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Modern Business: Fred Flintstone or George Jetson

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Imagine getting off the train and lugging your suitcase without rollers. You are also lugging a locking latch briefcase with your monogram on it. It weighs about 20 pounds since it contains a field manual, your last project binder, a three-hole punch, box of colored pencils, case containing protractor and drafting tools, a sheaf of carbon paper, half a ream of lined paper, another half of white paper, a heavy duty stapler and staples, and reference material you have been toting along because you haven’t been home in three weeks.

Fred's RockberryYou are looking for a payphone so you can “drop a dime” and make a three-minute call to your office and you are lugging the newest and baddest gadget that transforms how you do your business as a traveling management consultant – the all new Remington Rand full-keyboard electric adding machine. For $169.50 plus tax, this baby means you do not have to use your client’s equipment. It weighs a little, but the convenience is worth it. Your carry your portable manual typewriter in your suitcase for ease. You manually produce your spreadsheets, pie charts, and graphs.

The year is 1960. The average annual income is $5,600, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, and you are making almost $10K after taxes. You travel by train because it costs a lot less than air travel. For example, a round trip airline ticket cost about $75 to fly from Cleveland to Washington, D.C. That would be around $400 today. Your client got invoiced for it but they sure liked your electric machine.

In a world without apps, business had been expanding over the previous decade and saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average climb from just under 200 to knock at 700’s door, briefly. People, not programs, made investment decisions. Modern business was like passenger train service – 1960s improvements to 1940s technology.

People like George S. May realized that business was composed of algorithms. Ratios and percentages ruled decision-making. That meant that newer and better technology was interesting but only insofar as it added convenience and expedience to decision-making. The idea that business is business prevailed. Business did not care about anything except making and protecting profit. It is not that people were not important, they were. It is just that the profit motive dominated business thinking.George's 500G holographic phone

Liberal-minded humanists tended to resent the focus of the business community on profit over people. In every era they have raised their voices in objection to the perception that business exists only for profit and, in fact, they are correct. Successful business tends to be myopic because, as I say, business is business. That brings us to the latest breed of technical-minded social networkers who see themselves as the new humanists and seek to transform the business community in modern ways.

So let’s consider Fred Flintstone and George Jetson. Brilliant creations of Hanna-Barbera, the characters are enamored of gadgetry in their respective gadget-centric societies. They do their jobs working for companies run by bosses whose sole interest is making a profit. Business does not care about fads or gadgets. Just ask Fred or George.

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About Tommy Mack

Tommy Mack began his career in broadcasting and is a US Army graduate of the Defense Information School. He worked in Army Public and Command Information and earned a BS in Liberal Studies from the State University of New York, Albany. A marketing communications executive, Tommy became a business management consultant for a major international consulting company and its affiliates before establishing Tommy Mack Organization, a business consulting practice specializing in organization and communications management. A professional writer and blogger, he writes about politics, business, and culture.
  • Bob Snyder

    A Good Memory Tom.
    My travling briefcase in 1985 felt about the same as the 1960 briefcase,but my Profits and Cost raised.

  • http://piperhoffman.com Piper Hoffman

    It’s the law that businesses must put profits before people: public companies have a legal obligation to maximize shareholder profits. It is a terribly destructive law that leads to things like the Ford Pinto.

  • William Waite

    Far too many in this generation are just too damned stupid to realize that when businesses large and small are allowed to make a profit, they can do wonderful things. They can afford to find new markets to serve and new problems to solve. They can afford to create new jobs which enable their employees to buy cars, homes and the like. Profit, rightly understood, is the just reward for taking the risk of failure required to make the world a better place for all. From profits come the ability to support all manner of charitable causes including the arts. I’m not sure exactly how the evil Ford Pinto somehow placed people before profits though… Without trying to defend Ford Motor Company’s decision making process, I’m certain there’s more to automotive history than what can be found reading a Mother Jones expose on despicable capitalists like Ford.

  • http://tmackorg.com/ Tommy Mack

    Geez, Bill, don’t sugar coat it. I think Piper’s point is understated even though she is an attorney. Her point has to do with fiduciary accountability and criminal statute more so than despicable capitalistic practices, per se.

    I agree with you that the reward of profitability can be beneficial to society. But that is a result. The job of a business is to produce a profit. That is it. It isn’t anything else or it isn’t business.

    Tommy

  • Leroy

    Actually, modern corporate management has re-oriented to revenue rather than profit, because managers discovered that their personal rewards were proportional to stock price, which is proportional to revenue, rather than profits, which merely went into the pockets of the owners.

  • William Waite

    With all due respect Leroy, you’re naively mistaken. When greedy, evil (that is, successful) owners discover that “modern corporate” managers (what does that mean anyway – are these guys different than “antique corporate” managers?) are focused on short-term revenue results rather than long-term profit, fundamental changes are made. Those individuals are either replaced or their compensation plans are altered to acheive the result that enables the enterprise to continue serving the marketplace.

  • http://alexcacioppo.blogspot.com Alex Cacioppo

    A new study by the Dalberg Global Development Advisors recommends that businesses simply focus on the single bottom line of maximizing shareholder value, which is a position that goes all the way back to the Dodge v Ford (1919) case, deeply-rooted.

    Taylorism has also been a long-standing paradigm for business efficiency and resource allocation. Jetson is simply doing a more streamlined and sophisticated version of what Flintstone did millions of years ago.