The New “Zippies” — and the Growing Skill Deficit

The World is Flat• The new “zippies” — “a young city or suburban resident, with a zip in his stride.  Generation Z.  Oozes attitude, ambition, and aspiration.  Cool, confident, and creative.  Seeks challenges, loves risks, and shuns fear.”
(Describing younger adults in India — Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat)

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Last night, I spent a really wonderful evening with a group of very sharp women.  We discussed the book Womenomics by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.  There were many parts of the book that were met with approval and agreement.  But they weren’t so sure about this:  in the book, the authors state that “The millennials are influencing expectations for the entire workforce…the next generation has no interest at all in the sixty-hour work week.”

The Reckoning:  A tale of two cultures as seen through two car companies

The Reckoning: A tale of two cultures as seen through two car companies

I remember reading David Halberstam’s great book The Reckoning.  In the book, he described some bad years for Ford and the ascendancy of Nissan.  The book is in storage, so I can’t give you an exact quote, but I clearly remember this:  younger Americans had become complacent, not driven, not hungry – and a little lazy and apathetic.  At the same time, the younger adults in Japan were working really, really hard because they were so hungry.  He clearly implied that hunger trumps apathy.

I thought of that when I read Thomas Friedman’s column this morning:  The New Untouchables.  Here are some excerpts:

A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.

I agree that we need to retool our education, or we will be in genuine trouble.  We are definitely growing an alarming education deficit.

But I would suggest that Friedman is hinting at another bottom line.  I would word it this way:  we’re not going back to the good old days unless we get a little more hungry, and develop a new generation of zippies right here in our country.

I don’t think that Kay and Shipman are calling for a lesser work ethic.  They are, in fact, arguing for hard work – when you are at work.  But, this desire of a younger generation to “work less” may translate into a lesser work ethic at the very time that we are in competition with people all over the world who may be ready to work harder than we do.  And if there is anything I have learned in business books lately, work ethic really matters. From the 10,000 hour rule popularized by Gladwell’s Outliers, to the call for deliberate practice in Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, it takes hard work over a long period to get really good at anything.  And that hard work has to start with working hard to learn what is available to learn in school — and then adding skill after skill after skill after school.

In Freidman’s article, he describes that a person can be a very competent lawyer with just the skills learned in school.  But then, the lawyers that survive and thrive in tough times have to develop other skills – skills not taught in school, like client cultivation, networking, the skill to imagine new ways to work…the list grows and grows.  As for the people who learned what they learned in school, and expect that that will be “enough” – well, it isn’t enough.  Not anymore.

So – here is your simple question for the day.  Do you “ooze attitude, ambition, and aspiration?”  When a person watches you walk down the sidewalk, would they describe you as a “zippie?”  If not, you’d better look over your shoulder, because someone is about to pass you.

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You can purchase my synopsis of The World is Flat, with audio + handout, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  The Womenomics synopsis is coming soon.

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