I have been having many conversations with movers and shakers in the last couple of weeks. I’ve talked to internet marketers, corporate consultants, brokerage consultants and more and all agree on one thing: the way we’ve done business in the past is no longer the way we will do it in the future. This economic downturn combined with the next generation of workers having a wholly different set of values sets the stage for massive change in the way America does business.
The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
For those of you who haven’t read this book – go read it. It’s fascinating. The thing I find most fascinating about it is its popularity. It clearly defines a lifestyle that is far beyond most people’s risk tolerance, but it still appeals to the masses. Want to guess why? Freedom. It shows the reader one path to freedom. And the issue that’s going to be the biggest concern for business in the coming years is just this yearning for freedom.
A couple of days ago, Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th President. Millions came out to watch the event and millions more around the world attended via television and the Internet. Why? Because on a subtle, almost unconscious level, the inauguration of the first African American to the highest office in the nation of a people who had as recently as 144 years ago engaged in the practice of slavery makes a potent statement about freedom and how far we have come.
Today, people are feeling like slaves to their jobs, their mortgages, their children, their spouses, their responsibilities, and their lives in general. They are feeling like they are being dragged through life rather than engaging the adventure. The blush is off the rose of the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake. Anytime I speak to a room of people looking to improve their circumstances I ask them how much money they want to make. When I get that answer, I ask them why.
Why People Pursue Money
There are many reasons in the past why people have pursued money. They have done it for power, for safety, for security, for the adventure, for the toys, and for the challenge. And yet, oddly, in the last 10 years every time I pose that question, time after time the answer comes back the same: “I want to be able to do what I want when I want to do it.” And that, my dear friends, is freedom.
Freedom and the Generations
I have spent a fair amount of time with the people in the 18-30 age range, and I will tell you that they have a different view of the world than those of my generation do (I’ll be 40 this year). And those in my generation have a vastly different view than our parents did.
My Father’s Generation
My father’s definition of life is to work hard, meet your responsibilities, provide for the family, and try to enjoy yourself in the small spaces in between. That is what responsible citizens do. He and I have always been at odds when it comes to his view of my life. Because when faced with the same decisions that he had, I chose a different path.
Rather than pursuing wealth, I have chosen freedom – pretty much every time. I’ve walked away from tens of thousands of dollars when it was a choice between giving up my freedom of choice or giving up the cash. It was a no-brainer decision every time. Now I am not typical of my generation – I’m much more like the 18-30 set of today.
The 30-40 Somethings (A.K.A. – Gen X)
Most of the people in my generation are hard workers, we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty and we know that we have to work for what we get, but we, unlike our parents, crave the freedom that we can see just beyond our reach. We have not resigned ourselves to the idea that we will never have it or that we will have to wait until retirement to have it. We want it now! Most of us however aren’t willing to give up our creature comforts to have it.
The Next Generation
But those in their 20s right now don’t have this limitation. They are perfectly happy to live in smaller quarters with more people. They are not attached to having the same toys that Gen Xers grew up thinking we were entitled to. They are consistently choosing the environment over themselves, a sense of purpose over creature comforts, and freedom over money. This is going to be a major problem for the country based on consumerism and excess. Our next generation isn’t buying it – not the ideals, not anything.
The 4-Hour Workweek
So I’m back to the 4-Hour Workweek and its message. The challenge for business in the coming years is going to be to address not just this next generation’s demand for freedom, but also my generation’s craving for it. Business is also going to need to buy into a sense of purpose larger than its own desire to grow and be profitable. We, as a culture, are exhausted from all of this running. We need a sense of purpose and the experience of freedom to keep us moving forward.
Freedom and Purpose
These are going to be the buzzwords of the next decade. As you think about how you can re-vision your business, consider how you can build in these aspects of life into your plan. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to dismantle my assumptions about how business “should” be done, so that I can free myself to vision a new tomorrow that is not fettered by yesterday’s dogma. I’m not there yet, but I’m cogitating.
I’ve got more to say on this subject. My next step: The Resurgence of Tribalism in America. I’ll do that post later today or tomorrow. In the meantime, if you have some creative thoughts on how business can be restructured in light of these new ideals, I’d love to hear them.
Yours in Freedom,