Tag Archives: culture

Kids Say Hey: The Casualization of America

Here is something interesting I’ve noticed over the last year or so. The generations younger than mine – let’s say everyone under the age of 25 or so – use the word “hey” the same way my generation used “hello” and “dear” and “to whom it may concern.” When I get a cold email from a recent college grad who wants an informational interview, she starts it “Hey Thoughtbasket.” When I was in her shoes, I started such letters “Dear Thoughtbasket.” When my nephew sends me an email, he uses ‘hey” instead of “hi” or “hello” or just “Thoughtbasket.” When there are notes in the common areas of my building, they begin with “hey fellow tenants.”

I don’t love “hey” as a word; it’s too vague for me; I prefer more precision in my language. However, the real point of this post is to use “hey” as an example of the casualization of our society. Rather than a formal structure, in which the younger generation uses respectful language toward their elders, our society has eased into a more casual stance, in which we’re all pals who can say “hey” and then high-five each other. I’m not saying this is a bad thing….I am generally in favor of breaking down barriers, whether they are class-based or age-based. But it does seem kind of coarse. Like when there was that controversy a few years ago because a women’s athletic team wore flip-flops to the White House. There are situations where a little respect can go a long way, and respect is not conveyed by the word “hey.”

And of course, regular Thoughtbasket readers know how I feel about flip-flops; they were the topic of my first blog posting ever.

Go casual! Flip flops at the White House.

Go casual! Flip-flops at the White House.

Spending Too Much on Brand Names; BMW, Coach, etc.

Interesting that it’s a car webzine (thetruthaboutcars.com) that has written the best commentary I’ve seen on the trend of the past few years in which young people have been spending well beyond their means on brand-name cars, purses, clothes and other consumer products. There was a time when buying a BMW, or an Armani suit, or $1,000 purses and shoes, was something done by people in their 40’s and 50’s, who had been well paid for decades. Now 25 year olds PR account executives making $40,000 are buying Jimmy Choos and putting them on their credit cards. Or as the article says, a few years ago “the idea of spending four figures on a handbag when one worked at an entry-level white collar job would have been seen as irresponsible and reckless at worst, crass at best.” The pre-financial crisis debt binge wasn’t just about mortgages. People were overspending on all kinds of goods, and they still are.

Four Keys to a Happy Work Environment

I’ve been thinking about work, and what makes working at a company enjoyable. What any person might like or dislike about work can vary widely, of course, but I’ve worked at a lot of different companies, and across those various companies I’ve found four main factors that determine how pleasant work at a company might be:

  1. The wind is at your back
  2. Things work smoothly
  3. Common commitment to a mission
  4. Strong management team

Wind at your back means that the market is moving your way and revenues are coming easily (as easily as they ever do). Like you’re Instagram and everybody wants your app. Or you’re Caterpillar during a construction boom, when people are clamoring for your tractors. When the wind is at your back, everything is easier. Your decisions all seem right, and if you happen to make a mistake, it just doesn’t matter that much. Your colleagues are in good moods, your bosses are happy with your work, and bonuses are in your future. When the wind is at your back, work almost seems like play.

Having your company work smoothly is an internal state, rather than one dependent on the market. Processes are in place and lines of communication are established. Objectives are set, each group is executing on those objectives, and everybody is in synch. When your organization is firing on all cylinders you feel productive, even if the wind isn’t at your back. Sure, maybe you could be growing faster, but you are getting things done, and that feels great.

Even if you aren’t all in synch, you can all be committed to the same mission. And this doesn’t need to be a feel-good, change the world sort of mission. Going back to Caterpillar, if everyone is committed to the mission of making great tractors and selling the heck out of them, then you are all on the same team, heading toward the same goal, and that is fun. You might be facing a headwind (housing crisis!) and your company may not be very organized, but at least you are all in it together, pulling in the same direction.

If you’ve got good management, everything is a little better. A good boss makes you feel appreciated, like your contributions actually matter. And if your contributions matter, you will work harder on those contributions, and feel better about that work. Good management can make work more rewarding, and more fun. Bad management, on the other hand, makes you dread coming to work each day.

Can Congress Change Its Culture?

Cultural change is the recent theme here at Thoughtbasket; I discussed how a company might change its culture, and then how America might change some aspects of its culture. Today I want to look at a particular part of America: Congress. The U.S. Congress seems unable to solve any of the problems facing our country, and consequently has an approval rating of only 11 percent, which is the lowest ever. If a group is unable to complete the sole task it is given (governing, in this case) and thus is held in contempt by its bosses (voters, in this case), then that group probably has a culture problem.

The congressional cultural problem is that the entire institution values reelection instead of service (which is why incumbents are reelected more than 80% of the time). Power is more important than policy. Much like the corporation in my first post on this topic had a culture where everyone thought it was OK to be late for meetings, congress has a culture where everyone thinks that it’s OK to prioritize staying in office over doing the job you were elected to do, which is govern.

We can blame each individual congressman – and believe me, I do – but really, it is the institution and its culture that is truly to blame. Expecting some moronic ex-exterminator who only gets a two-year term to swim against a cultural tide of reelection is probably naïve. So, much like in my efforts to change cultural components in the US as a whole, we need a team approach. John Boehner + Nancy Pelosi = change?

I wrote last year about how John Boehner could be a hero by teaming up with democrats to pass substantive policy that would address the nation’s fiscal problems. Here is another opportunity for heroic action: he could rally all of congress, teaming with his arch enemies, to promote a culture of service instead selfishness.

VA System: Best Healthcare, Lowest Cost

Check out this article, from 2007, on how the Veterans Health Administration has gone from scary run-down hospitals to the provider of the best care in the country, at the lowest cost. The VA secret: a large, single provider focused on quality. Duh.

On Airlines, Hospitals, Blizzards and Flu Outbreaks

Here is a really interesting article comparing the airline industry to the public health system, with full service hospitals being the legacy carriers, serving everyone and subsidizing low fare services with high fare ones. Specialty hospitals are the upstart airlines, able to focus on only providing profitable services. And as they all cut capacity to remain profitable, what happens when crisis hits? We just saw what happens to airlines when a blizzard strikes; so what happens to hospitals when a pandemic hits?

How Wall Street Captured Main Street

If you have the time, read James Kwak‘s interview in The Straddler. He has some interesting things to say about how our culture is oddly enamored of the idea of the swashbuckling wall streeter, and yet intimidated by economics and finance, and how that has influenced policy decisions. He’s a smart cat.  Here is a small sample:

“And Wall Street’s argument that it has this mysterious power, that you have to trust it that it’s using it for good, and that if you take it away, the world will end, is obviously obnoxious—but it’s a hugely successful debating point.  Congressmen are afraid of it.  They’re afraid that they don’t understand what’s going on, and they’re hearing these lobbyists say that if you push too hard on the banking industry, the world will end.”