What Comes Next?

Must Read: "Next: The Future Just Happened" by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton Company, 2001)

Michael Lewis has a knack for tapping the business zeitgeist. In Liar's Poker, he exposed the brittle core of the money- and status-obsessed 1980s. In The New New Thing, he captured the vision and the outsized ambitions of Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Now, in Next: The Future Just Happened, Lewis explores a new frontier defined by the fringe dwellers of the Web: teenage misfits, social deviants, hackers, and pseudoentrepreneurs.

Lewis has returned from his trip to the edge with at least two profound insights. First, technology is redistributing prestige. Thanks to the democratization of the Internet, we're in the midst of a "status revolution," he writes. A new class of achievers — passionate amateurs who are motivated by pure interest, not self-interest — is toppling the professional monopoly.

Which brings us to insight number two: "Capitalists have become edgier, because it pays them to be edgier," Lewis writes. He cites people such as venture-capitalist-cum-social-theorist Andy Kessler, a Wall Street dropout who looks for opportunities in the conflicts that develop between insiders and outsiders: Madison Avenue creative director versus email spammer; public-school advocates versus home schoolers; Microsoft versus Linux.

The future no longer belongs to an entrenched elite, Lewis proclaims. Status has become ephemeral for all.

Sidebar: FC Shortlist

  • Think the first dotcom boom and bust was a wild ride? Get ready for another one, says Tom McGehee Jr., author of Whoosh: Achieving Lasting Success Through Constant Innovation (Perseus, 2001). Whoosh isn't just a book with a goofy title, it's a goofy verb invented by the author to describe a critical activity: how innovation happens inside big companies. Just ignore the consulting jargon, and get to the book's powerful message: An organization's innovative capacity depends on its ability to unleash the potential of each individual in it.
  • Here's a project for the dog days: Take a vacation from technology. That's the proposal at the heart of Gil Gordon's sensible guide to a BlackBerry-free zone, Turn It Off: How to Unplug from the Anytime-Anywhere Office Without Disconnecting Your Career (Three Rivers Press, 2001). Gordon's no Luddite, but he's peddling relief for legions of businesspeople who are caught in a web of portable work, always-on technology, and bad habits.
  • But according to Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (Berrett-Koehler, 2001), we're too far gone to simply "turn it off." Authors John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor argue that overconsumption and overwork have become a social disease that has reached epidemic proportions and is literally eating away at the earth (the book includes a documented correlation between the number of brands produced and the number of natural species that have disappeared). Though they push the epidemiology tack to the straining point, the authors have packed their book with stunning facts, searing insights — and they point out a path forward.
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