100 years ago and Today–2

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Dr. john Psarouthakis

Executive Editor


One hundred years and more ago  most Americans were still living and dying by their muscles. The overwhelming majority used their brawn to extract food from the topsail, or to extract resources from deep in the Earth, or – in increasing numbers – to hammer raw materials into some kind of usable product.

At the same time, business was also a creature of muscle. Building a railroad was not a subtle enterprise. Clear-cutting a million acres of trees was not a subtle enterprise. Pulling all the iron or gold or oil out of a particular region was not a subtle enterprise. Though I might add that even then a good engineer came in handy. I’ll let you guess what discipline I was educated in.

This was the business environment of the robber baron -monochromatic enterprises, vertically integrated on a pyramid of muscle. To risk a sweeping generalization, change was not a day-to-day piece of the equation* You pumped oil or you laid railroad track or you took the trees. That was it.

Not that any pedestrian off the street could have been a Carnegie or a Mellon or a Rockefeller or a Stanford. Not at all. It took considerable vision and considerable skills to be a successful robber baron.

If any one of these gentlemen were to somehow resurface in today’s business world, however, I would not want to bet on his renewed success. For the young women in the audience, by the way, I am fully aware of the single gender in that previous sentence. And how obsolete that vision is. That is just one of the many changes these guys would have to deal with today.

The point is, the people at the top of the old muscle pyramid have become every bit as obsolete as the people at the bottom.

Brains, not muscles, are the engine that drives the whole machine today. From the boardroom to the shop floor.

Constant change, not stasis, defines today’s environment,

Smoothly integrated teams, not autocratic bosses lie at the heart of the operation.

And guess what? Instead of a handful of entrepreneurs controlling the nation’s destiny as they did a long time ago, we are moving into an age that everyone who wants to succeed amid the new realities of the 21st Century must be an entrepreneur.


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