The Change Agents: Decoding the New Work Force and Workplaceby Liz Nickles
What does it mean when decision making has speeded up beyond imagining? When life and work are fused rather than relegated to their own places and times? What about the impact of the serial career on industries built with the expectation that they were training employees for the long haul?
Based on unique research and interviews, The Change Agents is a/i>/p>
What does it mean when decision making has speeded up beyond imagining? When life and work are fused rather than relegated to their own places and times? What about the impact of the serial career on industries built with the expectation that they were training employees for the long haul?
Based on unique research and interviews, The Change Agents is a clear-eyed examination of what living in a wired world really means to organizational behavior and individual empowerment. The media has been full of stories of the dizzying ascents and fast falls of dot-commers over the last few years, but The Change Agents shows how the rest of the world -- from top CEOs to the guys in the mailroom -- is irrevocably affected by a paradigm shift as wrenching as the industrial revolution.
Nickles has identified a self-empowered group she labels "Change Agents" who are demanding more power in the workplace than previous generations were granted after years with a company - and they are getting it. The Change Agents shows how they do it and why it matters. Backed by exclusive statistical research and scores of personal interviews, Faster Forward is a revealing and significant look at the future for everyone who works today.
- St. Martin's Press
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1PASSING THE SWORDBlackBerries. We’ve got to get them their BlackBerries. Have the BlackBerries been ordered?” The mood in the New York conference room of one of the world’s largest financial institutions was tense. Over the speakerphone in the middle of the table, one of the senior officers, let’s call him Mr. Euro, sounded uncharacteristically anxious as he called in from France. Even in his absence, those around the table could imagine him at the moment: iconically dressed in suit, crisply impeccable button-down shirt, tie, and gold cuff links—in spite of the recent global edict for five-day-a-week”business casual.” Mr. Euro was one of the more conservative bastions of the old school. But, as was becoming clear in the meeting, even his stolid foundations were crumbling.The six people around the conference table leaned closer to the speakerphone, styluses poised at the screens of their Palm Pilots, ready to carry out Mr. Euro’s wishes. He wished for BlackBerries. Now.Mr. Euro was not talking about a field trip to the blackberry patch or a foray to the gourmet produce stand. The BlackBerry was, at the moment of this conversation in the spring of 2000, the newest, hippest, and most in-demand technology toy—a handheld, wireless device that allows access to and sending of e-mail from anywhere. Forget the archaic pager or the paleolithic cell phone. The BlackBerry had become the must-have business accessory, the Prada electronic of the backpack/briefcase set. As such, the younger associates had recently put in a demand for BlackBerries—among other things. However, this particular firm, being on the leading edge—or so they had thought—had actually anticipated this and had proactively initiated the process of harvesting BlackBerries for its employees even before this latest request had hit.One of the midlevel executives shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he addressed the speakerphone. “Um, we’ve got good news and bad news on that.” The good news was that the Tech department had gone on a quest to get the BlackBerries at a lower price, which it had achieved; the bad news was that this cost-consciousness had delayed the process a good month.Over the speakerphone, Mr. Euro’s voice tightened, although he did not raise it. He was a very polite man, more given to understatement. “Well, that is not good. We need to accelerate this process.” Styluses flew across tiny electronic tablets an ocean away. “Now they’re going to think we got the BlackBerries because they demanded them. We won’t get credit.”They being the young associates. We being the senior management of the firm.What’s not wrong but different about this picture?The executives sitting in the meeting exchanged glances. Everyone sitting there knew the answer: This was a pivotal moment, one of those instances when everything is about to change, when the bottom card is being pulled from the carefully constructed house.Even a year before, the young associates on Wall Street—or new, first-year hires at almost any traditional company, for as far back as anybody could remember—were the voiceless slave labor of the organization. They were invisible. They were learning, contributing, gaining necessary expertise and momentum, but they were also doing something that was, once upon a time, quaintly referred to as “paying their dues.”Remember the trainee? I can assure you the Baby Boomers do, because they spent the first quarter of their careers being one. They got the coffee. They answered the phones. They typed their fingerprints off. They canceled their vacations. They practically licked their bosses’ feet—and were lucky, if not always happy, to do it. Because they knew this was the way in, the first step in the long arc that would lead, say, forty years hence, to the gold watch, as it had for their fathers (and, in rare but heroic instances, mothers) before.I remember my first job at an advertising agency. I was a junior junior copywriter. After my first client lunch, I was soundly berated by my boss. I stared at him, bewildered: I had spoken intelligently about the account, been polite and knowledgeable —so why the scolding? As I was quickly to learn, it had to do with the food. The client had ordered dessert. Nobody else had ordered dessert, including me. Especially me. “It’s called ‘Eat the dessert!’” my boss said, exasperated—actually, he was yelling—the implication being that I should have known my place in the pecking order, which was the rock bottom. “If the client orders dessert, the junior member of the team—that being you—orders