This is a postcard written from one side of the Great Millennial Switcheroo to the other: Hey, what’s it like over there? Do you remember what we were thinking back on this side?
To capture this moment of the Great Crossover, the Fast Company-Roper Starch Worldwide Survey asked members of the Fast Company community to gauge the world of work in terms both sublime and ridiculous, to test the attitudinal waters for what really matters and for what barely registers. Is it the things of the moment — the always-changing diary of who’s hot and who’s not, the celebrification of practically everything — that stir us? Or is it the stuff of serious New Year’s resolutions — work that makes a difference, life that feels in balance, the stuff of head and heart, wallet and well-being, fortune and family — that moves the soul? Which causes more head scratching? The prospect of waking up to a world in which too many of the microchips that control everything from the coffeemaker to the microwave, from the Mars Pathfinder to the Nissan Pathfinder, choose this particular morning to misbehave? Or the ongoing challenge of figuring out, once all the millennial dust has settled, exactly what kind of work will satisfy us, how much money will prove to be enough for us, what deeply shared values will tie us together as a community, and which people will continue to earn our admiration for their contributions?
In the spirit of millennial madness, we approached this survey with an appropriate mixture of amusement and amazement. After all, if you can’t pit Bill Gates against Oprah Winfrey in a popularity contest when the clock strikes 2000, when can you do it? Haven’t you always wondered how celebrities and CEOs measure up as companions on a hypothetical airplane ride? And whose bumper-sticker words of wisdom do a better job of putting the final brand on our times — Jerry Seinfeld’s, Forrest Gump’s, or Nirvana’s? Sure, we’re in the middle of a global business revolution. But if you can’t dance at the revolution, do you really want to be a part of it?
Still, despite our attempts at frivolity and foolishness, the Fast Company community once again answered our questions with unswerving smarts and seriousness of purpose. What we discovered was, in many ways, what we expected. At the turn of the millennium, the Fast Company crowd shows little evidence of euphoria or panic, of wild revelry or wide-eyed insurrection. This community remains focused on the work at hand, maintaining a subdued sanity, a reasoned approach to the present and to the future. Immense wealth may be falling from the skies, but Fast Company readers aren’t jettisoning the values that brought them this far. They value performance over glitz. They seek equity for themselves and for others.
Oh, by the way, in the popularity race, it’s Bill G. over Oprah W.
Work, Money, and the Web
You find yourself with five job offers. You are equally qualified for each job, but the pay, the hours, and the organizational culture are very different in each case.
Yahoo!, the Internet search-engine company, offers $100,000 a year in salary, along with options for 1,000 shares (currently worth more than $150 apiece), which you’ll get in five years. The hours are around-the-clock — Silicon Valley Time. The people are young, and the place is intense but fun.
Goldman Sachs, the investment-banking firm, offers $100,000 in salary and a guaranteed bonus of at least $100,000 a year. The hours are intense. The culture is both cutthroat and highly politicized. But if you survive, the payoff will be big.
Ben & Jerry’s, the ice-cream company, offers a salary of $75,000 and the possibility of a small bonus and modest stock options. The hours are reasonable. The office is in rustic Vermont. The people are easygoing. And you get all the ice cream you can eat.
Procter & Gamble, the consumer-products manufacturer, offers $100,000 in salary and the likelihood of a modest bonus. You’ll work in Cincinnati, where people are nice. The hours are reasonable — you won’t have to work many nights or weekends — and everything about the place is stable and predictable.
The Peace Corps will pay you $20,000 a year plus living expenses for two years. You’ll work long hours in dingy quarters somewhere in Eastern Europe, but the place and the people promise to be fascinating. You’re guaranteed to get your old job back after you complete your two-year stint.
Which job would you choose?
Yahoo! — 24.0%
Goldman Sachs — 8.9%
Ben & Jerry’s — 33.1%
Procter & Gamble — 29.6%
Peace Corps — 4.4%
Which job would you turn down first?
