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`Megatrends' sequel: brainpower will displace brawn even more

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 30, 1985


Scarcely a week passes without our office receiving another book on management, entrepreneurship, or corporate advancement. Most such books get a quick peek and then are tossed onto overloaded shelves or into giveaway piles. But a new one, ``Re-Inventing the Corporation,'' by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene (Warner Boooks, New York, $17.50), merits more attention.

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Partly this is because of the important demographic and economic trends Mr. Naisbitt and Ms. Aburdene forecast. And partly the book should be noted because of the widespread success of Mr. Naisbitt's first work, ``Megatrends,'' which made the author a kind of socioeconomic guru to many young business people.

The authors (husband and wife) see three major forces at work in the economy: (1) the end of the baby boom and consequent labor shortages in the years ahead; (2) the emerging global economy; (3) a shift from an industrial to an information economy.

Because of these forces, the authors contend, corporations in the United States will need to emphasize brainpower over industrial might, will need the best and brightest workers, and will consequently have to make their corporations more humane and rewarding places.

Naisbitt and Aburdene predict less corporate hierarchy and more creativity, flexible hours, stock ownership plans, and benefits such as day care. They cite a number of companies that already show signs of developing in this direction, among them People Express, W. L. Gore & Associates, and Apple Computer.

The authors mention many established companies that have adopted bits and pieces of this new corporate philosophy. But they don't hold out a lot of hope for most of the old Fortune 1,000 firms. Management lines here are fairly rigid, they say, although they grant that IBM has experimented with ``intrapreneurialism'' and General Motors is promising a radical new workplace at its Saturn plant.

The authors see full employment in the United States in 1986-87. There will be ``not nearly enough people on the way'' to fill the millions of new jobs created in the US each year, Naisbitt said in a recent interview. ``We will have full employment and labor shortages for the rest of the century.''

Ms. Aburdene cites New England, where unemployment rates are well below the national average, as an example of what the rest of the nation will experience.

``There'll be terrific competition for good people,'' she says, ``and the best people will be attracted to the kinds of companies that are reinventing themselves, that are offering a stake in the company with ownership and profit-sharing plans, that are able to be flexible about scheduling.''

Naisbitt says the standard will no longer be ``a hierarchical, authoritarian company where everybody had a superior and everyone had an inferior -- surely somewhat corrupting to the human spirit in both directions.''

And labor shortages, they say, will draw more and more women into the work force, with the attendant social changes at home and on the job: day care, flexible hours, and at least a second look at whether the male-oriented corporate structure must remain that way.

Naturally, one has quibbles with the Naisbitt-Aburdene assessment.

The danger is of extrapolating based on too short a span of time. Are we really sure the entrepreneurial and high-tech boom that began in the late '70s is here to stay? A deep recession, a renewed bout of inflation, or a wave of protectionism could have untold consequences.

Then there are the shareholders, who actually own the corporation. Just as today, shareholders in the 21st century will want a strong bottom line and may put pressure on companies to cut costs, trim benefits, and fire employees to achieve it.

Corporate culture also depends on whether the company is closely held, how the local labor force is composed, the market in which the company's products compete. Each corporation is different.