dessert too. And eats it!” Every Baby Boomer I have ever worked with has stories like this.Fast forward to the conference room in New York, where this firm, along with other firms on the Street, was trying to make sense of a paradigm shift that seemed to them to have dropped from the sky. The culture was traditionally one of the most selective, and most demanding, that a new graduate could join. Just one year before the BlackBerry meeting, the territory was familiar, expected, and reeked of the status quo. It was the world of three-piece suits and ties for men; dark-colored skirt suits, blouses, and heels for women. Today it was five-day-a-week business casual (to assist in the re-wardrobing, Banana Republic opened an in-office shop on one investment bank’s New York premises; the firm sent out the notice over the intranet). And, lurking around the corner, concierge service.For decades, the elite young financial recruits, the cream of the Harvards, Whartons, and Stanfords of the world, could look forward to hundred-hour workweeks crunching numbers, dredging research, and assembling pitch books and reports from behind the scenes. Their status within the firms, according to a junior analyst quoted in a front-page article in the New York Times, was a “general perception of inferior creatures.” This was, simply, the way it was. It was the price paid for a career path in financial services, for a shot at the megabonuses somewhere down the line. It was unimaginable that a junior staffer would confront, say, a Bruce Wasserstein or Henry Kravis with anything more bold than “Good morning, sir.”But in an instant, things were different. New hirees, strong in self-confidence if short on experience, were making demands. Yesterday’s self-termed slave labor force had wrested control of the tiller, and the captains of the ship were charting a new course.George Anders, senior editor and Silicon Valley bureau chief of Fast Company magazine, observed “more of a sense of ‘I’m here, I’m ready for responsibility. Let me go do it.’ I think, by and large, this is good. We don’t need a version of the old German apprentice system where at age thirty-six you were finally declared a master craftsman and you could begin doing whatever it was you wanted to do.”Upheaval at Salomon Smith Barney was also cited in the same piece in the New York Times. “The youngest workers are having their dues paid for them,” trumpeted the article, headlined “At a Wall Street Firm, Junior Voices Roar.” A twenty-three-year-old analyst had submitted a list of demands that detailed thirty-six ways the firm could retain their junior members (in addition to their $70,000-a-year salaries). The list included—in part—concierge service, videotape return service, free toothbrushes for business trips, stock perks, free gym memberships, better car service, and beds where the burned-out could relax at work. And BlackBerries.The sword had been passed. The question remained: Just who was in training for what?Instant entitlement has swept upon us like a tidal wave, in the turbulent wake of the Tech Babies, just one of a flurry of trends that is spawning a fundamental paradigm shift in how we work, live, love, and, even, exist in a world that is changing underfoot as we attempt to negotiate the shifting sands. In a speech to the Women of Silicon Valley Summit in April 2000, Hillary Clinton called the wiring of the country and its impact “as significant as electrifying the country in the 1930s.” Certainly few circumstances in history can compare with the impact of the Internet, and even those that can cannot claim the swiftness with which the Internet has been embraced. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, in 1996, 14 percent of Americans were online; in 2000, the number had surged to 44 percent. In 1998, the average person spent nine hours a month online. Two years later, the number was nineteen. The Strategis Group in Washington released statistics including the facts that in 2000, more than half of all U.S. adults were online; that daily home use of the Internet skyrocketed 50 percent from the previous year; and 57 million adults, or 28 percent of the American population, used the Internet from home every day. In the same year, the percentage of adults who shopped online more than doubled their spending, from $1.72 billion to $3.6 billion. And they’re getting plenty of early exposure. According to a Newsweek/Kaplan poll of parents with children in kindergarten through eighth grade in the fall of 2000, 75 percent of them had computers at home and 62 percent were connected to the Net. More than half of the children in grades K to 4 used computers at least a few times a week.OK, they use computers. Doesn’t almost everybody, certainly everybody in the business community? How does this entitle anybody to cut to the head of the line? The answer is, for this group it’s irrelevant, because there is no line. True, a lot of people are standing there, queued up like the line exists. But there is a whole group of people who are line phobic. You’re thinking a volatile stock market, job market, or economy is going to shake them to their senses? Think again. For the most part, it’s beyond the point to them, because they were born outside the line, they grew up outside the line, and that’s where they’re operating, even if they are starting at ground zero of the career trajectory.In every sea change, of every generation, there is an advance force of early adopters who set the tone for the mass movement that will follow. This time a new breed of early adopters—a mutation in the DNA—has tossed out a virtual stone, and the surrounding ripples are creating a new culture that is infusing every aspect of our lives until, one day, we will look up and recognize it, indelibly changed, as our own.It’s tempting to slap a ubiquitous “dot com” label on the swirl we see happening around us. Clearly, technology is chipping at the mortar of the once-unshakable pillars of our economic superstructures, and evolving new economies are increasingly renegotiating culture as we know it. But economy and culture are only part of the equation. In fact, the evidence behind this shift points to something more personal, a convergence of technology and attitude that is unique to this time