Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Happened To The 70's?

The completely laid-back teens from the 70's are now running our corporations with an iron fist. What happened to them? Why are they now overly-sensitive to ANY voices that do not march in lockstep with the drumbeat of the corporate galley-slave task masters?

I was a teenager in the 1970s - and the '70s were a time of great contrasts - it was after the drug heyday of the 1960s, yet my high school was full of stoners who got high at lunch - and drug use by high school kids was significantly higher in 1977 than it was in 1967. Being "born again" was the backlash away from the free love generation, and yet in 1975 the incidence of Gonorrhea was 3X higher than in 1965. The 1960s might have taught everyone how to do it, but in the 1970's more of us actually did it. The 1970s gave us Debbie Gibson, Andy Gibb and the Bee Gees, and it also gave us Van Halen, Ted Nugent and Kiss. It was a strange and confusing time to be a teen - but it was also considered relatively stable compared to the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960s and the worldwide economic and political changes of the 1980s.

The teens of the 1970s went on to create Microsoft, Apple & Dell and we also built the Space Shuttle. They powered the economy that destroyed the Soviet Union and tore down the Berlin Wall. In the 1990s, they were the middle managers who created the internet and drove the dot-com explosion. And now, they are the senior executives who run companies with an iron fist - controlling how their employees dress, speak, act and use the very technologies they helped to create. What the hell happened to them? How did they go from smoking pot, listening to Ted Nugent and having sex in their Camaro's (well, probably not Bill, but other kids were!) to now ordering the monitoring of their employee's email messages & Facebook posts, and purging anyone who does not march to the beat of their Armani-suited corporate drum?

I am very worried about the state of our corporate environment. The college graduates entering the corporate world today must be prepared to suppress their individuality for the sake of the corporate brand they now represent. They will be told that protecting the brand is their most important job - more important than any personal belief or idea they may have. Oh, the orders will be shrouded in corp-speak and called an "Employee Handbook", "Statement of Values" or "Social Responsibility" - but make no mistake, the primary purpose for them is NOT to protect the employees - it is to protect the brand FROM the actions of their employees.

Conform or die.

If we quash all individuality and self-expression, we also eliminate creativity and innovation. And that's what has me so confused. Why can't today's senior executives see the danger? Is it as
simple as the old "absolute power corrupts absolutely" adage? Have they really completely forgotten what it was like before they got their preferred parking spot and corporate credit cards? I do NOT believe that only the uptight do-gooders from high school ended up running corporations. That just isn't the way the world works!

Some of you might recognize this situation - it seems to be very similar to the early 1960s, when corporations hired the Mad Men to make sure their brand was see
n only as the corporation wished it to be seen. Of course, it was easier then - there was no internet, no blogs and no youtube that could instantly give anyone's words a worldwide audience. Control the media ads, and you controlled the hearts and minds of the entire world. Unfortunately for the corporations and the Mad Men, the early 1960s turned into the late 1960s - and the corporations became "The Establishment" - hated and shunned by an entire generation.

Is that where we are headed? Another social revolution? It is undeniably true that societal and cultural norms rarely stay constant for very long. We move in cycles - just as the conservatism of the Victorian age led to the Roaring '20s, and the stability of the 50's Happy Days led to the riots and protests of the 60's. I really have no idea what is coming - but I do think we're approaching an inflection point where something will change. Happiness in our jobs and careers is becoming a scarce commodity. We're working harder and longer than at any time since the sweat shops of the industrial revolution gave rise to the labor movements, unions and communism.

I know this sounds very maudlin. It is meant to portray my frustration at the fear & inequality
the average corporate employee (AKA drone)
must currently endure. It appears the old counterbalances of labor unions and entrepreneurial opportunities are weak and no longer effective at limiting the barely legal abuses of the corporate overlords. I'm certainly NOT advocating a return to a time when the unions held huge amounts of power that caused ridiculous inefficiencies in businesses. I believe an employee *should* be paid based on their skill and performance - not only on their years of service or payment of union dues. HOWEVER - when the corporate environment is built to provide all benefits to the top leadership at the expense of their employees, I call BS. That is theft - theft of the employee's skill and hard work without the compensation of job satisfaction and a career path for the employee.

There's no easy answers for this one. The corporate masters will continue to tell their serfs that they should be happy to have any jobs in this time of economic upheaval - and then they will drive home in the Mercedes, Porsches and Maseratis that they bought with their $6 million/year total compensation packages. Meanwhile, their employees are reading the latest email from the CEO telling them that in order for the company to make their forecasts, the employees will have a choice of using 5 days of vacation this month or taking 5 days of unpaid leave.

Let me know when the next generation takes over as our corporate leaders. Maybe the teens from the 80's will do a better job. Then again, maybe not...