Yahoo! — 14.7%
Goldman Sachs — 36.0%
Ben & Jerry’s — 4.7%
Procter & Gamble — 4.1%
Peace Corps — 40.5%
Sanity. Balance. Butterfat. Sure, people want the big bucks, but most of them would rather have a life. Nearly two-thirds say that they would chase their dreams in Vermont or Cincinnati — yes, Cincinnati — before toughing it out in Silicon Valley or in the gray canyons of Wall Street. Why? Ben & Jerry’s and Procter & Gamble aren’t new-economy stars, but they promise a certain normality of pace, of community, of values. Ben & Jerry’s, more to the point, promises proximity to Chunky Monkey and Phish Food.
An entrepreneurial minority (more men than women, and more young people than old people) are pumped to live life nonstop at Yahoo! in exchange for the prospect of an enormous payoff — well, someday. But that minority is a smaller flock (just 24% of respondents) than Net hype would have us believe. Perhaps we really aren’t all that envious of Web millionaires. We’re certainly not envious of investment bankers: Big bonuses can’t compensate for the grinding work or the all-consuming schedule at Goldman Sachs. Why make an obscene amount of money when all you can spend it on are cool suits and take-out Chinese? A telling piece of data: Goldman Sachs is only slightly more desirable than the Peace Corps, an organization at the opposite end of the economic spectrum.
Sooner or later, this survey indicates, it’s not about money. At the turn of the millennium, we know too well what it costs to get really rich: taking enormous risks (and winning), or making enormous sacrifices. In most cases, the really rich do both — or else they’re incredibly, outlandishly lucky. Most of us hope for a lucky break. But while we wait, we content ourselves with more-modest accomplishments. A life of sanity and $100,000 a year suits us just fine.
As for the Peace Corps, forget it. That organization is actually the least popular option among respondents between the ages of 20 and 29. Noblesse oblige has its limits. For many people, it would seem, sending a check each year to the United Way is enough.
From each of the following pairs, pick the organization that you think will be more successful 10 years from now:
Merrill Lynch — 43.6%
E*Trade — 56.4%
Toys ‘R’ Us — 48.9%
eToys — 51.1%
Peace Corps — 43.5%
Service.com — 56.5%
Barnes & Noble — 45.8%
Amazon.com — 54.2%
General Motors — 81.5%
AutoNation — 18.5%
Time — 90.2%
Slate — 9.8%
American Airlines — 44.7%
priceline.com — 55.3%
Wal-Mart — 72.5%
eBay — 27.5%
These findings help explain the reluctance of respondents to commit to two years in the Peace Corps. Service.com doesn’t even exist, yet a solid majority of those we surveyed think that it’s going to eclipse the Peace Corps within a decade. In other responses, the confrontation between dirt world and e-world points up the strengths and failings of the new online stars. Respondents see a future for E*Trade because the existing brokerage system is so obviously flawed. And eToys and Amazon.com are already kicking the respective posteriors of Toys ‘R’ Us and Barnes & Noble. True, they’re both losing a ton of money, but they’re also making fundamental changes in the way we buy stuff. And although American Airlines will no doubt be flying planes in a decade, priceline.com has carved out a powerful intermediate position as ticket consolidator to the masses. Which company adds more value? Our respondents say priceline.com.
But not all dotcoms are created equal — or evaluated with the same rosy optimism. Only 27. 5% predict that eBay will beat out Wal-Mart over the next decade. And while consumers may hate the old-economy car-buying experience, relatively few of them have bought into the notion of getting their car via AutoNation. And Slate, in this forum, received a vote of little confidence — a reflection of its relative obscurity, perhaps, but also a sign that it lacks utility: Readers haven’t figured out what an online magazine is good for.