and place.One of the greatest impacts of the Internet has been a new capacity to allow—and, in some cases, force—people to interact with each other in different ways. In any human interaction, attitude is the critical link; however, it is also the forgotten element. We live with the impact, but we ignore the human engine. The motivations behind behavior are the driving force of action, which in turn lead to reaction. Why are people acting and responding differently from how they used to? Or are they? And what does this mean? What it means to the economy is critical—but what does it mean to me? What can I expect, and how can I prepare myself to handle it?I was having lunch not long ago with Carl, a very intelligent and accomplished man I’ve known for two decades. He has led innumerable businesses to profitability, won many awards in his field, been president or CEO of several major companies, and currently holds a distinguished position at the top of a highly respected professional association, where he is responsible for the strategic overlay of an entire industry. But before the waiter could recite the specials, Carl began telling me about the new—versus—old economy culture clashes he was experiencing at his firm and his inability to get a grip on what he saw happening around him and where he fit in. We joked about a commercial that was running on TV, where a woman in her young twenties announces that after ten weeks on the job she’s ready for her seat on the board, and Carl rolled his eyes in confusion. “I just don’t get it,” he said.Carl is not alone.Even the most recent historical equivalent to the socioeconomic upheavals we are seeing today, the movement of women into the workforce, failed to produce the kind of instant impact, not to mention resonance, of the New Economy Change Agents. The comparison helps shed some light on the current scenario.For the past twenty years, researcher Laurie Ashcraft and I have tracked lifestyle trends and changes. Almost two decades ago, Nickles & Ashcraft, via the mail panel of Market Facts, fielded the first nationally projectable, in-depth survey to track women’s changing attitudes, motivations, and behaviors, called Update: Women. The implications have ranged from the explosion of the divorce rate to single parenthood to the advent of the Supermom to the “Martha Stewartization” phenomenon.The movement of women out of the home and into the workplace is one of the most significant socioeconomic shifts of the past century, but there are major differences between what happened in the women’s sector and what we are seeing evolve from the new economy, and these differences help underscore the uniqueness and impact of the issues we are experiencing today. For instance, it has taken women nearly twenty years to gain their current position in the workplace, which is still significantly below that of men, while the population of the new economy and an empowered young segment of men and women established an entrenched culture that managed to slice into the establishment in a matter of only a few years. Why is this the case?Although technology and other factors played a role in providing tools that enabled women to work more effectively outside the home, women’s migration into the workforce was an attitudinal revolution, spurred by empowering changes within women themselves. Entering the economic mainstream gave them a new socioeconomic status, but real financial motivation actually played a lesser role. In 1981 the Nickles & Ashcraft Update: Women Survey showed that while 46 percent of all women age twenty to fifty worked primarily for income, the rest were motivated by having an interesting job and seeking self-respect. And the power women acquired by entering the economic mainstream was neither fast enough nor great enough to impact the overall economy to the point where all Americans could see their power reflected in their personal stock portfolios. Although strides were made toward economic equality between the sexes, there was no great engine for the amassing of wealth when women hung up their aprons and got jobs in the late 1970s and 1980s; in fact, the job sectors populated by women tended to be traditionally underpaid arenas labeled “pink-collar ghettos,” which were a very long way from Silicon Valley. Partly as a result, women have still not completely broken through the glass ceiling. They have integrated, but not populated, the elite sectors of the economy. Women’s advances have been based on performance within a status quo, not its reinvention.In-depth questionnaires and interviewing of more than 5,000 women in our Update: Women surveys from 1979 to 1989 revealed little to no impact on their attitudes that could be traced to technology or any other outside force. In fact, in spite of the fact that it could be argued that technology produced the dishwashers, washing machines, telephones, cars, and countless other inventions that made daily life and, indeed, having a career, more feasible, none of these was an overnight innovation, and most had been in place since the birth of these women’s mothers if not grandmothers. There was no external force to help launch women into a more elevated career trajectory.Further, unlike those in the technology sector today, women had virtually no career-relevant role models to emulate or follow. In the 1980 Update: Women survey of 2,400 women, which allowed women to write in their selections, not a single respondent named a prominent executive or entrepreneur as her role model; almost universally, women’s role models were family members such as their mothers, with the exception of a few who named fantasy figures such as glamorous movie stars.The end of the twentieth century saw another kind of attitudinal shift that had not previously been seen. In 1999 Ashcraft and I partnered with Greenfield Online for the Gen Y2K study, a groundbreaking online survey of 2,000 young men and women age sixteen to twenty-four. This study revealed attitudes, motivations, and behaviors of an emerging empowered mind-set among younger people that has been playing out from the family room to the boardroom. Behind the data lay a complexity that was not apparent from surface observations.Instant entitlement can be traced to a powerful cocktail