Here, continuing each Monday, another section from my 2001 book. Note that last Thursday, 12/10/09, I posted all the exercises and reading recommendations from the first section of the original book. You may find some of that of interest, too.
The Changing Role of Women
The percentage of our population that is female is not changing in a significant way. Since 1970 it has been stable between 51.0% and 51.5%. But the importance of women in our economy, in politics, in the media, and in other seats of power continues to increase rapidly by historical standards. This trend is first seen in the labor force participation rates discussed at the beginning of this chapter. While some nations like New Zealand (which first gave women the vote), Canada, the Scandinavian countries, and the old Communist-bloc nations are even further up the curve of placing women in positions of power, the US is very high by world standards. Most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America are well behind. According to 1990 estimates, 36-42% of women in the US and Northern Europe are “economically active.” This compares with 24-30% in India and most of Latin America, and just 6-12% in the Middle East and North Africa. But all the statistics show the same upward trend. In every profession, in every graduate school, in every legislature, the number of women is increasing over the long term.
When I went to work on Wall Street fresh out of school in 1973, the early waves of women MBA’s were just getting their feet wet. They were testing the boundaries and struggling with their roles. The men around them were often uncomfortable; those who were enlightened enough to drop their familiar locker-room humor were unsure what to replace it with. A common debating point among working men was, “Could you ever work for a woman boss?” (I soon moved on to the department-store industry, where the question was moot – you’d work for a woman sooner or later if you stayed in that business.)
As a student of business, I believe a critical milestone was passed with the selection of a woman to head one of the nation’s largest companies. It (finally) happened in 1999 when the Hewlett-Packard Board of Directors selected Carly Fiorina as the firm’s new CEO. Ms. Fiorina will not be alone at the top for long. Thousands of key women execs are coming into their prime leadership years – their fifties – and will soon be taking the reigns of enterprises large and small. This will also hold true in our universities, in our churches and hospitals, and in the capitals of the world. The shift in this century will be dramatic.
The Increasing Diversity of Avocations and Interests
As a member of the baby boom, I was born into a world where three newsmagazines told us everything we needed to know. Three TV networks were enough – entrepreneurs repeatedly launched independent fourth stations, but only the biggest cities provided audiences big enough to support them. On any given weekend, you had a handful of movies to choose from. You read either the morning paper or the evening paper; you shopped at Sears or at one of two or three local department stores. And, perhaps most remarkably, no one sat around griping that they had too few choices.
Today, 100 cable channels don’t provide enough TV for us. Thousands of movies are available for sale, rent, on cable, or at theatres. Hundreds of thousands of web pages are created every day. Our choices in almost every aspect of life have exploded.
When we were building the BOOKSTOP chain, I was often asked, “Won’t the rise of cable television with its immense variety of information and entertainment hurt demand for books?” But the truth was that the rise of huge bookstores with hundreds of diverse subjects was a response to the same trend as that which supported cable and now supports the Internet: the increased individualization of the consumer. As time passes, we Americans become more diverse in our passions.
Our diversity of enthusiasms is incredible and continually increasing. Everyone is becoming a specialist and an expert in something, from beekeeping to Barbie dolls, feng shue to rock climbing, Thai cooking to German opera, acupuncture to stock car racing. More and more people are collectors, more and more things are collectibles. The real power of eBay is based in its ability to link together thousands of very tiny groups of people all over the world. As these groups, defined by passionate interests, continue to proliferate, the complexity and fascination of our population keeps expanding.
One of my good friends gets all worked up about how authors interpret Nietzsche. He has a friend who shares this passion – they get worked up together. They’ll never make the cover of Time because they care about Nietzsche. They’d be more likely to do that if they collected Barbie dolls. Nobody else cares about Nietzsche, nobody else thinks it’s important. But we need people who argue about Nietzsche. We should treasure their presence. As we should the presence of the folks who get worked up about steam locomotives and silent movies, the open source code movement and Egyptian urns. Someday one of them may tell the rest of us something we vitally need to know – or remember.
All of the trends examined in the preceding pages have global implications, and all have compounding effects. For example, an aging population with time and money on its hands and a propensity for philanthropy is likely to devote itself to supporting an increasing diversity of interests: the baby boom will fund everything from pinball museums to Tibetan cultural centers.
Making sense of these trends and thousands of others like them, which affect your industry and your customers, requires a fundamental understanding of how to look at trends through time and how to put history to use. We’ll discuss these topics in the pages that follow.