In the next millennium, the new economy will mean different things to different people. It will require different things from each of us. And it will reward each of us in different ways. What will it mean to you? We asked each of 21 thought leaders to offer one idea to prepare us for the 21st century. Meet our Unit of 21.
Marie Rankin Clarke Professor of Social Science and Management
Claremont Graduate University
For the first time in human history, people can expect to outlive the organizations that they work for. As we live longer and work for more years, we risk becoming "too good" at what we do. Work that felt challenging when we were in our thirties may feel dull when we reach our fifties — at which point we have 20 years left in our careers.
So we need new ways to manage the "second half" of our work lives. That might mean retraining yourself for a different kind of job. It might mean developing a "parallel career" — for example, working in a nonprofit organization that interests you while cutting back on your regular job. It might mean doing the same kind of work that you've done, but in a different setting.
An old client of mine, a man who built a machine-tool company, plans to leave that company. He's only in his mid-fifties, but he told me, "I know too much about this industry, and everything I know is about yesterday." His knowledge is an obstacle; it no longer applies to today's business world. So he has switched to a new job — managing the finances of an archdiocese — that will keep him busy for a long time.
How do you know when you're ready for a career change? When the harder you work, the less you seem to accomplish — or when you're sure that you know all the answers, and you've stopped asking, "What are the right questions?"
There will always be people who "retire on the job" and then count the years until they stop working. But those people who see a "second career" as an opportunity for continued personal growth will be the ones who lead the richest lives. They will also be our role models.
Peter Drucker is a celebrated business thinker who has written more than 30 books, including 2 novels and a memoir.
Founder, president, and creative director
New York, New York
What will the workplace of the future look like? That depends on who's there — on whether we encourage women to stay and minorities to enter.
These days, women are feeling so dispirited about the work world that they're actually leaving their jobs. The so-called glass ceiling isn't the problem. The problem has to do with what women see when they look up at the glass ceiling. They see what they are expected to sacrifice, and they opt out of even trying to smash the glass.
They are expected to sacrifice who they are as human beings. Even those of us who create ads don't seem to know how to address women these days. Should we address them as career women? As soccer moms? As middle-aged daughters caring for aging parents? The answer is that women are all of those people — and more. Every day, women go out and do the impossible — and then berate themselves for not taking better care of their families. So they lose on all fronts.
There are so many things that organizations can do to retain their women employees — and so few organizations that choose to do those things. I've seen the resentment that a high-ranking woman causes when she takes maternity leave. I've seen the skepticism that emerges when she says that she'll be back. How can it be that so few companies, on Madison Avenue or elsewhere, offer on-site day care? More than a decade ago, Hill, Holliday in Boston created one of the finest day-care centers around. Yet very few agencies have followed that model.
While women are being driven out of the workplace by frustration and despair, minorities are having trouble entering the work world in the first place. Corporate America still hasn't recognized this country's ethnic diversity. You don't see it on TV, and you don't see it at work. Instead, you see an us-versus-them mind-set. To keep pretending that we live in a white-majority world is absurd — not just because it's wrong, but because it's bad business.
Helayne Spivak (firstname.lastname@example.org), one of the most accomplished leaders in the ad business, has run some of the world's top creative departments: At Young & Rubicam, she was chief creative officer; at J. Walter Thompson, she was worldwide creative director. She has won nearly every major honor that the industry offers, including numerous Clio Awards and the Gold Award at the Cannes Advertising Festival.
The Leadership Circle
Passion. Creativity. Commitment. Those are the qualities that companies need most if they want to win in the new world of business. Those are also the qualities that are most lacking at most companies.
In most workplaces, people still feel as if they're just a part of the means of production. Why? Because their leaders treat them that way.
How can we invent organizations in which people stop feeling like cogs and start working with a spirit of creativity and commitment? By reinventing our approach to leadership. Robert K. Greenleaf, who retired from AT&T in 1964, coined the term "servant leadership." Behind that term is a simple but powerful idea: Leadership derives naturally from a commitment to service. You know that you're practicing servant leadership if your followers become wiser, healthier, more autonomous — and more likely to become servant leaders themselves.
