and
couldn't be who I really was." One woman described herself as a
“Stepford worker.” She would go into her company in this
zombie-like trance, and could come back and be herself only when she
was home. People want to be themselves. For many people, work is a
form of self-expression, and the best companies allow people to be
fully who they are. The fact that so many companies, though, don't
do that is why people are bursting out and wanting to go out on
their own. This authenticity takes a number of different dimensions.
It is so powerful among gays and lesbians and among racial
minorities. There is a guy I interviewed for the book who said,
"Listen, I was doing great. I was working for Honeywell in
Minnesota, but it was 1978, and I'm a gay man. Those two worlds are
going to collide." He felt that he could be better, more
authentic on his own.
I want to show you a clip about authenticity. This is from a
movie called Erin Brockovich.
To summarize the plot very quickly, Erin gets a job at a law firm
and Albert Finney is her boss. In this scene he goes in and sees
her. It's lunchtime. She's all alone. "Where is
everybody?" he asks. Erin says, "The girls went out to
lunch." Finney says, "Well, you're a girl, why aren't you
out to lunch?" Erin replies, "I guess I'm not the right
kind of girl." That prompts a comment from Finney and a
response from Erin.
(From video clip)
Look, now. Now that you're working here you may want to re-think
your wardrobe a little.
Why is that?
Well, I think some of the girls are a little uncomfortable because
of what you wear.
Is that so? Well, it just so happens I think I look nice and as long
as I have one ass instead of two I'll wear what I like, if that's
all right with you. . . . You might want to re-think those ties.
you go. Again, I know it's only a movie, but it's based on real
life. The reason that Erin Brockovich was able to do her job was
that she was willing to be herself. Albert Finney was allowing her
to do that.
A third factor in the new work ethic is accountability.
People want to be held accountable. I am convinced of that. I think
it's part of our human yearning. The problem is that accountability
is often diffused by means of the organization. I know he's not
real, but think about Peter in the clip from Office
Space. Is it worse being Peter, or being one of Peter's eight
bosses? People are going to be blamed for everything or get credit
for nothing, and they feel like they're not making any kind of
contribution or being held accountable for anything.
The fourth factor is what I call “self-defined success.”
People are changing their notions of success, and I want to show you
another clip, this one from the movie The Insider. Has anybody seen this movie? This is actually a great
movie. I saw it for the first time only eight or nine months ago.
It's about a guy played by Russell Crowe who is a scientist at a
tobacco company and he ends up being a whistle blower. In the scene
we're about to see he is with Al Pacino who plays a 60
Minutes producer who is trying to get him to come out and tell
his story. This scene is less dramatic, less pointed, but I think it
really reflects a lot of conversations that are going on out there
in America. He talks about how he went into these companies because
he was a man of science and he felt like he was doing some good
things. Pacino asked him, "Why did you go to a tobacco
(From video clip)
So here you are. You go to work for tobacco. You come from corporate
cultures where research, really creative thinking, these are core
values. You go to tobacco. Tobacco is a sales culture and sell
enormous volume. Go with the golf tournaments, to Hell with
everything else. What are you doing? Why are you working for tobacco
in the first place?
I can't talk about it. The work I was supposed to do might have had
some positive effect. I don't know, it just could have been
beneficial. Mostly, I got paid a lot. I took the money. My wife was
happy, my kids had good medical, good schools, got a great house, I
mean, what the Hell is wrong with that?
Nothing is wrong with that. That's it. You're making money,
providing for your family. What could be wrong with that?
I always thought of myself as a man of science. That is what is
wrong with it.
said, "I always thought of myself as a man of science. That's
what's wrong with it." I really think that these
not-so-dramatic kind of conversations are going on throughout
America. People are defining success in different ways. One, it's
not about money. You can only have so much money. You need a base of
money, obviously, but more money does not motivate people.
Promotions. There are a lot of people I interviewed whose
path to free agency was getting promoted. They were great at doing
graphic design and their reward was getting promoted to manage
people who did graphic design. In other words, they stopped doing
work they loved and were great at, so they left. Remember the Peter
Principle? That you rise in the ranks of an organization until you
reach your level of incompetence? I think the cousin of that is what
I call “the Peter-Out Principle,” where you rise in the ranks of
an organization until the fun peters out and people leave.
If any of you are managers out there, and you're intent on
crushing the job satisfaction of creative or technical people, the
surest way to do it is to promote them into management. It works
every time, and they'll be out the door in six months.
Two final clips that I think really illustrate this sea
change in the work ethic. One is from The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the other is from Jerry
Maguire. If you want to know everything about how the work ethic
has changed in America over the last 50 years, rent these two movies
and watch them back-to-back. You'll learn everything you need to
know. You don't have to read my book. You should buy
it, but you don't have to read it. They’re two eerily similar
The Man in the Gray
Flannel Suit is a fantastic movie from 1956. The protagonist is
a guy named Tom Rath. He has a job and he wants to get a better job,
one that pays $8,000 a year. He wears a gray flannel suit; he lives
in the martini, post-war suburbs of Connecticut; and he rides the
train in every morning. His friend hooks him up for a job interview
at this giant company called United Broadcasting Corporation. The
scene we're about to see is Tom's interview. He's asked to go into a
room and write about himself and, at the end of the essay, finish
the following line: The most important thing about me is _____. He
has an hour to do this, starting at 12:00. For the first 40 minutes
he paces around, he smokes, he has flashbacks. We pick up the scene
at 12:40. I want you to watch the scene carefully because I think
that it tells you a lot about the initial work ethic and how it's
about to change. By the way, for those of you under 30, that device
you see is called a typewriter.
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