Your rich aunt dies and leaves you a windfall. The terms of her will are unusual. You get $100,000 if you want to spend the inheritance right now. You get $200,000 if you invest it for at least 10 years. Or you get $300,000 now if you give it all away to charity. Which option would you pick?
$100,000 to spend now — 15.6%
$200,000 to invest now — 77.0%
$300,000 to give to charity now — 7.4%
If you opted to take the $200,000 inheritance from your aunt, in which one of the following would you choose to invest the money for the next 10 years?
General Electric stock — 50.2%
Government securities — 29.7%
eBay stock — 20.1%
On the face of it, $100,000 sounds like a lot of money. But before you rush into anything, let’s do the numbers. Take the $100,000, and that’s all you get. Give away $300,000 to charity, and, if you’re in the top bracket, you get a tax deduction worth $99,000. That way, you’ll earn some philanthropic warm-and-fuzzies (and perhaps a nifty PBS tote bag), and you’ll end up just $1,000 short of where you’d be if you took the cash up front.
Sadly, most of us aren’t in the top tax bracket, and warm-and-fuzzies don’t pay the kids’ college bills. Fewer than one respondent in 10 is prepared to travel the philanthropic path. But most aren’t taking the cash up front either. These are boom times — and what stirs the soul of a generation weaned on a 17-year bull market is the opportunity to strike it rich in stocks.
The unmistakable message from more than three-fourths of the survey respondents: This 18-wheel economy will keep on trucking. More to the point, General Electric will. Respondents who chose to invest are more than twice as likely to sink their money into GE as they are into eBay. Jet engines and industrial controls will still be around a decade from now, even if Jack Welch won’t. Internet auctions? Who knows? And government securities? Who cares?
Much has been said and written in the media about the sudden riches that entrepreneurs and investors have made from the Internet. Have you, or has anyone you know, made a lot of money by investing in, working for, or starting a Net company?
“I personally have made a lot of money from the Net” — 2.3%
“I and people I know have made money from the Net” — 9.2%
“I haven’t made money from the Net, but people I know have done so” — 20.7%
“I don’t know anyone who has made a lot of money from the Net” — 65.2%
“Actually, I have lost money on the Net” — 2.3%
Think about this: One-third of our respondents have made money from the Net or know someone who has made money from the Net. What do we know about this one person in three? For one thing, he’s more likely to be a man than a woman: By two to one, more men say that they have made money from the Net. Those men are also likely to have higher-than-average incomes. And they’re more likely to be among those who, at the start of our survey, said that they would prefer to work for Yahoo! or for Goldman Sachs. And what of the rest of us — the sorry two-thirds who have missed out on the boom of a lifetime? We’re scooping Cherry Garcia at Ben & Jerry’s, and we’re proud of it. Our personal values, if not our stock values, are in the right place. And we’re hoping like hell that this Net bubble pops real soon, so that we don’t feel like complete morons.
CEOs and Celebrities
Which of the following CEOs would you most like to work for in the new millennium?
Bill Gates, Microsoft — 32.9%
Michael Eisner, Disney — 25.1%
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com — 9.2%
Steve Jobs, Apple Computer — 7.2%
Jack Welch, General Electric — 6.9%
Margaret Whitman, eBay — 6.5%
Michael Armstrong, AT&T — 6.0%
Lou Gerstner, IBM — 3.5%
Jack Smith, General Motors — 2.9%
Time for our beauty contest. A dream team of execs vie for validation from the online throngs. When the votes are counted, there’s no surprise about who’s strutting away with the cubic-zirconia-studded tiara: Bill Gates is the richest guy in the world, and he has dominated the high-tech world for at least the past decade. Microsoft remains undeniably, outrageously successful — as hundreds of its millionaire employees and alums can attest. Hitch your career to Gates, and you’re practically guaranteed an enriching ride.
