Creative Destruction


Posted on June 5, 2009 by Blake Leath

Like ants in a mound, we all sense the vibrations of impending change.

In particular, I am feeling in my bones, perhaps for the first time ever, bona fide (sorry for the pun) traction in the Green Movement. Similarly, I also sense the early tremors of a tectonic shift in Workplace Expectations in smaller, more nimble organizations.

The minority of "crackpots" are now becoming the mainstream, and with them... the trains are beginning to steam-up, rumble, and leave their respective stations. The 'get on board' or 'get left behind' decision-point is now becoming less theoretical and more tangible.

On the topic of the green movement, the media is dripping with books like The World Without Us, The Earth After Us, and The Last Human and 'thought-experiment-documentaries' like Life After People are springing up through the cracks of every sidewalk. Long overdue regulatory emissions and fuel economy standards have just passed, and now more and more grocery stores are charging a tax for consumers who use paper or plastic sacks at checkout. (Even Michael Moore has joined the proverbial greenpeace parade, with his latest entreaty on what should be created in the wake of GM's bankruptcy.  GoodbyeGM,MichaelMoore.pdf (15.29 kb))

On the topic of shifting workplace expectations, there is a trove of research -- two decades old now -- that has tracked and highlighted and forecasted all the varying expectations between 'generations' in the workplace. Given the recession and an average 40% loss in wealth among those with retirement plans, the 'social contract' between employees and employers is under assault and will result in a renegotiation of what truly matters.

I am running into more and more people, often in their sixties and seventies, who spent some fifty years away from their families to create a nest egg which barely remains. "Why?" is pretty much all they can ask. The 'deal' they made with the devil was a house of cards and, as the economy melts down, much of their 'earthly treasure' has become tragically diluted.

For all the parents who worked tirelessly, barely seeing their spouse or children in the mornings or evenings or on weekends, "why?" indeed. The then-logical, selfless, and sacrificial decision by these millions to create income as a means to secure financial and familial stability has been wholly undermined by a few reckless risk-takers in the most opulent buildings in NYC.

As a result of coming to terms with 'the casino sets the rules,' more and more employees are accepting that 'the house always wins.' And so, as Wall Street lands on featherbeds of bailout dollars and safety nets while Main Street shutters its windows and closes too many doors, individuals are taking stock and starting to reclaim what they can -- their lives -- for the benefit of their families and the sake of their own sanity.

I witnessed it just last night on Charlie Rose as he interviewed Claire Shipman and Katty Kay about their new book, Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success. In it, many startling admissions that, hitherto, would have been blasphemous. But in the harsh sunlight of 2009, many people will say, "Of course." Read it and decide for yourself, but I predict it will be one of a raft of such books to follow in coming months. Books about owning reality, speaking truth, and reclaiming one's life on her or his own terms.

I am also hearing and reading more and more about such things as ROWE, Results-Only Work Environment as espoused by CultureRx and embraced by clients like BestBuy. This is a trend I have seen coming for years, and it goes hand-in-hand with expectations held by many Generation X-ers, Y-ers, and Millennials (20-somethings). Few within these generations will agree to be chained to a desk, tracked or monitored to within an inch of their life, or to serve as a cog within a large, cold machine. Most of them will commit to accomplish results and be accountable, but not in exchange for balance, community, or altruism. And most of them studied George Orwell's 1984 as required reading somewhere in high school. 

With all implosions and explosions, there is debris and fallout. And following forest fires, be they accidental or prescribed, there is regeneration and new life. New growth is the 'creative' that follows 'destruction.' What will the Recession of 2009+ yield? Only time will tell, but if the hairs on my arm are any indication, Bob Dylan's line was spot-on: the answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. People are questioning. 

As is the case every hundred years or so, this will likely prove to be a season, nothing more. In time, the pendulum has a tendency to swing back.

But it is also possible that rather than a Season, we are dealing with a Genie or Pandora. And they, once out of the bottle, lamp, or box, prefer to stay out.

Either way, I'm sure the questions and changes are welcome. The way we worked throughout the Industrial Revolution is neither sustainable nor compatible with what is coming. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with new and fervent questions come better answers. And this, in the words of the "venerable" Martha Stewart, is a good thing. 

"The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them."

                                                                                                - Albert Einstein