December 16, 2017

1970. The New Age of Business

Some Thoughts on the Times
Aerial view of Expo '70, the world's fair held in Osaka, Japan in 1970 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 14, 1970

In these days of computered conformity, predictive extrapolation, and phalanxed midgetry, it's suspiciously refreshing to read that an advanced technology company is advertising for "a disagreeable young man." The help wanted ad goes on to say that the company wants a youthful curmudgeon who questions what he's asked to do, disagrees with his supervisors and coworkers—who is, in short, an individualist.

This advertisement is cited in the current issue of Nation's Business as the basis for an article by a Virginia computing company executive, Dr. E. G. Shuster.

Dr. Shuster, who must be top man in the company or otherwise very secure in his job, claims that the era of the gray flannel conformity, the committee rule of the organization men, is coming to an end. "A new managerial revolution is in the making," says Shuster. "It's the age of a new type of individualist..."

The doctor explains this disagreeable new paragon won't be the old-time swashbuckling buccaneer, the robber baron without codes or conscience. No siree. This new individualist, he says, will be one who "combines personal freedom with professional managerial responsibility to maximize human achievement..."

And right here, doctor, you lost me. For you admit that right now today's managers have done all right, that the good old team effort has reached a pretty high performance plateau.

So now you want this new cantankerous guy coming in to take charge, huh, seizing opportunities all over the place, maximizing human achievement. Some know-it-all kid who'll take us further...somewhere.

Okay, doc. March him in. The boys in the boardroom are waiting.

And while we're on the subject of business enterprise, consider the wily and industrious Japanese zaibatsu which futurist Herman Kahn says is now about the fastest growing industrial power in the world.

Kahn, quoted in a recent issue of New York magazine, described a Tokyo luncheon he had with a Japanese banker and the financier's research assistant.

"In the 1960s," said the banker, "Japan surpassed Italy, France, Germany, and England. If our Gross National Product continues at this rate we will pass Russia in..."

The chopsticks paused in midair. "1979," said the research assistant.

"Ah, so, Russia in 1979. And if the GNP continues growing, we would of course not pass the United States until..."

Now both Japanese paused, because was it truly courteous to speak of surpassing the great America? The research assistant could not resist the opportunity.

"Sometime in the 1990s," he said.

"But of course," said the zaibatsu millionaire. "1990 is a long time off. Many things could happen..."

One thing already had happened. Our Japanese friend had planted the idea that even tiny Japan, with a population that of the US, might be capable of making America number two. Perhaps we should try to find out about that Japanese know-how.

It's a twentieth century irony that the two nations which plunged the world into history's bloodiest and most destructive war—Germany and Japan—have emerged as among the most economically and industrially advanced.

This must be credited to the American long-range bomber and the accuracy of the US air crews which destroyed the enemy's industrial base. To the Japanese zaibatsu and the Rhineland industrial baron it meant forced modernization of which now is far advanced much of America's aging mills and factories.

This is Bill Downs in Washington with "The Shape of One Man's Opinion," a service of ABC News.