• 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)
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.”
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.
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.
I have written before (Work Ethic is Always at the Center of Every Success Story — Just Ask Joan Rivers) that work ethic seems to be one of the nonnegotiables for success. Both Malcolm Gladwell and Geoff Colvin trumpet this, with emphasis on the 10,000 hour rule – it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at anything. People who work hard, really hard, and then practice what Geoff Colvin calls deliberate practice, have a much better chance at success.
Now comes word that the folks who founded Flickr are saying that work ethic is overrated, and not all that necessary. Here’s an excerpt from an article titled Hard Work’s Overrated, Maybe Detrimental (read the article here):
Caterina Fake, who, with her husband Stewart Butterfield, founded Flickr, knows a thing or two about bliztkreig work schedules. But she points out that late nights are seldom very useful in the grand scheme of things. Hard work? Overrated:
When we were building Flickr, we worked very hard. We worked all waking hours, we didn’t stop. My Hunch cofounder Chris Dixon and I were talking about how hard we worked on our first startups, his being Site Advisor, acquired by McAfee–14-18 hours a day. We agreed that a lot of what we then considered “working hard” was actually “freaking out”. Freaking out included panicking, working on things just to be working on something, not knowing what we were doing, fearing failure, worrying about things we needn’t have worried about, thinking about fund raising rather than product building, building too many features, getting distracted by competitors, being at the office since just being there seemed productive even if it wasn’t–and other time-consuming activities. This time around we have eliminated a lot of freaking out time. We seem to be working less hard this time, even making it home in time for dinner.
Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be. Being able to read what people want. Putting yourself in the right place where information is flowing freely and interesting new juxtapositions can be seen. But you can save yourself a lot of time by working on the right thing. Working hard, even, if that’s what you like to do.
I don’t disagree with this. (And, to state the obvious, I haven’t founded anything as successful as Flickr). But I do think that it takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where you can “know the right thing to work on.” It might even take quite a bit of “freaking out,” in order to learn just what does and does not work, what does and does not matter…
The article is actually a call to have “dream space and time,” a concept that I wholeheartedly endorse. Here’s the last paragraph of the article:
Modern office design is actually converging upon this idea, without any prodding from neuroscience–for example, Facebook’s new offices seem to be organized more around living rooms and DJ booths than cubicles. Elsewhere in office design, conference rooms are quickly being crowded out by lounge spaces. In other words, the very types of places that Watson and Crick found so useful.
And maybe the article hints that when you have learned a few things, you can then work a lot smarter as well as harder. And I certainly endorse the idea that someone whould be able to be home in time for dinner.
But I’m not really sure this makes the case that success does not come from hard work. I think it takes hard work to learn how to work smarter. There is still no substitute for work ethic.