The Passion Economy
Kevin Salwen on Culture
I wrote something the other day for the newsletter of Vocation Vacations about how the world of work is changing. Figured you might like it. Love to hear what you think...
We ran a profile in Worthwhile magazine not long ago about a superstar lawyer named Dahlia Lithwick. From the outside, she had it all -- a top-tier Yale and Stanford Law education, an impressive career at a Washington law firm, where she was on the partner track, and a hefty six-figure paycheck.
There was just one problem: She was miserable.
Her career was someone else's definition of success, not hers, and Dahlia realized she hated the box she had created for herself. She longed for something more inspiring, something that would make her come alive -- in particular, she wanted to be a writer. She knew it would take work but she also knew she needed to feel alive again.
I'll circle back to Dahlia, but in many ways she is emblematic of what we call the Passion Movement. It is a movement based on the principle that work increasingly must connect to an individual's personal values. More and more educated, talented workers -- those who form the core of our intellectual capital -- are no longer content to exchange their time for money in the absence of meaning.
A Harris poll in 2003 last year summed it up well: 86 percent of those surveyed said that they wanted more fulfilling work. Suddenly, the kinds of things that people talked about over their lunch hours are coming into prominence: relationships, values, standards, bosses, friendships. (By the way, earnings per share don't seem to be on that list of lunch topics.)
Where did this come from? Let's take a quick look back at the last few decades of American business. Consider these images: \n-- 'What's good for General Motors is good for America'\n-- Dolly Parton's 'Workin' 9 to 5' -- about the tedium of the everyday grind\n-- The Glass Ceiling\n-- Gargantuan executive pay\n-- Gordon Gekko's line in Wall Street: 'Greed Is Good.'\n-- Chainsaw Al Dunlap, Wall Street's favorite CEO, who never found a job he didn't want to slash\n-- Layoffs, outsourcing, bankrupt pension funds\n-- And of course, most recently, the CEO parade turns 'perp walk', starring Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, the Rigas father and son and many, many others.\n\nAnd we're surprised that Corporate America has become a dirty word among so many, particularly the younger generations? As comedienne Paula Poundstone says, 'Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up -- because they're looking for ideas.'\n\nBut the Passion Movement is changing our world of work for the better is so many ways. You can feel the sense of unshackling out there, you can feel the connections that companies are beginning to make to what consumers and employees need and want. \n\nIt began in the mid- to late-1990s, when the Internet age began to take hold for real. Suddenly, all those laid-off, downsized, outsourced people became free agents. For possibly the first time in their lives, no one was telling them what to do; they were responsible and in control of their own careers. And they were motivated to not only create what the world needed, but also what they WANTED to do.\n\nThe Internet age is often the butt of jokes these days, with the euphoric optimism, and of course my personal favorite -- the Foosball table. The joke around the dotcom world was that the Foosball makers were the biggest winners in the Internet age.\n\nBut here's what you need to realize: The Foosball table reflected something bigger -- that people no longer saw their work as a place to sacrifice or to swap their hours for dollars disconnected from any meaning. Work was their lives. Not their sole lives, but as much of their lives as family or recreation.\n\nSmart companies have begun to connect to that too, think Whole Foods, which does a marvelous job of empowering its team members, or Washington Mutual, which connects its entire workforce to its Wamoola program for education, or Fedex, which has never had a layoff in good times or bad.\n\nInto this changing work environment, we have created a completely different kind of business publication: one that embraces the concept that businesspeople -- and increasingly businesses themselves -- harbor a desire to work toward something fulfilling in their lives. While business magazines for decades have focused on the mind, WORTHWHILE is focused on the heart and soul as well as the brain.\n\nSo let's circle back to Dahlia Lithwick. She worked her tail off, writing before heading for the law firm each morning. She finally quit the lucrative job, surrounded herself with supportive people who believed in her for what she wanted to be instead of the 'success' they defined. Her background set her up wonderfully: In mid-1999, when the online publication Slate needed someone to cover the Microsoft trial, she was the perfect lawyer/writer for the job. She loves the work.\n\nBut I love what she says about what the switch means to the next generation: 'Being able to model happiness for your children outweighs anything you can buy them.' Amen to that.\n