I've led from a place of servant leadership, and I've led from a place of top-down leadership — and there's no question which kind of leadership is more effective. My classmates at Harvard Business School used to call me the Prussian General: For many years, that was my approach to leadership. Then I was hit by a series of personal tragedies and professional setbacks. My wife died. A mail-order venture that I had started went bankrupt. The universe was working hard to bring a little humility into my life. Rather than launch another business, I accepted a friend's offer to head an aquarium project in Tampa.
I spent the next six years in a job that gave me no power, no money, and no knowledge. That situation forced me to draw on a deeper part of myself. We ended up with a team of people who were so high-performing that they could almost walk through walls. Why, I wondered, was I suddenly able to lead a team that was so much more resilient and creative than any team that I had run before? The answer: Somewhere, amid all of my trials, I had begun to trust my colleagues as much as I trusted myself.
As we head into the 21st century, I hope that leaders will ask themselves this simple question: What kind of company are you trying to build? A profit machine in which everyone feels alienated? Or a "legacy" company — an organization in which there is shared excitement about feeling a larger sense of purpose?
Jim Stuart (email@example.com) was executive director of the Florida Aquarium, which opened in Tampa in March 1995 — "on time and ahead of budget," he says. He has run several companies, including Val-Pak and Needlecraft Corp., and for 12 years, he served in various roles at Quaker Oats, a company that was cofounded by his great-grandfather. For the past five years, Stuart has taught at the University of South Florida Graduate School of Business. The Leadership Circle, which Stuart cofounded with Eric Klein and Bob Anderson, is a two-year program for CEOs and their spouses that will convene its first session in the spring of 2000.
Founder and cochair
The Body Shop
I'd like to address my advice to young women who are entering the business world. To them, I say, Challenge everything that you've ever been taught. Too much of what you've learned in school does not reflect the new realities of life, of the workplace, or of making a living.
If you're going to work for a company, work for one that you can relate to emotionally. Look at its founding principles, and make sure that they match your own principles. Also, look for companies that prize creativity. I really believe that women have a special knack for creativity. If you want to join a big company, make sure that it recognizes the importance of family. But don't think bigger; think better.
Most important, try to find profitable work that has a genuine social purpose — work that addresses some great need in society. One of the biggest social disasters of modern society is loneliness. Forget selling over the Internet. Direct selling — not just mailing catalogs, not just letting customers visit your Web site, but going into communities and entering people's homes (the way Mary Kay and Tupperware have always done it) — could become a huge market. That kind of selling builds community and creates connections, especially in countries that have aging populations.
That's why we started direct selling in the UK several years ago. Through a business that we call the Body Shop Direct, we hold parties around people's kitchen tables. We get highly trained employees to organize parties in people's homes, we invite 10 to 15 people, and then we sell our products. There is an incredible sense of isolation in the world today. Any young person who finds an antidote to loneliness will have found a business that will last forever.
Anita Roddick (firstname.lastname@example.org) started the Body Shop in 1976, with a $6,000 bank loan. Today, the company brings in nearly $1 billion in annual revenues and operates more than 1,600 stores in 47 countries.
Founder and managing director
American businesspeople have thought too small: They've focused almost solely on the United States and Europe. But for every person in one of those markets, there are three people in the developing world. What a missed opportunity!
In the 21st century, we will have a chance to reverse that trend. Technology allows companies to hire people from anywhere. A U.S. security company, for example, can hire villagers to monitor its systems in homes and offices. What difference does it make if the person monitoring such a system is sitting in Illinois or in India?
There's another way to plug into the developing world: Turn the people who live there into entrepreneurs. Don't just offer poor people charity — offer them credit. Grameen Bank started out in Bangladesh by offering loans as small as $30 — just enough capital to get a microbusiness off the ground. Over the past two decades, we've made loans that are worth a total of $2 billion. Through GrameenPhone, we've also distributed more than 4,000 phones to villages. Many of our borrowers have become entrepreneurs. They buy a cell-phone, sell the service to villagers, and use the income to repay their loan.
Poor people don't create poverty. The more we can use the Internet and the power of entrepreneurship to connect villagers to the rest of the world — the more we can eliminate their sense of isolation — the sooner they'll be able to work themselves out of poverty.
Muhammad Yunus (email@example.com) pioneers business models that combine economic growth with social justice. He is the author of "Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty" (Perseus Books, 1999).