of factors: • The impact of socioeconomic speedup• The enablement of a wired world• The in-your-face sensibility of a new, empowered attitude• The amassing of wealth in the sector• The lionization of the cultureThe Gen Y2K Study revealed that younger men and women are vastly more ambitious than their older counterparts. Roughly 64 percent of the sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds in the survey revealed that their goals in life are “quite ambitious”—compared to one-third of Baby Boomers. A third of the male teens believe they could run a company tomorrow. Fifty-three percent of the male teens age sixteen to nineteen and 65 percent of female teens set long-term goals for themselves.This is not just attributable to the generalization that younger people, no matter what their generation, have a more go-get ’em attitude. In fact, Baby Boomer women, as they age, appear to have less ambition than their generational counterparts of the two most recent decades. For instance, in the last twenty years, Ashcraft and I have seen the percentage of twenty- to twenty-four-year-old women who say they have ambitious plans move up 11 percent, while the number of women age thirty-five to fifty who claim to have high goals has declined 16 percent.Unlike the empowerment mind-set shift that occurred among women in the 1980s, which was largely attributable to the snowball effect of acquiring new earning power in the economic mainstream, sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds are not being emboldened primarily by the fact of earning their own income. They have an ingrained attitude that has become a part of their DNA. They walk into the workplace with that attitude, because they had it before they walked in.Donny Deutsch, chairman of Deutsch, Inc. and iDeutsch, advertising and communications companies, has experienced the impact firsthand. Not so very long ago, Deutsch, now in his early forties, was one of the so-called young Turks of the advertising world, and he has had the professional temerity and expertise to advise everyone from the president of the United States to Puff Daddy. “The entitlement thing is fascinating,” says Deutsch, shaking his head. “And I have seen it. I can sum it up in an anecdote.“We have one area of the office which is a kind of pit or open area where there are maybe twenty young people sitting—they all happen to do a job where they are all in their early twenties. A couple of times a year, I will go into this area, so I walk in not long ago, and I say, ‘Hey, how’s everybody doing?’ and, you know, out of the twenty people, maybe fifteen kind of quickly hang up the phone and turn to the big boss, or whatnot. And I happen to see that there is one young woman still on the phone. I come up to her, face her, and I say—kidding around, ‘Hey, that must be a really important call—who are you on the phone with?’ It was a kind of ‘Why don’t you hang up—after all, the big boss is here?’ Finally she hangs up the phone, and I say, ‘That must have been an important client.’ And she says, ‘Well, no, actually, it was a friend of mine.’”Deutsch shrugs. “Now, if you think back twenty years ago, and you are a junior person and the head of the company walks in, you would stand up, you’d salute. I am not somebody who is ceremonious”—there are scooters and the occasional dog in the polished concrete halls at Deutsch—“but the fact is that she not only didn’t do that, but she was so comfortable saying ‘Oh, this is a friend on the phone.’ I don’t want to say this is a lack of regard for authority. It’s not. It’s this entitlement thing. This is ‘I have a great job here, but I can get another one tomorrow, and I can probably get more money.’“And, you know, everybody believes that at a very young age they should be making millions and they are the future. They’ve all read about the millionaire that just did their IPO. I think in the next couple of years, this is going to change a bit, for obvious reasons. But certainly these last few years, there is this sense of not only entitlement but lack of the feeling that you have to work your way up, or of the things that have fundamentally been driving young people in this business and country for two hundred years. It has just completely changed.”That opinion is ubiquitous, because the attitude is. Across the country from Deutsch, Valerie Frederickson, president of Valerie Frederickson & Company, a human resource, career management, and executive search firm in Menlo Park whose clients include Intuit, Philips, and Silicon Valley Bank, tells a similar story. One of Frederickson’s staff members, a few years her junior, got a call on her cell phone during an important marketing meeting at 5:30 P.M. The woman took the call and left, explaining that she had to go, because friends were waiting for her at a bar. “I was actually more upset with her for taking a cell phone call in the middle of the meeting than for leaving to go to the bar,” says Frederickson, a Gen Xer who is sometimes taken aback by those even a few years younger than she, although, she says, she understands where they are coming from because she is on the cusp and sees both sides. “I myself didn’t come into work today until 10 A.M. because I was upset about something and didn’t want to come in to work, so I called my office manager and said I wasn’t coming in till ten.”In explaining the issue of instant entitlement, Frederickson adds, “We were the first generation to be raised by parents who were off busy, doing other things. They didn’t spend so much time with us, they were off doing other stuff. They were also able to buy us more stuff because moms were working, too—there was more disposable income. And there was just more stuff to buy. We grew up in the era of inexpensive Japanese electronics, and so from the time when we were little kids, we were used to using technology and were the first generation to have it as kids. We’re not intimidated by it, and we have this sort of droit de seigneur attitude toward it, where we have the right to have it all.”Companies are addressing this by stepping up to the plate like never before. The kinds of perks that were being offered to the in-demand members of the Internet space—many of them first- or second-time job holders—certainly paled alongside the traditional “packages” of health insurance and two weeks’ paid vacation. Companies have found that retirement packages do not make a big impression with this crowd, because they can’t imagine themselves sticking around until retirement age. Here are a few of the perks and quirks that were glittering on the dot com landscape—even in a downturned technology market: a $700 Aeron chair, the type formerly reserved for the executive suite, for every new hiree; a two-day, all expenses—paid corporate “Winterfest” at Lake Placid for employees and their families; on-site yoga classes; “theme” parties and nights, such as a regular, weekly barbecue, Mexican, or Italian night—or a corporate scavenger hunt with ten teams of six, each team scavengering Manhattan in its own limo, winner announced at a chic restaurant with the tab, of course, picked up by the company. “We have a morale budget,” explained one executive.