Disney’s Michael Eisner has put up great numbers throughout his career, creating an entertainment Leviathan — notwithstanding some recent droppings in Mouseland. Here, he finishes well ahead of Jeff Bezos, who honchos the Internet’s hottest retailer but who has yet to demonstrate that he knows how to turn a profit. GE’s Jack Welch, arguably the finest manager of the past 50 years, finishes out of the money — a function, in large part, of low support from lower-income respondents.
One surprise: It turns out that there are CEOs for men and CEOs for women. Gates, he’s a guys’ CEO: 36% of men, but just 26% of women, want to work for him. Eisner, he’s a ladies’ man, drawing 32% of women’s votes. Welch and Armstrong appeal to men. Women like Bezos and Whitman. (Is this a Net thing?)
From each of the following pairs, pick the person whom you would rather sit next to on a cross-country flight:
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com — 44.3%
Michael Crichton, novelist — 55.7%
Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney — 54.2%
Bruce Willis, actor — 45.8%
Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft — 58.1%
Oprah Winfrey, talk-show host — 41.9%
Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM — 40.6%
Michael Jordan, retired basketball player — 59.4%
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer — 49.1%
Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Fed — 50.9%
Jack Smith, CEO of General Motors — 56.8%
Jeff Gordon, race-car driver — 43.2%
Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric — 40.5%
Bill Clinton, president of the United States — 59.5%
Margaret Whitman, CEO of eBay — 58.2%
Maya Angelou, poet — 41.8%
And which of the following CEOs would you least like to sit next to on a cross-country flight?
Michael Eisner, Disney — 15.8%
Jack Smith, General Motors — 15.6%
Bill Gates, Microsoft — 14.6%
Steve Jobs, Apple Computer — 13.7%
Michael Armstrong, AT&T — 11.8%
Jack Welch, General Electric — 8.7%
Margaret Whitman, eBay — 8.0%
Lou Gerstner, IBM — 6.3%
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com — 5.6%
Don’t think that big-time CEOs don’t care about these two questions. Big-time CEOs have big-time egos. And deep down, they want to be liked. Admittedly, some of the matchups were lopsided from the start. Michael Jordan can take anyone one-on-one; Gerstner doesn’t have that Wheaties-box smile, and he can’t dunk. And any investor with money on the line would kill to spend six hours next to Greenspan, the man who — more than any other living being in the free world — dictates the movement of stock prices: “Hey, Al, what’s up with Eastman Kodak?” That could be why you never see Greenspan flying on commercial airlines.
But who would have figured Gates to beat Oprah, possibly the most popular woman in the nation, so handily? (Again, this is a gender thing. Guys, by more than two to one, pick Gates; women, by almost three to one, want to fly with Oprah.) Or Eisner to squeak past matinee action-hero Bruce Willis? Sure, Willis is slightly past his leering, wisecracking prime, but on that red-eye back from the coast, wouldn’t he be more amusing than Eisner? And who would have thought that Jack Smith would beat out Jeff Gordon? Consider this vote a testament to the power of achievement over glitz.
Below we list four pairs of workers, along with their estimated pay. Would you say that each person — relative to the other person in the pair — is paid too much, about the right amount, or too little?
Jack Smith, CEO of General Motors: $3 million
Paid too much — 59.9%
Paid about the right amount — 35.6%
Paid too little — 4.6%
General Motors union assembler: $42,000
Paid too much — 12.6%
Paid about the right amount — 62.5%
Paid too little — 24.9%
Sean Puffy Combs, rapper: $54 million
Paid too much — 91.0%
Paid about the right amount — 8.7%
Paid too little — 0.3%
Entry-level Washington, DC schoolteacher: $31,000
Paid too much — 1.5%
Paid about the right amount — 21.3%
Paid too little — 77.3%
Tiger Woods, pro golfer: $26 million
Paid too much — 76.0%
Paid about the right amount — 23.2%
Paid too little — 0.9%
United States senator: $136,700
Paid too much — 32.1%
Paid about the right amount — 50.5%
Paid too little — 17.3%
Margaret Whitman, CEO of eBay: $43 million
Paid too much — 85.3%
Paid about the right amount — 14.1%
Paid too little — 0.6%
Experienced Java programmer: $150,000
Paid too much – 22.8%
Paid about the right amount — 68.4%
Paid too little — 8.9%
Okay, this was a blatant setup. We admit it. Multimillionaire CEO-celebrity versus hardworking Joe Average. What did we expect?
