The Participation Age and the Importance of the Fourth S
Day 21 of 21 days with Chuck’s new book, Why Employees Are ALWAYS a Bad Idea
I sat with the African egg vendor and twenty or so others in a mud brick building with no doors or windows, just openings. The average person in the room made between $30 and $60 a month in U.S. dollars, which was more than a lot of other people there made.
We were discussing business-building principles. I had come from America with notes and handouts, but on the first day, I realized they were worthless and gave them to a small school who were thrilled because they were blank on one side.
I had rarely felt this helpless. Usually, you can just give me a business topic, wind me up, and I’ll interact with a group for as long as the beer or snacks last. Here were a couple dozen business owners waiting to hang on every word and I had nothing.
I turned to the egg vendor, explained “net profit”, and asked her how much she makes each month. We figured out it was about $2.00. I asked her what she did with it, and she said, “I take my children to get a special meal.” She was a single mom with three kids.
We then talked about freedom—that wealth is the freedom to choose what to do with your time and money. Net profit represented freedom, the ability to choose. That made her very proud to know she had $2.00 worth of freedom each month, and the other business owners started to get a little excited about the prospect that they, too, might figure out how to get some net profit. We decided right there to call net profit, “Freedom Money,” because it’s the only money in business with which you actually get to make a fully free choice. The rest of it is spoken for in one way or the other.
Then I challenged her and the rest of them to stop eating their Freedom Money and reinvest it in their business instead, so they would have even more freedom later. I drew blank stares, so everyone huddled around my laptop with a dying battery, and I built a quick spreadsheet to show what might happen if, for eighteen months, the egg vendor reinvested her $2.00 of Freedom Money into buying more eggs every month. The next month she would have $2.50 in Freedom Money. Reinvested in more eggs, the end of the third month she would have $3.50 in Freedom Money, and so on. By the end of eighteen months, she could stop reinvesting and would have $60 every month in Freedom Money after that.
I asked her if that would change some things, and she thought it might change her life. I then told her it won’t happen that way. She’ll break eggs, won’t find buyers, will have to hire someone to help, etc. Life is messy and so is business, and her Freedom Money might be $15 a month, not $60. But it would no longer be $2.00. It was a tough thing to challenge a woman not to take her kids for a special meal, but she got on board immediately.
I never saw her again, but I always assume the best, that she built up enough monthly Freedom Money to build a better life for herself and her children. The most powerful thing she got out of the time was that being an owner allowed her to make decisions. She was in charge of her future, not the world around her. I left her with a thought that has been valuable to me over the years, “Circumstances don’t make me who I am. How I respond to them, does.” She left as a proud business owner, looking forward to creating more Freedom Money with her business. Ownership is a very powerful thing.
The Three S’s of the Industrial Age
My mother was born in 1921. She grew up in the Great Depression and entered the workforce in 1943 after nurse’s training and taught me to pursue three things in life, the three Ss of the Industrial Age:
1. Safety—live in the suburbs, don’t live downtown with the icky people.
2. Security—have a big wad of cash in the bank.
3. Stability—every day should look the same, no surprises.
Her strongest encouragement—get a job with a giant corporation; they are the best prepared to give you a life of safety, security and stability with no surprises.
Just about every mother of that generation was teaching their kids the same things. So, it’s no surprise that at the height of the Industrial Age after World War II, the suburbs exploded with cookie-cutter Cap Cods, white picket fences, men working for Giant Corporation, Inc., who all left for work in unison with their white shirts, ties, suits, and briefcases at 7:30 a.m. and got home at 6 p.m., and who lived as predictable a life as possible.
They came home to a manicured wife and 3.6 freshly scrubbed children. Ozzie and Harriet reigned. That may sound great to some, but as we revealed in the introduction to this book, those people were called The Silent Generation and made very little meaning in the world around them with their balanced lives.
Their manic pursuit of safety, security, and stability made them the best extensions of machines in the history of the Industrial Age. It also dehumanized them to the point of silencing their voices, their creativity, and their legacy. (Remember, no presidents and no Supreme Court justices; the only generation without a number of them.)
Where are these three S’s on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? They are at or nearer the bottom. So, why did my mother teach me to chase these things that were at or near the bottom of what we as humans need to make life meaningful? Because having gone through the Great Depression and World War II, she was looking up at the bottom. She didn’t have any of the three, and a life with all three would have seemed like Nirvana to her.
Today’s Millennials Are Searching for the Fourth S—Significance
But Millennials who only grew up in the shadow of the Industrial Age do not understand the language of Safety, Security, and Stability. They are one of the first generations in history, at least in the West, to be born with at a modicum of all three of those things provided for them at birth. They aren’t looking up at the bottom, and are instead reaching for the fourth S of the Participation Age—Significance. Making money is no longer enough. Being an extension of a machine to do so is not attractive, and the idea that everyday should look the same and that life should be predictable and without surprises is not challenging to them. They want more. They want to Make Meaning.
As the cultural influence of the Industrial Age and the Factory System fades behind us, we are all waking up to the need to rehumanize the workplace, reintegrate it back into our lives, and build lives that Make Meaning, not just money. To do so, we must eliminate the arcane business practices that we dragged out of the Industrial Age into the Participation Age—those business practices that turned men and women into machines, and silenced our drive for Significance.
You Have a Choice
Addressing the business diseases of the Industrial Age is not complex, it’s simple. But for those who have built businesses and lives around the inherited constructs of a bygone era, it will be both simple and hard.
We should be grateful that the Industrial Age provided us with the first three S’s— Safety, Security, and Stability—on which to build the fourth S—Significance. But we must also recognize that the practices that brought us those three will not bring us the fourth.
We have a choice to make. Stay with what we know and slowly atrophy as the world moves on without us, or join the Participation Age and start sharing together in building companies that Make Meaning, not just money.
Which do you choose?
This is a summary of a chapter from Chuck’s new book, “Why Employees Are ALWAYS a Bad Idea (And Other Business Diseases of the Industrial Age)”. Click here to pre-order this new ground breaking book at a discount on IndieGoGo.com until July 28.