“I know people who are under the age of twenty-seven who are commanding salaries of $100,000 and more,” said Frederickson, “and I know thirty-one-year-olds who are now getting a quarter of a million dollars in just straight salary. For perks, you see cars, you see four-year interest-free home loans—and, you know, out here in Menlo Park, a small home can be a million or two—you see large amounts of vacation, companies paying for vacations, nice offices.” Frederickson provides her own employees with perks that include paid vacations, makeup lessons, and the services of a personal shopper. “When an employee starts with us, they expect automatically that they’re going to get absolutely top dollar, they’re going to have the latest technology, a beautiful office, their opinions are going to count just as much as my opinion, and they don’t take no for an answer,” says Frederickson. “They just expect that there will be a full kitchen; paid-for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and, if necessary, the plant person from the office will go to their home and water their plants. They know that they can get another job immediately, and they’re just not worried about it.”But when faced with a downtrending market that has the sawiest economists on alert?“They’re still not worried about it. They know that they can walk into just about anywhere and present a good-value proposition for them to be working there, and they’ll be hired immediately.”The attitude is pervasive and has moved beyond the Internet space. For instance, in the legal area, Web sites such as Greedyassociates.com, a site for law associates, have sprung up so that entry-level lawyers can make sure they are up to the minute with the salary and benefits status quo; for the more analog, bonus figures can be checked out in industry publications, including the New York Law Journal. Bonuses, which swelled during the period of the raging market, remain higher than ever, even in the face of economic volatility, because the market for talent remains fiercely competitive; in New York at the close of the year 2000, the “package” for first-year lawyers averaged an all-time high of $165,000.As Donny Deutsch sees it, the media plays a major role in the advent of creating and sustaining instant entitlement. “These are kids who grew up of the media age, and it is what they saw all around them, on TV and in the news. It is what gets written about because it is sexy and it is exciting. Unfortunately, the media has created this illusion that, yes, it can happen to you at age twenty-five, and it does happen all the time, because this is what you read about every day—the twenty-one-year-olds and twenty-four-year-olds making on paper $20 million, or even $100 million, so this kind of attitude goes, of ‘Why not me?’ and ‘It is only going to take me a few years to get there—I just need to have the right idea, or know the right VC guy, and it is really easy to do. I mean, why not? I look at this guy from college and, you know, they liked basketball so they came up with this idea to watch it; it turns into Broadcast.com and they made a billion dollars and they went out and bought a basketball team.’ And that is entitlement—or a false sense of it.”On the other hand, Deutsch notes, the attitude can be empowering, which in itself can become the edge that breaks the barriers. “Sometimes people sweat and bleed and don’t have that sense of entitlement,” he says. “And I find that is always a difference between supersuccessful people and people who don’t quite get there, whatever their definition of success is.”Ray Gaulke, president of the Public Relations Society of America, feels that the loss of the mentoring system is one reason for this wave of instant entitlement. Gaulke has seen the entitlement story evolve from inside a system that he feels used to sponsor interdependence but now fosters the opposite scenario. “There’s a big difference,” Gaulke says. “Twenty-five years ago, there was a mentoring system. When you did something at work, there was always somebody who knew more than you who was available to look at what you did, review it, take the time to help you perfect it. There was a pursuit of excellence and a track to get there. Now everybody is self-mentored.”The Internet is a world that promotes the no-mentors mentality precisely because the culture is too green to have produced the necessary depth of seniority. It is also a world in which the junior people actually have more expertise than the seniors. In spite of the enormous advances of the past ten years, almost everyone in the field is learning as they go, and with every advance or fluctuation in technology, the paradigm shifts again. The knowledge base and the culture carriers are constantly being revised, if not reinvented. As the head of marketing for one dot com noted, “So much is changing so quickly. Everyone’s using different tactics, techniques, and philosophies. There are no standards. The chic business model changes every quarter.”Carley Roney, cofounder of TheKnot.com, is proof of the point. “When we started, the Internet was just so new, there were no companies to look at for examples or models. And that was exciting, this whole thing of having to make it up as you went along. There were not any rules that you were going to break, there were only rules that you were making. And we had to create it from scratch. And that was interesting.