Social change

Ravi Mattu

My very smart and funny colleague Lucy Kellaway has just released a novel about love in the office, called In Office Hours, published by Penguin. If you like reading Lucy’s columns (on work, on office problems and as ‘Martin Lukes’) – and I haven’t met a single reader who has anything but enthusiastic things to say about her – then you really should buy this book. It’s a roaring read.

It will not be published in the US until next year but you can buy it at Amazon’s UK site.

Ravi Mattu

Have you heard the story about the voiceover actor for Geico, the insurance company, who left a dodgy voicemail on the machine of a Tea Party group and then got fired when the voicemail was released on the internet?

Well, in the latest chapter of the PR battle, the voiceover actor Lance Baxter, aka D.C. Douglas, released this video compilation of the messages from angry Tea Party activists left on his answering machine, which his dulcet tones introducing the package.

It’s all rather curious and funny but, more important, it points to two interesting trends.

Ravi Mattu

Today’s news that Google has released a list of governments that seek to censor its servcies or request personal information on users feels like the latest step in the company’s effort to rebuild a reputation that has had some sticky moments in recent weeks and months.

The company’s corporate motto – “Do no evil” – has been used by some as an ethical stick with which to beat it as it moved into China and agreed to self-censor its searches. And its disastrous launch of Buzz, its social networking service, met with much resistance from its community of users and, more recently, privacy regulators.

It was all a bit surprising. In the past few decades, few companies have demonstrated (shaped?) a better understanding of the changing nature of consumer behaviour than Google. So, what happened?

Ravi Mattu

Ever read a piece that makes you go hmmm? How about this: the Grateful Dead’s greatest legacy could be the business lessons it offers management academics. If I hadn’t read it in The Atlantic, I’m not sure I would have believed it.

No, really, I promise, I didn’t inhale….

Hat tip: The Browser

Ravi Mattu

A bit of chatter out there about how Starbucks, which has had a rough few years, has quietly launched a new shop on London’s Conduit Street. You can see some pics of the new cafe on Tiki Chris’s Flickr page. They did this first in New York a few months ago, with a cafe that you would have barely realised was a Starbucks cafe.

Judging by the pics, it is a subtle-ish revamp – more communal spaces, like shared tables, more trendy lighting and furniture, a darker and warmer feel to the place, more books and so on.

Will it work? I have no idea but I do think there are a couple of interesting points here. First, Starbucks is applauded for at least being bold enough to rethink what they are doing. When the chain first started expanding outside of its Seattle base, it traded more on being a cool place to go rather than simply being ubiquitous. When Howard Schulz, its founding chief executive, came back to run the company this was one of his key messages; the chain, he lamented, had loss the “romance and theatre” on which the company was founded.

Lucy Kellaway

When I was 20, I thought I’d retire at 60. By the time I was 35, I expected to retire rather earlier, at about 50 or so. Back then, it was fashionable for professionals to take early retirement – either because they found they could, or because their employers had tired of them and pensioned them off. But now that I’m 50 myself, I find that the finishing line has been moved once again and it looks as though I’ll be slogging away until I’m 70 and beyond.

In the past couple of weeks, there have been various reports from economists saying that the only way of saving the economy from collapse is for everyone to work for much longer. The assumption is that while this makes sense for the public sector borrowing requirement, it’s going to be tough on us.

I’m not so sure: to have a working life that spans five decades is better than one that lasts for three or four. Work is a bit like taking exercise. It can be boring and stressful while you are doing it (and on any given day, I’d miles rather not work than work) but it is actually preferable to not working. It gives us structure, status and money; it gives us something to think about and gets us out of the house.

The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Stefan Stern

Like the rain, recessions fall on the just and the unjust, and on people of all ages. But not every age group will face the same problems or react to them in a similar way.

Some pundits are predicting that, in the coming age of austerity, the workplace will be the setting for intergenerational conflict. Tensions over unequal pension arrangements or varying attitudes to work may cause trouble.

Others argue that now is the time to invest in youth. My colleague Luke Johnson last week recommended hiring “as many bright young things as you can afford”, in the hope that “their dynamism will counteract the inevitable conservatism of an existing institution”.

The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below

Ravi Mattu

A number of major US companies have quit the US Chamber of commerce in a rift over its opposition to climate change legislation which would place a cap on carbon emissions.

The rift started when some big energy groups, including Pacific Gas and Electric of San Francisco and Exelon, the biggest operator of nuclear power plants in the US, have pulled out because “it was committed to legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions”. And Nike withdrew from the board of the Chamber, although it will remain a member.

Today, Apple announced it was withdrawing too.

Ravi Mattu

Great analysis in today’s paper on how the Indian government is establishing commodity exchanges in rural towns to enable farmers to bypass the middlemen who have traditionally controlled the route from farm to market.

In August, we looked specifically at the role of middlemen in the mango market, with an article and a slideshow. In that case, big retailers, including Walmart, were trying to deal directly with farmers both to cut their own costs and, they say, to help farmers become more efficient with advice from agricultural experts (and, of course, to increase their profits).

Traditional forms of business are a real burden on economic development in India and are also complicated to dismantle. These functions have existed for centuries and the deeply embedded role of caste – middlemen often pressure farmers to sell to them on the basis of shared caste – make it hard to break out of this cycle, particularly in less well-educated rural areas.

An Indian sociologist who has studied and written extensively about caste – and also had a role advising a professional services firm in India – once told me that the best hope for breaking down the caste system and, thereby encouraging social and economic development, was urbanisation. The rural and agricultural economy is hugely influenced by caste because profession and social class are inextricably linked. In cities, the professor said, these ties are broken.

Business and social change can sometimes be a good thing.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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Elsewhere on Lucy Kellaway

Lucy Kellaway writes a column on Mondays on work , poking fun at management fads and jargon and celebrating the ups and downs of office life. She is also the FT's Agony Aunt.

Elsewhere on Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson writes an FT column on Wednesdays on entrepreneurship. He runs Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and is chairman of the Royal Society of Arts.

Elsewhere on Dear Lucy

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a column in the Financial Times. In the online edition of her Dear Lucy 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too.

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