“The most successful businessman is the man who holds onto the old just as long as it is good, and grabs the new just as soon as it is better.”
“I have found that hollow, which even I had relied on for solid.”
Henry David Thoreau
Ok. Let’s get the harsh truth out upfront. I am a 60something and I believe the older generation, mostly old white men, hollowed out business to the shithole soul-less point we face today. I also believe we are facing the dying rattle of these old white men’s grasp on how business is conducted.
That said. Let me spend a minute on old white men <and I have the right to do so because I am one> to explain why I believe this.
While a generalization, because there are exceptions, old white men have hollowed out the business world in their quest for “winning at any cost” and maximize “converting that win-to-cash <making $>” ratio. These men have guided business to a level of so-called “greatness” through a variety of ‘great’ business acumen thoughts & business culture attitudes which, in reality, were hollow attitudes, wins which were in reality reflection of hollow behaviors & techniques, and, ultimately, created fantastic looking hollow outcomes and achievements.
In doing so they successfully hollowed out business. I could argue, and will, “hollowing” has been the guiding light into this dark world of money grubbers with questionable moral compasses. You want some specifics? Here you go. This is how they have hollowed out business:
Capitalism is not inherently bad. In fact it is an incredible engine for growth, innovation and increased wealth & standard of living for any and all.
But old white men hollowed capitalism. They took out all the good and added all the greed. I could partially defend old white men and suggest that they were simply participants in the arc of business history, but I will not. Peter Drucker pointed out the beginning of the arc in 1989, as I noted in Salvation by Society, and we old white men could have eyed the arc and, well, stopped it. Instead old white men viewed the arc as an opportunity to not be burdened by morality & soul, but rather an opportunity to build personal wealth.
Brands are fabulous creatures and not inherently bad. They offer us every day schmucks a nice heuristic way to make decisions and isolate differentiation in which we can make true choices.
But old white men hollowed brands. The easiest way to point this out is that we stopped talking about brands and started talking about branding. Old white men started looking at brands as vehicles of wealth and not vehicles of differentiation. Brands should evolve and not be constructed or built like some building of cold steel and cheap Styrofoam ceiling tiles. Focusing on brands permitted old white men to hollow out the substantive work of creating products & services of substance. The whole concept of ‘building a brand’ is one of the most insidious concepts to infiltrate good and meaningful marketing and communications.
Profit is not inherently bad. Used wisely it contributes not only to personal, or individual wealth, but spurs on business growth in terms of innovation and employee development AND social involvement. But old white men hollowed the soul out of each dollar as they squeezed every cent of profit it of it. Profit is good only if it is not tainted by <a> greed or <b> created at the expense of giving back <in terms of true societal salvation type things>. Businesses represent an important weave in the fabric of society and the moment a business ignores that weave and focuses solely on the profits of the entity itself the opportunity arises to let the soul of each dollar made bleed out into the ether. And, yes, dollars can have a soul. Making money shouldn’t feed stock holders, it should feed society.
Making money and creating wealth is inherently a double positive: proof of the value for your efforts and increased standard of living <not just in materialistic comforts but in real living>. This is a good thing for individuals, society and the world.
Old white men hollowed out the middle and carved out the good aspects.. This is more a byproduct of their business acumen more than anything else because I cannot really point out any specific behavior they consciously took to do this, but, suffice it to say that more went to the old white men and less to the ones who actually made the money for them. Possibly worse is that crafty old white men crafted a tier of wealth creation in which they had to do nothing but use other people’s wealth to, exponentially, create their own wealth. Basically, they hollowed out the value in wealth.
Effective communication has been, and always will be, complex and complicated. Effective communication inevitably feeds into the minds and enlightenment of the listeners. If you dumb down communication, inevitably you dumb down the listeners.
Old white men hollowed out communication. I imagine as they hollowed out everything else they found it inherently more productive to gain their objectives by hollowing out communication. Everything became soundbites, powerpoint bullet points and ‘elevator speeches.’ Effectively communicating complexity took on less importance than puncturing the mind with a quick sharp stab of “here is all you need to know” <and then walking away>. Old white men mastered the art of emptying communication to a point where businesses end up walking on the slippery surface of irrelevance <cloaked in a beautiful robe called “what is important for you to know.”> Heinously, they hollowed out the value of words all the while replacing them with bullshit buzzwords <hollow shells of words>.
ROI <return on investment> is a fabulous tool. It offers us every day unimaginative pragmatic schmucks an almost heuristic way to judge some fairly complex and complicated things in business.
But old white men hollowed ROI of anything intangible and along the way scraped away some of the most meaningful things associated with investment in their desire for simplistic “this led to that.” Certainly some investments have linear outcomes and results. But not all. And these hollow men in their black & white pursuit of profit, efficiency and outcomes became color blind. Old white men started looking at people as equal to numbers & dollars and not organic organisms of less than linear productivity <in terms of Life actualization as well as business actualization>. These hollow men fell in love with numbers and began diminishing the value of humanity. They saw people as investments, like manufacturing robots, rather than, well, people.