“Who were my mentors? Well, there were no mentors for this because there were no people who knew how to do it, so we were sort of all on our own. We did have people we got advice from now and then, financial people and advertising people, things like that. But in terms of what we were actually doing, I think we were people who liked the idea that we were doing it on our own and liked the idea that we would have to be relied on for our own—for lack of a better word—genius. Not that we are geniuses, but you would have to be relied on to come up with the answers to the questions. It was just you.”“Now you have got the sort of electronic media where there are no filters,” Ray Gaulke says. “Nothing to slow you down or make you think twice. People are self-managing themselves and self-filtering. I think the thing about speed is that it has become more important than content. Education has played a role in this, technology played a role, self-empowerment played a role—it all contributes to what is this generation.”And what is this generation? Statistics prove Gaulke is on the right track when he says they’re not being mentored. Most likely, not only do they not miss it—they wouldn’t sit still for it. Unlike their predecessors, today’s sixteen-to-thirty-four-year-olds feel ready and able to run a business now. According to the Gen Y2K Study, one-fourth of sixteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds, for instance, believe they could run a company tomorrow. This group is, in fact, almost twice as ambitious as thirty-fiveto-fifty-year-olds. This is not simply a natural function of that life stage. Nickles and Ashcraft’s comparable research among the younger age segment of women even ten years ago, for example, did not show this keen ambition level. Add to that the fact that young people’s motivations are now, more than ever, validated by reality: In the dot com community, twenty-somethings saw their counterparts become millionaires overnight. They want their piece of the pie, and it starts young: Almost two-thirds of online teens say they play to win in a competitive situation.Need convincing that these kids could leave tire tracks on a Baby Boomer’s forehead on their way to the foosball table? Forty-three percent of the sixteen-to-nineteen-year-olds said they are under so much pressure that they feel they could explode. Sixty-one percent of boys and 41 percent of girls said they would use a gun if they “had to”—leaving one to wonder exactly what those compelling circumstances might be.Clearly, these figures do not indicate a group of young people who will sit at their desks, hands folded in their laps, awaiting their turn.The other shoe is bound to drop. “The reality is,” says Donny Deutsch, “that all these young people who have made their millions and millions are still such an infinitesimal fraction. There is this false sense of entitlement that has been created for people to strive and reach for. These people you read about, they are the rock stars of the new millennium. And just like there are only a handful of rock and roll wannabes that make it, there are many, many people who are playing music in their garage and waiting tables. The difference being that young people aspiring to be a rock-and-roll star always knew it was a onein-a-million shot, so there was never that sense of entitlement in a twenty-three-year-old starting a rock band, because there are only so many Rolling Stones. The irony is that there is this misperception today that it is so easily attainable. I can’t tell you the number of people—not just young people, even people who actually understand the business fundamentals—who come to me with business plans that are so half baked: ‘Yeah, we will raise our first $60 million here, our next $100 million there.’ And you know this is the Emperor’s New Clothes. People just played the same absurd Ponzi game that everybody else is playing. And were kind of blind to it.”The fluctuations of the market serve as a built-in governing device to some extent, but even after the market correction of April 2000, the sense of entitlement did not abate. The explanation was simple: Since this empowered attitude existed before the New Economy wave crested, it should not be surprising that it did not wash away when the market valuation tide receded. This mind-set is the key factor. Instead of causing a retreat to the former status quo, a falling back into “line,” a return to the days when, as one New Yorker cartoon caption put it, “a CEO looked like a CEO,” there has simply been an evolution of the paradigm’s reinvention. Market corrections, consolidations of the technology sector, untenable burn rates, crunched funding for IPOs, the winnowing of the dot com community—all are leading to the survival of the fittest, a scenario for which the no-prisoners’ Millennials are particularly well suited.Six months after we first talked, one survivor whose e-company had gone through market correction contortions and bloodbaths—but was still standing—told me, “Since I talked to you last, we’ve had two waves of layoffs, and we fired the general manager, the old director, and the director’s staff. We now have much more a spirit of team-building.”Do you need to ask whose team?The instantly entitled who are fast-forwarding through their careers are on a collision course. Dead ahead: the Baby Boomers, that 1960s generation that thought their reign would go on forever, for whom retirement was a dirty word, who initially saw the younger generation as a bunch of nonthreatening “slackers.” Well, slackers no more. What we have is an entire generation that is gunning for the Boomers’ jobs and is not willing to spend a couple dozen years waiting in the wings. A clash is on the horizon. And it would be a misconception to think that they simply want the Boomers’ jobs. They don’t. They want to deconstruct those jobs and put them back together on their own terms. BlackBerries and concierge service may stave off the tidal wave momentarily, but they are just a finger in the dike.There’s fallout in our future. Inevitable? Maybe. But possibly, if we have some insight into what’s happening, we won’t be caught by surprise, and, perhaps, we’ll be able to