In a more fluid economy, connections are security

ON EXCELLENCE

April 18, 1994|By TOM PETERS

"You know, this 'chaos' idea makes sense," a seminar participant began, politely enough, upon collaring me at a break, "but I'm not sure the average person is up to it. We need some stability."

"Crazy times call for crazy organizations," I'm fond of saying. The personal implications are daunting, as job security becomes a distant memory and even newly acquired skills turn out to have a half-life of just a few years.

But the fact is, I agree with the seminar participant. Not only that, I freely admit that I hate change.

Whether it's 1994 A.D. or B.C., the human animal cherishes stability (just as it genetically craves stimulation). And without a doubt, our primary source of stability, the corporate sinecure, blue collar or white, is fast fading.

Is there any way of reconciling these two truths?

Yes.

In short, we need new and different bases of stability, fit for the turbulent times. Consider these five:

* 1. Loyalty to your Rolodex. Yesterday, your security lay in the solidity of the corporate logo and whatever favor you could curry with your boss. Today, security is related to the obesity of your Rolodex, and how well you tend the entries therein.

Many of us will be on and off various corporate payrolls, in small companies and large, and may well serve stints as independent contractors.

Survival amid such apparently fluid circumstances is a word-of-mouth business.

I say "apparently fluid" because the most adept independent contractors I know don't seem panicked. They deliver the goods (their professional services) with skill and courtesy, and they spend a lot of time on the phone, etc.,following up, thickening the links, fattening the Rolodex.

These are skills all of us need to develop. We need to learn to look sideways and outside more, and upward less.

When forced to make cuts, who will your boss retain? If she has a grain of sense, those who have the best reputations for serving her department's internal or external customers, not those best at seeking her favor.

All departments are going to become like the sales department: If you're not a "good closer," you're out.

* 2. A passion for skill building. Your security is proportional to your market value. Your market value is proportional to how sharp your skills are.

In times past, you could glide for years, maybe an entire career, on yesterday's skills plus a few tricks gathered along the way. No more. Not getting smarter is getting dumber; that's the new market equation.

For starters, it means getting to the classroom by hook or by crook, with or without the company's help. Besides formal class work, signing up for oddball assignments is the best way to pick up new skills.

Yet another, surprisingly helpful route: off-the-job volunteer work; though a youthful minion at the office, you may quickly find yourself in charge of an important community project (and fattening that Rolodex).

* 3. Time with our friends. Maybe it is "back to the future." As loyalty to the job description, boss and company become less trustworthy sources of stability, the community -- family, neighbors, church, associations -- become more and more important.

In addition to its general contribution to your mental well-being in

stressful times, the community becomes part of your network from which future opportunities may emerge.

* 4. Hobbies and rituals. Scotch-taped to the top of my home copier is a 3x5 card that reads "solvitur ambulando." Translation: "Walking solves everything." Or as Mom used to say, "Get your exercise and eat your veggies." She couldn't have guessed how right she was.

My compulsive daily exercise ritual, which consumes 45 minutes while I'm on the road, an hour and a half at home, is an island of stability in a sea of madness.

It's more about meditation than aerobics for the ticker. Likewise, a consuming hobby -- cabinetry, cooking, photography -- provides regular, deep drinks from a stream of refreshing water. (And may even be the basis for a new career some day.)

* 5. Grins and belly laughs. Some say laughter can heal the worst physical maladies.

Whether that's true or not, I do know that a belly laugh and a smile are potent antidotes for damn near anything that ails you, BTC including that perpetual sense of instability.

Meditation experts urge us to practice smiling; the physical act itself plays games with a few key muscle groups -- and forces you to lighten up. It's the smile that causes the good feeling more than the event that causes the smile. So smile, for heaven's sake!

As old sources of stability evaporate, it is imperative that we actively seek new ones.

The metabolism of the times may well be changing, but the human metabolism is not. What we need is what we need. Period.

Tom Peters' column is distributed by the Tribune Media Services Inc., 720 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, Fla. 32801; (407) 420-6200.

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