Racism in the workplace is a stealthy virus invading the organism in ways that can create an unhealthy organism which sometimes seems to never attain its full potential despite producing results.
Old white men enable this virus to exist by hollowing out the meaning in any racism discussion, and real substantive actions, in business.
These old white men rose through the ranks of business surrounded by other white people, & few minorities, simply believing it was so because it was a reflection of those “who deserved to be here” (assuming everyone COULD be here if they worked hard enough). When in leadership positions & told about racism issues they didn’t really believe it, reluctantly doing things they were told they should do all the while thinking “it’s just political correctness”. The times old white men got trapped in diversity meetings & told 5 things they did & said that were racist in their heads they said “they can’t handle truth, they are too sensitive.” What this all led to was hollow efforts at addressing racism. They grudgingly implemented some initiatives, while publically espousing their enlightenment, but privately thinking it was a waste of time, energy & monies. All the while they believed white people never got any more breaks than anyone else or that there was never any inherent ‘privileges’ bestowed upon white skinned people.
What the business world ended up with was a generation of old white men who are the worst of racists – racists convinced they are not racist. Ultimately, any substantive efforts to address racism in business were hollowed out by old white men who didn’t really believe in them.
I hesitated to call this “the hollowing out of morality” mostly because that sounded a little harsh and I tend to believe the reality within this particular hollowness is more pragmatic. That said … it doesn’t make it any better just that I didn’t really want to get into a morality & ethical finger pointing game.
Leadership is a complex mix of personal, professional and pragmatic. When wielded well it is a beautiful tapestry of effectiveness, however, beauty is often in the eyes of the beholder when actual effectiveness becomes the measuring stick. As a reminder, old white men leadership grew up in a business of dictatorship leadership behavior or, at its best, benevolent dictatorship.
Old white men grew up in the hallowed halls of hollowed leadership management. This means that their ‘management twitch muscles’ inevitably provide reflexive business decision making based on this.
The easiest way to point this out is that businesses have developed a myriad of cultural initiatives and, yet, old white men leadership tends to simply treat them as “feel good politically correct” initiatives. They view them as “society dictated” thinking and not “business dictated” thinking. Therefore, a hollowness was inherent in the organization between how the old white men leaders attitudinally approached the business, how they viewed behavior and how the organization actually behaved.
Old white men began talking longingly of straight talk, when people knew their place in business and ‘carrot & sticks.’ Old white men started looking at businesses in disdain as vehicles of political correctness and not stark effectiveness. The truth is that many of the old white men simply didn’t buy in to a better way of doing business and, therefore, when put in a corner & challenged revert back to the hollow management style of “do what I tell you to do and shut up.”
To be fair, old white men did not create this hollowness, they simply propagated it.
Pretty damning evidence of their hollowing, no?
All that said. These old white men, in their heart of hearts, inherently do not care about a ‘better world’ or even “a better way of conducting business” from a soul perspective nor do they care about any aspect of ‘being a better person’. In fact, for the most part they are indifferent to the bigger, more important, issues and solely attach ‘better’ with wealth, importance and wins and their own interests.
I get angry. I get angry because I do not believe ‘hollowness’ is the path to a better business world and society <let alone the world> It certainly has not helped us reach greatness up to this point. And I am angry because I have believed this, and known this, for decades.
Look. This can be solved. And it can be solved by, well, old guys like me.
“At any other time it’s better. You can do the things you feel you should; you’re an expert at going through the motions. Your handshakes with strangers are firm and your gaze never wavers; you think of steel and diamonds when you stare. In monotone you repeat the legendary words of long-dead lovers to those you claim to love; you take them into bed with you, and you mimic the rhythmic motions you’ve read of in manuals. When protocol demands it you dutifully drop to your knees and pray to a god who no longer exists. But in this hour you must admit to yourself that this is not enough, that you are not good enough. And when you knock your fist against your chest you hear a hollow ringing echo, and all your thoughts are accompanied by the ticks of clockwork spinning behind your eyes, and everything you eat and drink has the aftertaste of rust.”
Old white men created the problems and as so well said in the movie The Return of the Pink Panther: “you set a thief to catch a thief.”
Older people can reverse the hollowness problem in one fell swoop. I could do it with a small merry band of contrarian older people (women & men), who have chafed in this hollow existence, could bring some good healthy substance back into this wretched hollowness.
This is a unique time in history in which business, country and politics have intersected. This is a unique time for older business people to right the wrongs of all they have wrought up to this point. I certainly hope this happens, as an old white man myself, simply for the sake of redemption for all of us old white men.