Tip from Gen Y

Business Week posted an open call for reader feedback on various workplace issues, including generational issues. Someone identified only as  “Gen Y Guy” chimed in to explain that Gen X workers don’t understand how members of his generation have “been BOMBARDED by information since the beginning.”

Thanks to the Internet, ya know.

Then this:

It’s really interesting to hear all you Gen Xers complain about Corporate America. That is probably why the Gen Y people hate working for you. If you’re not happy, go do something else, period. Leave your management job and make a little bit less doing something you want to do. It’s a free market, and you have to think like the billionaires of the world controlling your company and know that you’re a piece of labor to the hedge funds and they’re not looking out for you and your family.


Change the image, or change the business?

The other day, Time writer Justin Fox (a colleague of mine at Fortune, once upon a time) had a piece titled “How To Succeed? Make Employees Happy.” It focuses on Whole Foods and The Container Store, which “pay better than most retailers, offer good benefits and entrust workers at all levels with sensitive financial data. The idea is that happy, empowered employees beget happy customers.” (Somewhat related note: July 30, 2006 Consumed on Wawa, the convenience store chain whose success is partly attributed to treating employees well.)

Maybe these companies are exceptions, but I think there’s some value in at least considering the idea that Fox is writing about. And also about the broader idea underneath it, which is one I’ve thought about a lot lately as I’ve been out and about talking to some manager-and-executive-type people about Buying In. That broader issue is that I think a lot of companies that sense the need for a change are way more focused on changing their image (via marketing) than in changing their business practices.

Recently I answered questions from readers of The Alpha Consumer, a blog associated with U.S. News & World Report, in connection with Buying In (which was picked as the first selection of the Alpha Consumer Book Club). Part one is here, and part two is here.

In relation to the above, I wanted to bring up one of the questions (and answers) here. The answer is a little long so I’ll leave it up to you if you want to follow on after the jump.

From Meg Marco of the Consumerist.com: As you point out in your book, consumers often join their identities and even sense of self with brands (such as with Apple). When consumers reach out with complaints to companies whose brands they’ve incorporated into their sense of self, they’re operating in a state of emotional pain. When a brand fails them, they seem to feel as if they’ve failed, too. What effect do you think this level of emotional participation has on a company’s customer service responsibilities? If companies are adept at selling “ideas about products,” do they need to work hard to maintain that special feeling once the honeymoon is over? Or has all the hard work been done?

This is a great question—and one I wish I would get more often from, say, marketers and business owners. Read more

Murakami on writing, business, and the one-in-ten rule

There was a great Haruki Murakami essay in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, but it’s not online, so it’s taken me until now to find the time to type up the passage I liked the best.

Basically Murakami writes about how for a while he owned a jazz club, then at about age 29 decided out of the blue to write a novel. When he transitioned to the writing life full-time, it meant he had to lose some friends because of the way his lifestyle changed.

But at that point, I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person but with an unspecified number of readers. My readers would welcome whatever life style I chose, as long as I made sure that each new work was an improvement over the last. And shouldn’t that be my duty — and my top priority — as a novelist?

I liked that a lot. And I have a feeling you could just substitute the word “customers” or “clients” for “readers” and this passage work for all kinds of people.

But I thought this, which followed soon after, was even better:

Even when I ran the club, I understood [that you can’t please everybody]. A lot of customers came to the club. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and decided to come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it another way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten people didn’t like the club.

Realizing this lifted a weight of my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to do that, I had make my philosophy absolutely clear, and patiently maintain that philosophy no matter what. This is what I learned from running a business.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The tricky party is the “really liked it” part.

Writing, of course, is a business. (At least for someone like me; maybe it’s differnt for a novelist.) It’s more of a business than it was when I started, actually. And it will get more that way in the future.

Like everybody else, I’m thinking about how I’ll ultimately survive in my business, which happens to be writing.

Am I doing what Murakami suggests needs to be done? I’m not always sure I am.

It’s a question that probably applies in every business.

It’s something to think about.

Murketing’s Sponsored Film Virtual Festival: “The Home Economics Story”

The Home Economics Story, Parts One and Two

“What is home economics?” this film from 1951 asks. The answer that is given: It’s partly about mastering “the equipment in a home.” It’s about physics being taught in a way “girls” would like: using kitchen appliances; indeed iIt’s about digging the fact that “Cooking is practically applied chemistry.” And so on.

Here, in other words, we have what looks like a straight-up sexist relic of a past best buried. And of course, that’s what it is — in part.

But first of all, the past is rarely best left buried. By that I don’t mean it should be returned to, but it ought to be known, and known as honestly as possible. These sponsored films may not seem like the ideal place for honesty, but usually, if you look closely, and think about what you’re seeing, things are a little more complicated than they appear. Read more

In The New York Times Magazine: Despair.com

How satirizing corporate doublespeak gets a promotion in a time of layoffs.