muster some mutual understanding and constructive solutions. The Baby Boomer who insists that the economy will swing back and cause a reversion to the old status quo is wearing a blindfold. Not about the economy—but about the kind of people they are dealing with.The e-generation. Gen N. Gen Y3K. Wireds. There’s a market basket of nomenclature out there. Whatever you call them, they are the new order that is confronting and changing the world as we have known it. Collectively, they have one thing in common, and it’s more about the DNA than the resume. They are the Change Agents, and if these Change Agents are hard to harness with a “handle,” there’s a reason. We are used to generational nomenclature linked to demographics: Baby Boomers. Gen Xers. Yuppies. Guppies. But this group is different. Undeniably, many of them are young, in their teens, twenties, or thirties, but that span of ages alone should tell us something—this is a psychographic group, an affinity tribe, brought and bonded together by attitude and lifestyle rather than age. Their relationship with technology has been symbiotic: It’s both the reason and the catalyst.Change Agents are a lifestyle segment. This cutting-edge, trend-setting group is using the new wave of technology and the attendant economic power it has driven as a catapult to incite major socioeconomic shifts, in much the way that Boomers in the 1960s bonded around the issues of love, peace, and youth culture. This book, however, is not about technology or the economy. It is about the Change Agents and how they are not just adopting but in a symbiotic relationship with technology, and how their responses are exacting an entirely new set of rules to work and live by in uncharted terrain, where speed and uncertainty are perhaps the only common denominators.Jack Sansolo, former executive vice president of Global Brand Direction at Eddie Bauer in Seattle, a person who has introduced a few things himself (as president of a major ad agency, he introduced the Infiniti car to America), sees the Change Agent as a more empowered version of the classic early adopter. “Certainly early adopters are Change Agents, in the fact that we look to these people to change the general trends and whatever,” he says. “I believe that these particular people are different from early adopters of other kinds of things in the past. I believe that these people we are seeing today are really advocates and proselytizers for the technology. And that is different from simply adopting something, being the first on the block, and because you are the first, you are the prom queen and everybody copies you. But in this case, the prom queen is going out and proselytizing and saying ‘You know what? This is a better way to live. This is a better way to get information, a better way to shop, a better way to do your job, a better way to form your community.’ And in that sense, I think they really are Change Agents, more than any other early adopters. I think that has made a huge difference. The media was sucked in right from the beginning, and that worked hand in hand with all this proselytizing. And so the early adopters were absolutely in this case massive Change Agents in record time.”Every generation or period in time has its Change Agent population. Once upon a time, they were the guys who picked up rocks to start fires when others were just throwing the rocks. Today’s Change Agents actually have more than a little in common with the fire-starters, because they are inextricably linked to something that cannot help but impact every other segment of the society in which they exist. Because of this, these Change Agents have taken us off guard. And before we saw them as anything but an oddity, a bunch of geeky kids out there doing God knew what, they had permeated our way of life. And changed it.“There is all kinds of data about introductions of new technologies over the years,” says Sansolo, “and the adoption curve of the Internet is a fraction of what anything else was. And I think that is because these early adopters were Change Agents.”What does it take to be a Change Agent? Look around you. You may see a fifteen-year-old in your den who qualifies, or a forty-year-old veteran of the traditional economy who finds himself on the front porch of a sheep farm with a headset and a laptop. You will see a parallel universe, sharing our space on the planet while operating under a quite different set of standards and practices.As Caryn Marooney, thirty-two-year-old partner in OutCast Communications, a San Francisco public relations firm specializing in high-tech clients, puts it, “This whole world is unlike any other. You have to be able to walk a wire without a net, to feel your way in a fog and just keep moving forward. Everyone feels like they are in the middle of a gold rush, and we are willing to change and even give up our lives for our belief in what we are doing. Fundamental shifts are happening very quickly. The lifestyle is fast, opportunistic—and empowered.”Esther Drill, thirty and cofounder of gURL.com, the most popular interactive Web site for teen girls (800,000 unique users a month), builds on the thought: “This lifestyle is young, vibrant, and exciting. There’s a sense of being connected with others like yourself, being wired. And being wired is about faster motion, faster thinking, faster moving, being quicker, more flexible. New solutions to new things. It’s a constantly evolving model. It’s a faster pace. You expect things to happen more quickly. When people don’t keep up, you think, ‘What’s wrong with them?’”Abbi Gosling, twenty-six, a founding partner and creative director of Agile Industries, a New York Internet advertising firm, notes, “The Internet is the industry that happened to have saved my generation from obscurity.” She’s in her company’s Soho loft, dressed in casual pants, baggy sweater, and work boots. “We were ‘slackers,’ and suddenly the Internet came along, and we were millionaires! It gave us something to do that was ours, that we could get into and work really hard—I work fourteen-hour days—but it was something Boomers didn’t have. It was not of our parents’ generation; in fact, they didn’t even get it. Then, for goodness sake, we made money at it.”Yes, there is a digital divide. Some