Andy & Kate Spade
New York, New York
The biggest challenge facing companies in the 21st century will be to differentiate themselves from everyone else — to create a passionate following among customers who have too many choices.
How do you create that kind of following? For one thing, by treating customers well. Simple politeness has become a lost art — especially in the fast-paced fashion industry. That's why, when we hire people, we give them a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette. We remind our salespeople that customers are spending their money with us and that we should show our appreciation. That sounds obvious. But the more popular you become — the hotter your products become — the easier it is to forget such a basic principle.
As important as it is to treat customers with respect, it's even more important to respect what they say. For us, that means designing handbags that are not only functional and stylish, but also graceful and elegant. Customers have made it clear that they want to bring a sense of grace back into their lives. So we design bags around the idea that elegance, not just edge, is cool.
We had one big advantage when we started our company: Neither of us came from the fashion-design industry. We didn't take our cues from the design industry; we took our cues from customers.
Great design doesn't have to be complicated. The best designs are those that show restraint. We've found design inspirations in umbrellas and in men's suits of the 1950s, for example. We also use fabrics that people haven't seen in handbags (such as seersucker, pink velvet, and bouclé wool) but that they respond to once they see our designs. We use fabrics that are rooted in tradition — but we shape them in ways that are modern. That's not a bad approach to design in general.
Kate Spade (firstname.lastname@example.org) and her husband, Andy Spade (email@example.com), launched Kate Spade in 1993. Kate was a fashion editor for Mademoiselle, and Andy was an advertising copywriter. In 1995, Kate received the Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Last year, CFDA named her the year's Best Accessory Designer. Early this year, the company announced a strategic partnership with the Neiman Marcus Group, along with plans to expand its product line into shoes and clothing.
Worldwide managing director
McKinsey & Co.
New York, New York
The future is about more than superfast computers, designer genes, and neural networks. Answering the life-altering questions posed by technology requires knowledge that goes beyond simplistic ideas about "progress." We need a more holistic intelligence — not just knowledge, but wisdom.
Too often, what we learn in school prepares us for employment rather than for life. I see examples in my work every day — people who do well at a certain kind of task, but who don't bring to their pursuits the values, as well as the richness of experience, that come from a broad-based education. At McKinsey, some of our best people are those who studied literature or the classics, and who later received business training. These people tend to understand the array of forces at work in organizations, and they approach decisions in a very well-rounded way. My advice to young people is to avoid the urge to focus too early. Learn to appreciate literature, history, and art. That kind of knowledge will help you in your career, and it will help you lead a richer life.
I do something at McKinsey that helps us to think in more well-rounded ways. Every six months, all 700 partners spend a week together. In my closing talk, I read poetry. At first, that took people by surprise. But over time, poetry has affected what we're doing. Poetry helps us reflect on the important questions: What is the purpose of our business? What are our values? Poetry helps us recognize that we face tough questions and that we seldom have perfect answers.
Rajat Gupta (firstname.lastname@example.org) joined McKinsey & Co.'s New York office in 1973. He has served as the firm's worldwide managing director since 1994.
Founder, chair, and CEO
New York, New York
Business today is about making decisions amid ambiguity. There is not a single day when I don't wish that I had more time and more information to make decisions. Usually, the higher the stakes, the greater the ambiguity. That's what is so daunting — and so exciting.
It's funny. We get more information than ever, faster than ever — yet we never have enough information, and we never get it fast enough. It's perfectly normal for me to be talking on the phone with one of my partners, even as I receive a fax from a reporter, read email from an investor, and get an instant message from my daughter.
Recently, we had an opportunity to acquire a Web site that was run by some very smart people. But the product was not complete, so our ability to test it was limited, and we had to give our answer in 72 hours. How do I make such a complex decision in such a short time frame? While I can't create more time, I can assemble a good team. Working with smart, trustworthy people is critical. I have to know about many things — but I could never learn everything that I need to know about cable, or the Internet, or software, or even what makes people laugh. So I've gathered experts who help me make decisions in those areas.
In the case of that Web site, I relied on our marketing people to assess the site's value to consumers, on our technology experts to determine what the site could do, and on our finance people to check the dollars and cents. Then I paid attention to my gut. The bottom line: We passed on the deal, but we felt quite comfortable with our decision. Next!
