Eric has some very good comments. . .
> I think Ben and Joan have both described good reasons for the economic
> shift the US is currently experiencing. IMHO, the main reason for all the
> anxiety and dislocation is that we in the US have come to assume that the
> economic and social conditions that existed in the 25 years after WWII
> were "normal" and that the conditions that exist now are somehow
> abnormal, but can be "brought back to normal." But the 1950s was one of
> the most *unusual* periods in American history, both economically and
Precisely. . .and many grew up with the idea that job security was a natural
condition. However history does not bear this out. Before the industrial age,
it was common for people to be self-employed, or to work as families on their
farms or as merchants. The industrial age brought with it a sense of security.
. .it was easier to get a job for a large business and get paid an hourly wage
than it was to be your own boss and make the rubber hit the road.
Today it is clear to almost everyone that job security was a flash in the
pan, largely created by the environment that Joan described (namely lack
of competition and high global demand for US products and services). As
global competition increased, and more and more people entered the work
force, things began to change.
The psychological impact of people not being able to move up the corporate
ladder was that many professionals began to experience a strong sense of
failure. This in turn may have lowered their efficiency. Corporations
responded by hiring more people. We see this in the incredible growth of
large companies such as IBM, AT&T, Xerox, and others. This approach really
accommodated nicely the emerging baby boomers in the job market.
At some point, corporations began to realize that they weren't as
efficient or as competitive as they once had been. (More than likely three
reasons: First, global competition had caught up with America; Second,
workers were not as efficient as they had been or could now be as they
felt frustrated with their lack of professional success; Third, companies
developed large bureaucracies to manage their incredible growth.) Thus
emerged the idea of downsizing and flattening the organization (not that
these two are inherently related).
At this point three incredible powerful forces finally collided, bringing
about some tremendous changes in the way we work and perceive the work
Here are the forces, each it could be said was started just prior to,
during, or shortly after WW II:
===== Technological Advancement =================>
===== Psychological Discover/Innovation =============>
===== Baby Boomers: Expansion of the work force ======>
Technology made it possible for downsizing and organization flattening, as
it increased individual productivity and wide-spread communication and
The process of flattening an organization was an implicit was of
redefining success in corporate America: Success was now determined by the
business results one could achieve, not how high or how quickly one could
climb the corporate ladder.
Innovations in psychology allowed more effective (and perhaps more
accurate) management models to work their way into the work force. This
enabled corporate America to help people achieve self-actualization and
creative expression in their work. . .another important element in
redefining professional success.
Finally, the baby-boomers had grown many organizations beyond their needed
capacity. Thus we see companies like AT&T say their going to lay off
Now we have huge pools of very qualified people who are suddenly
unemployed. (I think these folks would do good to start their own
business, thus providing jobs for those who fell victim to corporate
downsizing. Trying to reintegrate into a saturated job market does not
seem to be a real good idea. Thus, we may watching the forces of change
that will once again bring a healthy portion of our work force back into
self-employment and family-based businesses. It might not be such a bad
idea to focus the LO theories, tools, and methods on small business, as
that may be the greatest leverage point we have as we move into the 21st
Anyway, here's where I'll end this part of my theory: Many middle managers
are scared of losing their jobs, and becoming a victim to downsizing. This
may actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Fear precludes them from
taking effective action. Effective action would ensure their prolonged
success. However, their fear has more of an influence on their behavior
than does reason, and hence they're working themselves right out of the
job they're seeking to protect.
Any further comments?
Benjamin B. Compton ("Ben") | email: firstname.lastname@example.org Novell, GroupWare Support Quality Manager | fax: (801) 222-6991
Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <email@example.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>