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There's been a ton of books published in the past few years about the increase of brain-powered jobs, the growing gaps in income and prestige between people who mainly use their heads at their jobs and those who mainly use their hands. If you take this trend to its logical conclusion, you have Joey Reiman's new book, Thinking for a Living: Creating Ideas That Revitalize Your Business, Career and Life. Mr. Reiman runs what he calls an "ideation" company, a group of thinkers who create advertising and marketing concepts. They eschew the actual execution of those ideas (ad placements, etc.), which is usually a big part of the job of traditional advertising agencies.
Reiman's overriding point in this book is a good one, and a hopeful one, in this increasingly competitive economy: original thought still matters. Yes, things are digitized and computerized. Apparent advances in production or services are matched after an ever-smaller cycle of advantage, more and more businesses seem interchangeable, but ideas still can matter. Or as Mr. Reiman says in his always upbeat, inspirational style, "Today currency is the idea, but tomorrow ideas will be the currency."
Mr. Reiman tells his own story, interwoven with broad ideas and snippets from the unusual and progressive policies at his current company. He was a traditional advertising executive, now he's the head of BrightHouse, the ideas company. No penny for your thoughts at this firm. A thorough "ideation" session from BrightHouse can cost a client $450,000, "with some contracts exceeding $1 million for thinking," Mr. Reiman writes.
Even if you're not going to start an ideas company, Mr. Reiman's points are well taken. At a minimum, you've got to keep thinking about your own career in a work world where the options are plentiful and the guarantees are few. Which brings us to Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions (due in October from Harvard Business School Press, $22.50, 0875848575) by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney and Howard Raiffa. Readers are taken step by step through methods of reaching good decisions on matters both business-related and personal. In a fast-changing world, a systematic approach to making decisions is essential.
This book would have been quite helpful to the people profiled in Disconnected: How Six People from AT&T Discovered the New Meaning of Work in a Downsized Corporate America (The Free Press, $25, 0684842661) by Barbara Rudolph. Ms. Rudolph takes an in-depth look at otherwise ordinary individuals who in the 1990s became casualties of the waves of downsizing at AT&T. These people had to live the mantras of the new economy, which for many of us are still only buzzwords: loyalty is dead; manage your own career; serial assignments; don't invest too much emotional capital in your job.
All the subjects were quite open with Ms. Rudolph, who delves far beyond the business realities to seek the connection between the professional and the personal, the non-financial value of work to a person's sense of worth. For so many years AT&T was a monolith, a unique American entity that more than most commercial concerns projected the illusion of permanence. After all, it was the phone company. Ms. Rudolph writes, "The essential paternalism of the institution extended to both customers and employees. Join our family, and we will take care of you."
In the end, most of Ms. Rudolph's subjects did just fine. They forged successful post-AT&T lives, helped by a vibrant economy even in the face of the downsizing trend. Ms. Rudolph wisely doesn't draw conclusions from her six. They are individuals, but even as each story is unique, they combine to provide a human face to the downsized waves who confronted the realities of our new economy.
While it is wise to realize that there is little guaranteed permanence in the work world, that you should always have a contingency plan, keep your skills up to date, and so on, these new trends are also a little sad. If we maintain a detachment on the job, a place where we spend so much of our lives, there becomes significantly less time and fewer places to express the positive ranges of our humanity.
Neal Lipschutz is managing editor of Dow Jones News Service.