Geraldine Laybourne (email@example.com) ran Disney/ABC Cable Networks before leaving to found Oxygen Media, in May 1998. previously, she was president of Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite. In partnership with Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Entertainment and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, Oxygen will launch a women's cable network early next year.
President and COO
America Online Inc.
My First piece of advice is to ignore conventional wisdom. Today, when it comes to building companies, if you want to win big, you have to think different. A case in point: "Music is meant to be heard, not seen." My colleagues and I heard that over and over as we were building MTV. Imagine if we had listened!
There is, however, one piece of popular wisdom that's worth listening to: Brands matter. Indeed, in the new world of business — a world of overcapacity and sensory overload — brands matter more than ever. Why? Because brands are a form of shorthand. Customers think about what matters to them, analyze their choices, and settle on a brand. Once they've done that analysis, they're very reluctant to do it again.
But you won't win those customer calculations unless your brand stands for something that's both unique and genuine. The two jobs that I had before coming to America Online — at Century 21 and at Six Flags — were about breathing life into old brands. In each case, the challenge was to remind customers about what made the company special. When I was at Six Flags, I would ask people, "How is Six Flags different from Disney?" I'd get many different answers — which is not good. Six Flags had forgotten what its core advantage is. It isn't just that all of its parks are bigger than Disneyland — although they are. It's that Six Flags parks exist all across the country: 90% of Americans live within a day's drive of one of those parks. We began to advertise: "Bigger than Disneyland, closer to home" was one of our slogans. In other words, we started selling convenience. Attendance at Six Flags parks went from 18 million to nearly 25 million while I was there.
Just as important as what you do with a brand is what you choose not to do. Great brands say no to new ideas far more often than they say yes. At MTV, we used to say that we'd rather have two good ideas that work together than two great ideas that conflict. Over the years, AOL has said no to lots of fancy technology and lots of gee-whiz features. It continues to believe that users want the technology to be invisible. Ray Oglethorpe, AOL's president of technology, says that his job is to make hard things easy. And that's a hard job. But that's what has built this company into such a strong brand.
Bob Pittman (firstname.lastname@example.org) began his career, at age 15, as a part-time disc jockey in his native Mississippi. He is best known as the programmer who created MTV and VH-1. AOL is the leading provider of branded Internet services, with more than 19 million subscribers and almost $4 billion in annual revenues.
Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics
City College of New York
New York, New York
Memo to the folks in Silicon Valley: You will have good jobs for 20 more years. By 2020, though, computer chips will be cheaper than bubble-gum wrappers, and PCs will be in museums.
Already, we can put tens of millions of transistors on a piece of silicon the size of a fingernail. But the trend toward smaller and smaller transistors can't go on forever. Soon we'll start etching on molecules. A whole new generation of computers will emerge: DNA computers, protein computers, quantum-dot computers. Silicon Valley will become the Rust Belt of the new economy.
What kind of jobs will flourish? Those that involve the two things that technology isn't good at: Computers don't have common sense, and they don't have real vision. They can see, and they can hear, but they don't understand what they see and hear. That's why you just can't automate specialized human services. Financial planners will still have jobs, and so will policemen and maids. The number of jobs related to leisure activities is going to explode as well. Entertainment, which is already big, will get bigger. There will be a bull market in artists and actors.
In 20 years, life will finally live up to our movie-driven fantasies. You'll talk to your watch to get on the Internet. Your glasses will be able to recognize people's faces and tell you their names — even when you can't recall who those people are. Who knows? One day, you might be strolling down the street and pass by a homeless person. Your glasses might tell you, "Look! There's Bill Gates! He couldn't make the transition to the post-silicon economy."
Michio Kaku (email@example.com) is the host of a syndicated radio program and the author of "Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century" (Doubleday, 1997). A codeveloper of string-field theory, Kaku is now working to complete Einstein's unified field theory — aka "the theory of everything."
J. Craig Venter
President and chief scientific officer
The story of digital technology over the past 20 years has been one of personalization — the personal computer, personal Web pages, My Yahoo! The story of medicine over the next 20 years will also be one of personalization. And what happens in medicine will affect much of what happens in society over the next 20 years.