The one-sidedness of the response, however, makes a point. When it comes to pay, few respondents believe that the market mechanism is working very well — especially at the top of the economic food chain. In an efficient market, riches should flow to some and not to others, according to their relative contributions to society. Puffy Combs makes a bundle because he alone can produce a service that others are willing to pay for. Americans generally buy this argument. But they also have a strong sense of equity: At a certain level, they believe, the market pays some people too much.
Respondents have no problem, for example, with a Java programmer making $150,000, even though that’s about four times the median U.S. family income. At root, that salary seems fair. That’s because in fluid, competitive labor markets — like the one for programmers — information about supply, demand, and pricing is well known. There’s little dislocation, and hence little room for extreme results to occur. Similarly, automakers, and auto-making jobs, are plentiful enough to create a reasonable market dynamic.
At the highest reaches of our economy, there’s greater opportunity for dislocation, in part because pay is only loosely connected to actual labor-pricing mechanisms. Margaret Whitman does not make what anyone has decided that she’s worth; she makes a market-determined, second-order derivative of that estimation, in the form of stock options. Those options may reflect her value, but it’s more likely that they reflect a lot of stuff over which she has little control. When Tiger Woods takes home $1 million from a tournament, the purse is a testament to his golfing prowess — not a strict valuation of his contribution to society or his commercial value.
If you read the sports pages, you know that baseball player Darryl Strawberry — already recovering from cocaine addiction — was arrested on charges of solicitation. Onetime teen tennis prodigy Jennifer Capriati did drugs and shoplifted. We know more about sports celebrities’ personal lives than ever before, and often what we learn isn’t pretty. Given that this is the case, how much do you agree with each of the following statements?
“We’ve lost the ability to idolize sports stars as heroes, and that ability was comforting and healthy.”
Completely agree — 25.4%
Somewhat agree — 54.1%
Completely disagree — 20.5%
“This is reality. Sports figures are human beings, just like everyone else, and understanding that fact is healthy.”
Completely agree — 44.5%
Somewhat agree — 44.0%
Completely disagree — 11.5%
“Sports celebrities lead grotesquely distorted lives — lives that are very different from everyone else’s — and it’s healthy not to idolize them.”
Completely agree — 30.1%
Somewhat agree — 47.1%
Completely disagree — 22.8%
Arguably, this isn’t a question just about sports. It’s a proxy for our feelings about celebrity in general. There’s a sense that the celebrification of everyone and everything cheapens what matters. Yet, when John Kennedy Jr.’s plane went down last summer, we stayed glued to CNN for days. Celebrity both fascinates us and repels us.
That conflict shows up most clearly in our attitudes toward professional athletes. Nearly 90% of respondents agree, completely or somewhat, that sports stars are human, “just like everyone else.” At the same time, more than three-quarters say that players’ lives are “grotesquely distorted” and “very different from everyone else’s.” So we don’t want to idolize them. Yet 80% of us also say that it was “comforting and healthy” to idolize sports icons in the good old days. If we could only find a way back . . .
Yes, the results reflect internal conflict. But they also tell us that different groups have different opinions. Younger people are more likely to say that athletes are just human; older people, to say that sports idolatry was once healthy and that it is now unhealthy. Higher-income folks tend to say that it is unhealthy. And, interestingly, in response to this question, women answer no differently from men.
Perhaps the truth is that there are heroes, and then there are heroes. This community recognizes the value of performance and tends to associate accomplishment with worth. Mistakes and bad behavior don’t go unnoticed, but they can be overshadowed by a brilliant business decision or by one swing of the bat.
