Editorial: Leave the identity crisis to corporations

Editorial: Leave the identity crisis to corporations - Work has never been so interesting. The old smokestack industries are long gone and the new economy is ushering in a new breed of job with a premium on creativity, nimbleness of mind and independence.

by VICTOR SMART
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Work has never been so interesting. The old smokestack industries are long gone and the new economy is ushering in a new breed of job with a premium on creativity, nimbleness of mind and independence. Once we were wage slaves alienated from the process of production. Now big corporations are quaking lest we take our germ of an idea elsewhere and leave. With barriers to entry crumbling, easier access to capital for start-ups, and support networks for new businesses in place, savvy employees have never been so empowered. It's the corporations (and their chief executives) that traditionally employed them that are suffering an identity crisis.

Stifled by working for an inhibited multinational? Bored by the stuffy dress code? Tempted to slip into an industry that's a touch more glitzy? Then leave and start a dot.com, cut your teeth as an entrepreneur elsewhere in the economy, or just walk out and become an interim manager. That's the new paradigm.

And yet it isn't that simple, is it? For one thing, many of us still have to work in large companies. And it's not just fecklessness or inertia that holds us back. On the contrary, it is evident that the wave of start-ups is being met by an awesome counterwave of global consolidation. Both the weightless and leaden economies seem bound by the 'get big fast' imperative. Avoid the middle ground at all costs. In the car industry, behemoths like Ford are swallowing up the smaller fry. The same is happening falteringly in banking. And in the new economy, where investors are getting picky - about both B2C and now B2B fledglings - even the likes of Amazon.com can't take survival for granted.

So before succumbing to the temptation to start 'working around', it's worth reflecting for a moment. Employee empowerment is patchy and will remain so. Principally advantaged are the young, the techno-minded, the risk-takers and the creative. Yet what is encouraging is that this is balanced by a growing awareness that today no firm can rely on old loyalties and methods to retain staff and get the job done. In future, industries will have to re-examine the business culture of old (so left-brain and over-analytical) if they are to engage their staff's emotions and imagination. As ideas become the key economic resource, big and uncool corporations are learning to unbend to attract and keep footloose talent. Suits become optional attire and ideas from junior staff are valued.

There will be winners and losers in this brave new economic landscape, both among individuals and corporations. Typically, those that resolve their identity crisis swiftly and move on will succeed. Those that sink into denial will (in e-commerce parlance) be toast.

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