What do I mean by "personalized medicine"? Simple: You'll know the variations between your specific gene code and the human genome, and those variations will determine what kinds of drugs you'll be given and which genetic illnesses you'll be screened for. For example, I and another researcher have already isolated three genes that cause colon cancer. In the next few years, tests will be available to determine whether someone has a greatly increased risk of getting that disease. People will get tested for their risk level early in life, and if they're at risk, they'll be tested regularly so that the disease can be caught soon after it develops. That's a far cry from waiting until age 50 to have your first screening test.
Now imagine multiplying that type of information by 80,000 — which is the number of genes that humans have. Within the next year, scientists will have sequenced the complete human genetic code. The result: a database of more than 20 million polymorphisms — a vast record of the differences in gene spellings that make your genes different from those of other people. And that kind of knowledge changes everything.
I joke that the way I'm going to get rich is by writing "The Genome Diet Book." By understanding the genetic variations in people's metabolisms, we'll be able to know exactly how much sugar, fat, and protein each person should take in. That suggests what I see as one of the biggest growth markets of the future: specialized foods. Medicine and agriculture will converge to give people the kinds of food that their specific genetic code calls for.
J. Craig Venter (firstname.lastname@example.org), a pioneer in DNA sequencing, aims to sequence all 3 billion letters of human DNA by the end of 2001. Celera Genomics uses the Internet to make its genomic and biological information available to researchers, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and individual consumers. Before joining Celera Genomics, Venter founded the Institute for Genomic Research, which developed a technique that led to the completion of the first three genomes ever sequenced.
Nana and John Naisbitt
We live in a technologically intoxicated zone. We are softened by the comforts that technology brings, fascinated by its gadgetry, and addicted to its delivery of entertainment. Then, turning our backs to its consequences, we wonder why the future seems so unpredictable and bleak.
Too many of us grant our technology a special status. Too few us have a clear understanding of what place it should have in our lives — or in society at large. This intoxication zone is dissatisfying, empty, and dangerous. Climbing out of that zone is impossible unless we first recognize that we're in it. Marshall McLuhan liked to say that while he didn't know who discovered water, he was sure that it wasn't a fish.
Fortunately, we are not fish. A number of artists, theologians, and scientists are acknowledging that technology, at its best, supports and improves human life — and that, at its worst, it distorts, and destroys human life. At the end of the 20th century, children are being drafted into war at the age of seven. The Military-Industrial Complex has become a Military-Nintendo Complex, with some insidious implications for our children and for society.
We should love progress. But that love need not be unconditional. Loving progress means cherishing technology's virtues — as well as admitting mistakes, facing up to problems, being well informed, and welcoming alternative opinions. If we truly love technology, we won't be reckless with it.
John Naisbitt and his daughter, Nana (email@example.com), are the co-authors, with Douglas Philips, of "High Tech-High Touch: Technology and Our Search For Meaning" (Broadway Books, October 1999). John Naisbitt is the author of the best-selling "Megatrends" series. The original "Megatrends" (Warner Books, 1982) has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide.
Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Yes, we live in a world of email, Web pages, and cyber-communities. But companies in the next century will need to take more responsibility for the physical aspects of their business: what they make, how they make it, where they locate.
Industrial capitalism has created a world that's more interconnected than ever before. At the same time, the connections between people are becoming less visible. We can walk into a store and buy products from all over the world. But we don't have a clue about which ecosystems were transformed, or which workers did what, to make those products. Taking responsibility for the social implications of your business isn't easy. But your customers will demand it, and governments will require it. CEOs will need to think harder about how their companies affect the world's ecosystems.
They will also have to think hard about where they locate their businesses. People in high-tech companies often want to enjoy the amenities of "wilderness." So companies tend to locate their offices near forested, mountainous terrain. That approach creates stark disparities in the way land gets valued. Suburban landscapes are valued because of the work that is done in them; cities are filled with valued cultural amenities; and we tend to value wilderness for its own sake. Implicitly devalued is the rural landscape in between: the landscape of farmerers, ranchs, and loggers.
As we enter the next century, we need to be mindful of the landscapes that produce the food we eat. And companies need to make sure that, in relocating to places where people can enjoy the wonders of nature, they don't destroy those wonders in the process.
William Cronon (firstname.lastname@example.org) sparked controversy in 1995 with an essay in the New York Times Magazine: "The Trouble with Wilderness." His most recent book, "Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature" (Norton, 1995), looks at cultural attitudes toward nature. In 1992, Cronon left a tenured position at Yale University so that he could return to his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.