This Millennium — and the Next
Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of the new millennium?
“I marvel at the opportunities that lie ahead for today’s children. Because of technological innovation and global connection, their world will seem limitless compared with ours” — 41.2%
“I worry about our children’s future. Tomorrow’s world is fraught with risk and danger, and we’re not providing the education or the values that kids need to steer a sound course” — 46.3%
“The world doesn’t change much in a single generation. The opportunities and risks that today’s children will face are going to be about the same as those that we confronted” — 12.5%
When it comes to a vision of our children’s future, half of us are wildly optimistic, and half of us are profoundly troubled. Only one in eight believes that our children’s lives will be pretty much like ours. Notably, 53% of female respondents envision a future world “fraught with risk,” compared with just 42% of male respondents. Men tend to marvel at their kids’ opportunities. The young and the poor tend to worry; the old and the wealthy tend to marvel.
Let’s think about the 22nd century for a moment. Which scenario best describes what the workplace of the 22nd century will be like?
“Star Trek”: Free from concerns about material needs, people will focus instead on personal fulfillment — 23.9%
“Star Wars”: Most people will dedicate their lives to one of a small group of huge, hypercompetitive organizations — 32.7%
“Brave New World”: Personal relationships will yield in importance to scientific management — 25.1%
“Mad Max”: In a bleak world marked by violence and poverty, most people will work simply to survive — 18.4%
The new millennium is only just upon us, and you want us to think about the next one already? Our respondents predict a distant future that has much in common with the present. Large companies dominate the economic landscape. At the level of the individual, it’s a split decision: Scientific management may override human values; or, say almost as many respondents, we may be so well provided for that we will be able to move personal fulfillment to the top of the agenda. Some say both: Work will become routinized, and self-discovery will become a primary focus of activity. Then there are the voices of doom, predicting that it will turn out badly, really badly.
There is also a dark side to all of these forecasts: Contrary to new-economy-speak, the future is not ours to create. The next millennium is coming, and we do not control our own destiny.
Which of the following statements comes closest to capturing your thoughts about the last years of the second millennium?
“Greed is good” — 10.5%
“Life is like a box of chocolates” — 21.2%
“Here we are now, entertain us” — 17.0%
“Shagadelic, baby!” — 2.2%
“The future’s so bright, I have to wear shades” — 12.3%
“I did not have sex with that woman” — 8.5%
“Yadda, yadda, yadda” — 28.3%
No wonder that forecasts for the next millennium vary from dim to bleak: As we shuffle out of the 1990s, we are bound by a collective moral confusion that borders on indifference.
Forrest Gump’s goofy proclamation on life (“a box of chocolates”), the choice of one respondent in five, has an upbeat ring to it. But it’s also inherently fatalistic: “You never know what you’re going to get.” These are not the words of people who believe that they control their own destiny. Gordon Gekko’s utterance, “Greed is good,” is so ’80s, but at least it has the ring of conviction (and, after conviction, a short stint in a minimum-security facility).
Even worse, Nirvana’s demand to be entertained reeks of jaded passivity, and Clinton’s wondrous nontruth smacks of outrageous cynicism. And the winning phrase that pays: Seinfeld’s “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” the ultimate testament to resigned indifference. On this score, respondents were in sync across lines of gender, age, and income.
Here’s our take: Economic or geopolitical achievement doth not a millennium make. We all seek satisfaction of a different sort. Truth. Beauty. Justice. Meaning. Soul. And on those counts, the last years of the past century didn’t deliver. So enough, already, with the old millennium. Been there, done that. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Whatever.
Additional questions and answers from this Fast Company-Roper Starch Worldwide survey are available at www.fastcompany.com/online/31/survey.html
Visit Roper Starch Worldwide on the Web (http://www.roper.com).