Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Think Different?

I ran across this article earlier this week:
Bushnell dispenses his advice in vignettes that hammer on a few points. The basics: Make work fun; weed out the naysayers; celebrate failure, and then learn from it; allow employees to take short naps during the day; and don't shy away from hiring talented people just because they look sloppy or lack college credentials.

Many of these principles have become tenets in Silicon Valley's laid-back, risk-taking atmosphere, but Bushnell believes they remain alien concepts in most of corporate America.

"The truth is that very few companies would hire Steve, even today," Bushnell writes in his book. "Why? Because he was an outlier. To most potential employers, he'd just seem like a jerk in bad clothing."
Steve Jobs' first boss: 'Very few companies would hire Steve, even today' (Associated Press)

Which confirms the point I made in the post I wrote shortly after Jobs' death: Thoughts on Steve Jobs

From my observations, it seems like confomrity and "fitting in" are the main things employers are looking for nowadays (suburban workaholic, 2.5 kids, minivan, acceptiable hobbies, watches specator sports, doesn't take vacations, etc.)

And speaking of class mobility, or the lack thereof, PBS is currently airing a new TV show on Masterpiece called Mr. Selfridge, a fictionalized account of the real Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American department store entrepreneur who set up shop in London during the Edwardian era. Although not mentioned, the real Mr. Selfridge was born in Ripon Wisconsin. He spent most of his early working life in Chiacago. From Wikipedia:
Selfridge was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, on January 11, 1856. One of three boys, within months of his birth the family moved to Jackson, Michigan, as his father had acquired the town's general store. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, his father Robert Oliver Selfridge joined the Union Army. Rising to the rank of major, although he had been honorably discharged, he chose not to return home after the war ended.

This left his mother Lois to bring up three young boys. Unfortunately Harry’s two brothers died shortly after the war ended at a very young age, so Harry became his mother’s only child. She found work as a schoolteacher and struggled financially to support both of them. She supplemented her low income by painting greetings cards, and eventually became headmistress of Jackson High School.

At the age of 10, Selfridge began to contribute to the family income by delivering newspapers. Aged 12, he started working at the Leonard Field's dry-goods store. This allowed him to fund the creation of a boys' monthly magazine with schoolfriend Peter Loomis, making money from the advertising carried within.

Selfridge left school at 14 and found work at a bank in Jackson. After failing his entrance examinations to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Selfridge became a bookkeeper at the local furniture factory of Gilbert, Ransom & Knapp. However, the company closed down four months later, and Selfridge moved to Grand Rapids to work in the insurance industry.

In 1876, his ex-employer, Leonard Field, agreed to write Selfridge a letter of introduction to Marshall Field in Chicago, who was a senior partner in Field, Leiter & Company one of the most successful stores in the city (which became Marshall Field and Company, later bought by Macy's). Initially employed as a stock boy in the wholesale department, over the following 25 years, Selfridge worked his way up the commercial ladder. He was eventually appointed a junior partner, married Rosalie Buckingham (of the prominent Chicago Buckinghams) and amassed a considerable personal fortune.
So how many people who dropped out school at 14, were only children in a single-parent family and had no college degree could find a job, any job, in America today, much less work their way up the ladder? Today, managment is a class unto itself, and I'm not sure we're the better for it. And the department stores like the ones Mr. Selridge worked for have been replaced by Wal-marts.

Interestingly, Selfridge's life aligns with the other favorite son of Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright. He was also born in Wisconisn, began his formal career in Chicago, and had no college education (and BTW, Thomas Edison, born in Michigan and living in the same time period, had only 3 months of formal schooling). Thus my often made point that more education is not the key to innovation, it's the key to America's class system.

The nineteenth century was an unprecedented time of opportunity and creativity for the common man. We shall not see its like again.

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