of us are on one side of that line in the sand, ordering groceries over the Net, courting via instant messaging and image downloading, working 24/7 from virtual offices, turning our babies over to teachers with tongue studs. Others of us are still trying to figure out how to program our VCRs and wondering what the hell is going on. Most of us are the new unholy equation—X parts old economy over X parts new economy. Arguably all of us are struggling to put it all together, because one thing’s for sure: The smooth surface we skated over for so long has been shattered forever. The Change Agents are incubating an entirely new culture where it’s not just fast forward, it’s faster forward. And, damn the market fluctuations, they’re not going back.Whether we are consciously aware or not, we are all living in an incubator, where seeds of a lifestyle shift we can only begin to imagine are germinating in the virtual hothouse. But how can we tell what indicators are real? Is it possible to see the future, to read the map of a road not yet graded?Actually, you don’t need a crystal ball. The key is the Change Agents themselves. They are a mutation of a group of the early adopters, which are the vanguard, the first to try new things, to go not against but ahead of the flow, to forge new territory. Early adopters reside in every segment and geography of every society, every age and socioeconomic bracket. We all know them, we met them young. When he was six, my son had a junior early adopter in his class: Michael was the first kid to collect Pogs, and he talked the Pog gospel; soon every boy in the class collected Pogs. Michael moved on to making lanyards; soon the entire class wanted to try it. Next came yo-yos, then finger skateboards and sports card collecting. As they get older, early adopters are the first kids on the block to know about the hot new bands. They are the first triers of cutting-edge technology. Sociologists segment the early adopters by polling them on attributes that have been identified as keys to the prototype. To find out if you are an early adopter, quiz yourself with these questions, which are similar to those used by marketers to segment people psychographically: • Do people come to you for advice on new products?• Do you like to buy new things, even if they’re not proven?• Do you belong to more than two social groups (clubs, church, book discussion groups, sports, etc.)?• Do you generally like new ideas?• Are you flexible in your daily life?• Are you comfortable giving opinions to others? • Do you feel you have more friends than the average person?If you answered “yes” to five or more of these questions, you qualify as an early adopter.How do we know the impact of early adopters? There has been plenty of precedent in the research community, but Ashcraft and I have documented it firsthand. Thousands of people participating in Nickles & Ashcraft research studies have been asked these same questions over the course of the past eighteen years. Invariably, those who were classified as early adopters held opinions or exhibited behaviors and attitudes that led their peers by a range of eighteen months to two years. Where they lead, others follow. For instance, when we began a twenty-year tracking study of women’s attitudes in the early 1980s, we identified an attitudinal subsegment of women early adopters that we termed the Pacesetters. These women were highly ambitious, career-motivated, and much more likely to be divorced or in a crumbling relationship. Like the Change Agents of the New Economy, these Pacesetters were highly vocal and visible proselytizers of their lifestyle; however, in this case, their segment was much smaller than the population of women in general at the time, and, as such, their potential impact tended to be discounted. In addition, the potential social consequences the Pacesetters brought along with them were so unsettling and unpopular at the time that people wanted to discount them. When the data came in from all 1,885 women in the study, there were statistical bellwethers that the larger population was following the pattern that had been established by the Pacesetters—albeit at that time in smaller numbers. As a result, we predicted, for instance, that based on the propensity of Pacesetters to divorce, the overall divorce rate would accelerate dramatically within the next few years. This was a highly unpopular prediction among traditionalists, and one that was actually derided at the time in the media—as we have found unpopular observations often are. The fact was that within five years, the divorce rate soared to nearly 50 percent, and many of the attendant predictions and projections hinted at by the attitudes and behaviors of the Pacesetters of the early 1980s became realities within the decade.The Internet, with its capability of adding a supercharging, speeded-up level of overdrive and its massive economic impact, has provided a new force that has taken the early adopter paradigm and spun it into hypergear, creating another subgroup that I call the Change Agents. They have much in common with traditional early adopters, but by growing up in a wired world, they have imbued themselves with the characteristics of the medium: speed, intensity, reinvention.The Change Agents are true mutants, a kind of ultracharged superspecies, like those power strains of sea kelp that scientists say may someday nurture the world. But they are also the watertesters, the temperature-takers for the rest of us—in hyperdrive. We watch, while they surge at warp speed over the chasm to—what?—on the other side. And, when they make it, we’re right behind them. Maybe a few paces back, but there.THE CHANGE AGENTS: DECODING THE NEW WORKFORCE AND THE NEW WORKPLACE. Copyright © 2001 by Liz Nickles. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Meet the Author
Liz Nickles is a nationally recognized expert in strategic marketing and brand development. Her research firm, Nickles&Ashcraft, pioneered the assumptions about women in the workplace and teens in the twenty-first century. She is currently director of branding, marketing and advertising at Credit Suisse First Boston. She lives in Westchester County, NY with her husband and son.
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