Despair Inc. It sells scores of posters satirizing the banalities of the motivation industry. The business first became Internet famous a decade ago, but has proved remarkably durable, with sales climbing to around $4.5 million last year.

And possibly its worldview is resonating in a lot of cubicles and offices just about now: the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently calculated that U.S. employers cut 80,000 jobs in March. Meanwhile, Despair’s sales are up about 15 percent this year. “We do see some people are buying because things are getting bad,” says Justin Sewell, a co-founder of Despair. “They’re Googling things like ‘despair’ or ‘failure,’ and we’re popping up.”

Read the column in the April 27, 2008 issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

Murketing’s Sponsored Film Virtual Festival: Why Braceros?


[ –> Details on Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival are here.]

This 19-minute film, “Why Braceros?,” was produced in around 1959 on behalf of the Council of California Growers. It aims to tell viewers about “the benefits of the bracero program,” The Field Guide to Sponsored Films explains, “originally initiated by the United States in 1942 to alleviate the World War II labor shortage.” This was a “guest worker” program that made it okay for Mexican labor to be brought in seasonally to work on cotton farms and other manual jobs (“stoop labor,” it’s called in the films).

Anyway, the film carefully explains that these are really bad jobs, so they’re hard to fill. The issues are familiar: Even in the pre-Lou Dobbs era, people were angry that these supposedly job-threatening outsiders are allowed. Read more

Motivation, reconsidered


Were I ever to organize an exhibition of stealth iconography in American life, I would be sure to include that poster of a kitten clinging to a tree: “Hang In There.” You’ve seen it.

I think it’s fair to count such posters as an example of the “motivational” genre. You’ve seen other examples of that, too. Posters exhorting you, basically, to do a better job, in settings as diverse as cubicle farms and the factory floor. These are the kinds of posters we are so used to seeing that we no longer see them.

Which makes it a form ripe for re-visiting.

One re-visitation strategy is the parody. Just the other day I was reminded of Demotivators, a line of posters and products by Despair.com, “Increasing Success By Lowering Expectations.” It’s funny stuff. I wonder if an endless recession-speculation newsloop helps their business? I would think so.

Another strategy that’s popular in many categories is basically: update, modernize, reinvent in a way that’s more in-line with today’s taste standards. Given that motivational posters are among the most vapid forms of communication ever devised, I assumed that this approach simply could not apply here. However, these Alternative Motivational Posters (encountered this weekend via Ffffound) have proved me wrong. Some of them actually look pretty nice.

Will I be buying any? Well, I only have one employee, and I know he’s way too much of a malcontent to reach with this sort of thing, because he’s me.

Why Dilbert doesn’t vote

An article in the Boston Globe looks at a “provocative study” suggesting that “enlightened management philosophies can spread from the office — and change societies.”

The data sound a bit tenuous, but the upshot is an argument that “empowered” employees  may be more prone to civic engagement, and thus in building a better society and culture, etc.

Maybe so. What really interested me was a bit toward the end, when it’s noted that there’s no guarantee that companies, even profitable ones, will empower employees. (One might add that this is a particularly important point given the various waves of layoffs and outsourcing, etc., as well as the ongoing shift to less-than-empowering service sector jobs in recent years.)

A snippet:

Empowerment at work may lead to engagement in society, but employees who feel that their company pays mere lip service to participatory management are likely to become cynical about participation in civic life as well. In large corporations, where participatory management may be no more than a flurry of buzzwords and employee participation is diluted due to the sheer size of the company, the results may be detrimental.

Let me just add that the reason Dilbert doesn’t vote is of course that he’s a cartoon character. But I thought that seemed like a snappier headline than anything using the words empower or civic engagement.

Beyond the working vacation

Kind of a bizarre, but funny, story in the WSJ today about people who work while on dates.

A typical working date for Scott Friedman, 47, of Denver, a motivational speaker and humorist, starts with, “‘Look, I’m busy. You’re busy. Why don’t we order in and we’ll work?'” With one recent partner who also has a demanding career, they would dine on Chinese food at his kitchen table, admiring the city lights from his windows. “Then we’d work for a few hours,” he says. “At least,” he reasons, he could glance at his date across the room. After that came dessert or a trip out for ice cream. “The actual social part of a four- to five-hour date would be 60 to 90 minutes,” he says.

Draw your conclusions about what “social part” refers to.

It’s not clear to me whether this is an actual phenomenon, or just another case in which America is such an enormous freak show that you can find a few anecdotes to support any “trend.” That said, I do think there’s some truth to this, which is listed as one of the underlying factors:

More people are plunging into all-consuming entrepreneurial ventures at younger ages; “as an entrepreneur, you don’t really separate” work and life, says [some expert].

Here’s a link, but it might a subscriber-only thing.