Mars Exploration Program
Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA
You can't talk about the 21st century without talking about space. Within a decade, travel to and from outer space will be quick and easy. Combine this access with technologies that enable people to do things in space cheaply and effectively, and you see that the opportunities for private initiative become endless. Space is the next entrepreneurial frontier.
Here's one small example: Within three months of the Pathfinder landing on Mars, our Web page had received 500 million hits. What if a company, rather than the government, had built that craft and had taken it to Mars? This company could have charged, say, 50 cents a hit for Web access to images. It could have sold the data that it collected to scientists. In just a year, it would have paid for the cost of the mission — which for NASA was $258 million.
The allure of space travel changed my life. I grew up in the Sahara Desert. I'd get up in the morning and listen to Voice of America broadcasts about the Apollo program. I was so inspired that I decided to study hard at school. Eventually, I ended up at NASA. But space does more than just inspire us. It encourages us to think about how we can come together to work on issues that affect everyone.
The only limit to the development of our planet is our collective intelligence — the total amount of brainpower that the Earth has at its disposal. There's never been a better time to leverage technologies — the Web, satellite-based communication, videoconferencing — to expose everyone on the planet to what its best minds have to offer. Somewhere in the Kalahari Desert is a boy or a girl who might have what it takes to unlock the mystery of cancer. We can reach him or her through space.
Cheick Diarra (email@example.com) grew up in Mali, West Africa. He has worked on the Pathfinder mission to mars, the Magellan mission to venus, the Ulysses mission to the poles of the sun, and the Galileo mission to jupiter.
Author, "Woman: An Intimate Geography"
Takoma Park, Maryland
What's the wave of the future? Economic parity between men and women. The world is too competitive to support a class of people who aren't working to their full capacity. Most families today need two incomes — not only to raise children but also to support them through many years of education. Equality of income between the sexes has gone beyond being fair. It is a necessity.
How do we get there? First, by getting men to share responsibility for raising children. I can't find much evidence to support the proposition that women are naturally more nurturing than men. Men can love children every bit as "maternally" as women can. The more time that men spend with infants — holding them, smelling them — the more the men's circuits of affiliation are aroused. But many of my women friends have a problem with letting go. They feel that they are better nurturers than men are; they laugh at their husbands for being awkward. If women have that attitude, men don't have a chance.
We need to do two other things: to pay attention to gender biases, and to learn what Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, calls "reconciliation behaviors." Here's an example: Women at MIT collected data on things like differences in the lab and office space allocated to men and to women. They showed that there was systematic (but largely unconscious) discrimination. MIT officials acknowledged the problem, apologized, and went about setting things right.
The ability to realize when we are wrong — and to correct the problem — is one of the most important skills that we can master as we move into the new century.
Natalie Angier (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers science for the New York Times. She has won a Pulitzer Prize for her work there. "Woman: An Intimate Geography" (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) looks at the full scope of female biology.
Ann M. Fudge
President, Maxwell House and Post Division;
Executive vice president, Kraft Foods Inc.
Tarrytown, New York
It's hard to talk intelligently about the future without talking about young people. So what can we do today to make sure that our kids will be productive 20 years from now?
Some answers are obvious. We know what it will take to win in the next century — so we've got to make sure that kids get access to the skills they'll need. Some answers are less obvious. This year, our unit participated in a national school-breakfast program. Lots of kids still go to school hungry — which does not put them in a position to learn. Working with public-school systems, we donated cereal to help kids get the nutrition that they need. Every company can find a way to improve the lives of kids in their community.
Companies can also find ways to help build the spirit of community in general. It's one of the great challenges of the next century: How can we reinvent the idea of "connection" in an economy that has become so global, so mobile, so fast-paced? One of the wonders of the Web is that it helps people make connections that are based on shared interests, rather than on shared backgrounds. The Internet makes all of us more open to one another. But there's no substitute for human connection. That's why I'm a big believer in travel, especially when it means going to places where I can't speak the language: You work so hard to make connections, and you learn so much when you do. Every time I travel, I wind up asking myself the same question: How different are we, really, from one another?
