Yankelovich: Putting other people first…
S+B: And if the class of, say, 1979 focused on —
Yankelovich: “Putting myself first…”
S+B: What about the class of 2009?
Yankelovich: They’ll be different from the boomers. I’m not sure that I fully understand how, but they resonate more with my generation. They have a hunger for ethical absolutes, for self-respect, and for ways of doing business where you can feel good about yourself and where you don’t get worn out.
The pressures are terrible on young people today. How can you live a civilized life? How can you get something out of a business career other than just pressure and work? There’s a revulsion in the air against the “win at any cost” ethic. It’s debilitating. And I think I’m writing my next book for the post-boomer world.
At the same time, there’s nothing inherently narcissistic about the baby boomer generation. They happened to come of age in a time when there was reason to shrink norms, and to try to substitute laws for them. Now the culture, as a whole, is trying to rediscover its ethical bearings. I actually believe the chances for overcoming the ethical crisis are better in the business sector than in other spheres of American life, and that success here will help to dispel ethical confusion in the culture at large. That’s why there’s more need than there ever has been in companies — to compare, to discuss, to share frameworks, and to build bridges.
Reprint No. 05309
Art Kleiner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor-in-chief of strategy+business.