Our economy is in the midst of a grand shift toward the Hollywood model. More of us will see our working lives structured around short-term, project-based teams rather than long-term, open-ended jobs. There are many reasons this change is happening right now, but perhaps the best way to understand it is that we have reached the end of a hundred-year fluke, an odd moment in economic history that was dominated by big businesses offering essentially identical products. Competition came largely by focusing on the cost side, through making production cheaper and more efficient; this process required businesses to invest tremendous amounts in physical capital — machines and factories — and then to populate those factories with workers who performed routine activities. Nonmanufacturing corporations followed a similar model: Think of all those office towers filled with clerical staff or accountants or lawyers. That system began to fray in the United States during the 1960s, first in manufacturing, with the economic rise of Germany and Japan. It was then ripped apart by Chinese competition during the 2000s. Enter the Hollywood model, which is far more adaptable. Each new team can be assembled based on the specific needs of that moment and with a limited financial commitment.
For most of human history, people haven’t believed that the world changes very much, or that change is ever very good. Stability and security have been the ideals. News used to spread slowly, technology hardly evolved, few people ever travelled and trades were handed down from generation to generation.
But today, all that has changed. Most people regard profound, widespread and frequent change as inescapable and a good thing too. Change is now strongly associated with progress. A dominant picture has evolved of what the properly modern person is supposed to be like: someone who not only accepts change but who seeks it out, embraces it, drives it. When Steve Jobs wanted to convince John Sculley, president of Pepsi-Cola, to become CEO of the (then) much smaller Apple – he is reported as having asked him: ‘Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?’
The word ‘change’, in that famous phrase, has a powerful resonance. To change the world, Jobs seemed to be implying, is the most important, most admirable and most worthwhile thing a person can do with their life. And yet, the logical question – why is this change meant to be so important – does not get much of a look in.
Kermit the Frog is an entertainment icon known worldwide for his appearances on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, as well as a number of feature films. He attributes much of his success to his thirty-five year partnership with Mississippi native and entertainment visionary, Jim Henson. Kermit has received many honors and accolades for his work, including multiple Academy Award nominations, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a commemorative stamp from the U.S. Postal Service.
When employees see something amiss, you want them to be able to speak up. GM’s safety scandal last year is a good reminder why; the Challenger and Columbia explosions are classic case studies. People often avoid raising difficult issues, so the struggle to encourage this behavior has become a perennial management problem.
The latest addition to the corpus of research on this suggests why: Speaking up can wear us out. A new paper, forthcoming later this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology, studies the effects of different kinds of speech on employees. In “A Suggestion to Improve a Day Keeps Your Depletion Away,” authors Szu-Han (Joanna) Lin and Russell E. Johnson found that expressing concern and criticism (what’s called prohibitive voice) was more mentally taxing than suggesting ideas for improvement (promotive voice), and this mental fatigue led to increased reluctance to speak up again, later. Conversely, speaking up with ideas seemingly reduced employees’ fatigue.