Ann M. Fudge (email@example.com) was named one of "the 50 most powerful women in American business" by Fortune and was cited by Ebony as one of "the 12 most powerful blacks in corporate america." In 1986, she joined General Foods Corp. (which later merged with Kraft Foods) as associate director of strategic planning. Since 1994, she has served as the president of Maxwell House Coffee, and since 1997, she has been responsible for brands such as Grape Nuts and Shredded Wheat.
Founder, president, and CEO
I grew up in China, where there's a strong emphasis on what men are expected to do, as opposed to what women are supposed to do. But as a child, I read stories about strong heroines, like those who appear in Jane Austen's books. And I read fables of the American West — a land where, if you worked hard, you succeeded.
So when I came to the United States, I expected to find a reality that was different from what I'd seen in China. In fact, it's not so different here. People still make assumptions about women — that they aren't good in the hard sciences, for example. And women aren't always paid the same as men for doing the same job. After reading all of those fables about America, that reality shocked me.
My hope is that the 21st century will bring deep-seated changes in how women are perceived. But until perceptions do change, we need to make sure that we don't let the world define who we are. We need to define those things for ourselves. A big part of that self-definition involves our relationship with technology. The Internet is poised to change how we work and live. Women must become absolutely competent in all things digital. If we aren't equal participants in the Net, we risk re-creating all of the problems that we've experienced throughout the 20th century.
So we need to adapt. I learned about adapting to change the hard way. In 1989, at Tiananmen Square, we hoped to build a free society. Then everything changed. To avoid imprisonment, I left my family, escaped to Hong Kong, and made my way to the United States. I can't return to China right now. But I will someday. Technology is a powerful force for democracy. In less than five years, the Net has reached 60 million people. When the Internet reaches critical mass in China, it will support human rights, in general, and enhance the status of women, in particular. That's a day that I'm looking forward to.
Ling Chai (firstname.lastname@example.org) has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since escaping to the United States, she has attended Princeton University and Harvard Business School. Jenzabar.com combines Internet and intranet technology to facilitate the free exchange of ideas among students, professors, and administrators on college campuses across the country.
President, American Express Relationship Services
American Express Co.
New York, New York
Many people believe that we have entered the age of the Internet. Actually, it's more accurate to say that we're living in the age of the customer. Make no mistake: Customers are in control today. They have access to more information than ever before, and they can retrieve it faster than ever before. There has never been a better time to be a customer — or a more demanding time to be a company.
The first challenge of the 21st century will be to master the changes that come with customers being in control. Companies will have to find ways to get to market at lightning speed, to make decisions in real time, and to offer highly personalized products. Each company needs to develop an unprecedented degree of flexibility in order to offer customers what they want — when and how they want it. Companies that manage this transition effectively will thrive; those that don't will fail.
Of course, companies don't change unless the people in them change. It's up to every one of us to figure out how prepared we are to enter the age of the customer. Am I genuinely passionate about doing what's best for customers — as opposed to what's easiest for me? Am I willing to surrender a certain amount of control — in order to give more control to customers?
The more the business world changes, the more obvious it becomes that business life will keep getting faster. In the 21st century, change will become the defining reality of business, and people and companies that embrace change will be the ones that survive and flourish.
Anne Busquet (email@example.com) joined American Express as an assistant marketing manager in 1978. Today, she is responsible for the company's customer-information management, its global interactive strategies, and its smart-card initiatives, as well as other business ventures. Busquet, who was Born in Mulhouse, France, has also served as an operations analyst for Hilton International and for Holiday Inn.
San Francisco, California
Our well-being in the next century will largely depend on how we resolve two major threats to the environment: climate change and urban sprawl. To be sure, scientists haven't reached a consensus on how fast the global-warming trend is moving, or on what its full impact will be. But are we really prepared to sit by before we address climate changes that could alter the planet's mix of plants and wildlife?
It's up to the United States to take the lead role. We put the most greenhouse gases into the air. Our cars are a big part of the problem, and that's what makes the current fascination with sport-utility vehicles so disturbing. How many of us really need high-powered, four-wheel-drive vehicles to drop our kids off at school? Sure, auto companies are developing technologies that will reduce emissions. But folks are getting in their cars more often, and they are driving longer, than ever.
Why are people driving so much and so far? Because of sprawl. I live in Henderson County, North Carolina. Folks here have long been averse to land-use planning. But they see that the county's vistas are being eaten away by subdivisions that don't connect to the local towns. You've got to jump in your car just to go and pick up some milk! In the long term, that kind of car culture affects the communities that we live in and the way we interact — or don't interact — with one another.
Sprawl is less about regulating polluters than it is about shaping individual choices. It's time for us to rethink where and how we live — and to begin developing compact, vibrant cities and communities. There's another problem with sprawl, one that has nothing to do with the physical environment and everything to do with the human imagination. Spending our lives in cars turns nature into something that we drive by, rather than something that we live in. At the turn of the last century, John Muir remarked that if he could just get people out into the Sierra Nevada, they would instinctively want to protect that majestic place. Only by feeling that kind of connection can people see the environment as a real place, rather than as a nice abstraction.
Chuck McGrady (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the 47th president of the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. Founded in 1892 by John Muir, the Sierra Club today has 550,000 members. As a member of the Republican party, McGrady works to build bipartisan support for environmental-protection measures. He does not drive a sport-utility vehicle.
Laura D'Andrea Tyson
Dean, Walter A. Haas School of Business
University of California, Berkeley
One defining reality of the 21st century involves demographics. People will live longer, and older people will account for a larger portion of the world's population.
Mass aging has several consequences. As longevity creeps up, the trend toward early retirement will begin to reverse. So people need to ask themselves, "How do I prepare for a longer life? Shall I retire early or late? Shall I change careers?" In the future, retiring at age 65 could mean having 25 to 30 years left — rather than the 10 or 15 years that used to be typical.
Companies also need to think about changing demographics. The average age of consumers, what they buy, and how they buy — all of this will change. For example, one surprise in the new economy has been the speed at which Internet use has grown among the older population.
Moreover, as people live longer, lifetime learning invariably plays a larger role in their quality of life. Again, look at the Internet: People in their fifties have been working for decades without it — but they would really benefit from learning to use it.
Of course, the group that will be most affected by longer life spans is our children. Many of them can expect to live to age 90 or more — so for them, lifelong learning will be especially important. There is increasing evidence that what happens between birth and age 3 is critical to developing a person's capacity to learn. So one task for the 21st century will be to get our early-education systems right — in order to give our children a foundation for lifelong learning.
Laura D'Andrea Tyson (email@example.com) worked in the Clinton administration From 1993 to 1996. she was national economic adviser for almost two years, and she also served as Chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Director, World Wide Web Consortium
MIT Laboratory for Computer Science
The next century is going to turn our world upside down. The Internet combines people and ideas faster than they have ever been combined before. And that combination changes everything.
The basic social conventions of the industrial era — the stable career, the 9-to-5 job, the gradually (but steadily) increasing salary — were all built around the notion that people moved their bodies in response to information. If you wanted to buy something, you went to a store. If you wanted to build something, you worked in a factory. In the Net economy, the creation of value doesn't require that kind of physical movement. Income accumulates not in the form of cash but in the form of clicks. Free Web sites and email accounts enable "regular folks" to create multiple identities, or to start one project before they finish another.
Where is all of this leading? To a rediscovery of basic questions. People are discovering that the question "What needs to be done?" is bigger and more important than the question "How can I do it?" What do we see after we surf through page after page of business Web sites? In many cases, we see organizations that shrewdly view the Web as another medium for answering the question "Why does this organization exist in the first place? What is our purpose?" What do we see when we wade through the vast array of online learning tools that are now available? We see new ways to get at the most basic question of all: "What do you want to do with your life?"
The great thing about technology is that it forces us to figure out the world from scratch. In so doing, it gives us a chance to rediscover what's really important. So maybe the 21st century won't turn your world upside down. Maybe it will turn that world right side up.
Tim Berners-Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org), the inventor of the World Wide Web, came to his career naturally: His parents helped design the Ferranti Mark I, the world's first commercially available computer. In his first book, "Weaving the Web" (HarperSanFrancisco, Fall 1999), Berners-Lee writes about the history of the Web and his role in that history. Berners-Lee occupies the 3Com Founders chair at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science.
Lucy McCauley (email@example.com), formerly the copy chief at Fast Company, is a freelance writer and editor. She contributes regularly to the Unit of One section.
A version of this article appeared in the September 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.